Designing Libraries for 21st Century Schools.

By Judy Bruce

What is the relevance of libraries in a Digital Age? Previously a primary holding place for ‘knowledge’, many people are now questioning the role and function of libraries. In this article we explore some key questions for school leaders engaged in school design.

When working with school leaders on school design and the writing of education briefs for MOE, we have noticed that many consider the library as something of an afterthought. Yet in recent research gathering ākonga ideas about school design, the library is front and centre for many. In primary schools the library is a quiet place for reflection and reading. It is a creative space that is often a safe space to go. Some ākonga consider this an important space for their own wellbeing. In secondary school research studies it has been found that the library is an important place for quiet, independent study, as well as a place for inspiration, knowledge gathering, and often times group work for assignments. 

Hankou Junior High School Library  — Image by: Judy Bruce

According to the National Library, here are some common functions of a school library.

  • quiet space — to reflect, read and study
  • collaboration space — to discuss, brainstorm, share and tell stories
  • presentation space — to present, share and celebrate
  • breakout space — to discover, create, practice and share
  • makerspace — to play, experiment and design.

What other spaces would you consider to be important in your school? 

There are a multitude of purposes, and perhaps the most important aspect of design is consultation with users in your school. Here are some useful questions for those redesigning existing spaces: 

  1. What is working? What in the current space would you like to keep?
  2. What do you need more of? 
  3. What isn’t working? What do you need to lose? 
  4. What don’t you have, that you would like to add? 

Image by: Green Square Library Sydney

If you are building a new school, here are some questions from the National Library that may help guide your thinking:

  • What do you want your library spaces to do?
  • What types of spaces and facilities do you need?
  • What do you need now?
  • What might you need in the future?

If you are interested in learning more, check out this short video of redesigned schools in Christchurch. School leaders share their ideas of the role and function of school libraries in a digital age.