I spent an entire day last week at Canyon-Lister Elementary School (CLES) just on the outskirts of beautiful Creston, BC. By invitation of the principal, David Falconer, and teacher extraordinaire, Patsy-Anne Casemore, I venture over the snowy Kootenay Pass to host an informal discussion about the future of the school’s library.

After viewing the BC Learning Commons video (below) that I shared at an earlier fall district teacher-librarian resource sharing get-together, Patsy-Anne and David were intrigued by the possibility of ‘repurposing’ the library. For the past three years both educators knew that their school library (formerly the gymnasium–yes it has thirty foot ceilings) needed a make-over, a re-envisioning of sorts. It was a hollow, underutilized, space, with one-third of the usable floor area being horded by a computer lab. 

The staff was very receptive and agreed that the library can (and should) play a larger role in their school community. The group also seemed intrigued and asked about the role of technology in the “new version” of the school library. I recommended that the group needed to have discussions (a couple at least) to elucidate the priorities for the school. How important is technology? How would you use it? How does this the use of technology tie in with the school goals and larger growth plan? What role with the library play with respect to technology use and growth? Without all concerned shareholders have opportunity for input moving ahead would be a rudderless and perhaps rash endeavour.

All pretty good advice. Or so I thought…

But as I drove home in the glorious Kootenay sunshine I began to recall what I had recommended to the teachers. Suddenly, an immediate panic to review the process that I took to move our school library along into the twenty-first century became overwhelming. 

Earlier last fall, I mentioned to a group of teacher-librarians that the L.V. Rogers Library had become ‘the’ place to be for more and more community members, and that it was very important for any school moving forward in the digital era to have the library play a major role. But I also shared a warning: Be careful what you wish for…high traffic wearing down the carpets is a good thing, but only up to a point. Lots of users and circulation are good things for any library, but at what expense? And more broadly, in terms of the atmosphere and environment, what does a school library space need to hold?

Perhaps this is why I haven’t I renamed our library a ‘learning commons’. I’m not convinced new furniture and a new name really justify a name change. Teacher-librarian and school library consultant Carol Koechlin always reminds us that unless the programming of the school library changes to one of inquiry-based direction, the label of ‘learning commons’ is really just a library with a collection and fancy chairs. It’s really not much different than a Starbuck’s (minus the espresso machine in the corner).

And what about the issue of quiet. I’m not a shusher. I like noise in the library. It’s living and breathing and, well, necessary. Susan Cain’s engaging TED Talk and her compelling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking had me contemplating if a space for introspection and concentration actually has a part in the learning commons vision. It seems to me that one doesn’t instinctively use the ‘quiet’ when describing a busy, creative, and collaborative space.

We know we want the library to be a place for everyone in the school community to use and share, but the balancing act between quite, introspective and reflective work with the louder and messier collaborative group work of the new learning commons may be a different one to strike.

Or maybe not…

It seems that my sunny trip to the Creston Valley was far more productive than I thought.

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