Looking for Peace and Quiet

KQ_coverAbout a year ago I sat down to research and write an article for Knowledge Quest, the  Journal of the American Association of School Librarians. I was asked by guest editor Pam Harland to contribute a piece on library spaces. Before agreeing, I thought about finding an under-documented angle on the topic. That brings me to the first two sentences of the article, which appear below, along with the full article (but only in a proof version because ALA locks down their content):

Much has been written about the advantages associated with the learning commons model of library design. Less has been written about its drawbacks. The open, technology-rich, and collaborative atmosphere of a commons nicely supports teaching, group work, and digital communication. Yet, for some tasks and for some students, the commons atmosphere might also limit the library’s usefulness.

For tasks requiring concentration, such as reading and problem solving, the social and active nature of a learning commons could be distracting. And for the more introverted student, a loud and busy room might seem uninviting. For these reasons, library design should take into consideration different types of work and different personality types. In a learning commons, therefore, space and resources should be organized and managed in ways that meet 21st-century learning needs but also ensure fairness and ….

Read the proof of the final article here.

Chromebooks and “Chromepacks”

DIY “Chromepack” charging cart

Last week, Molly Wood, the NYT’s tech blogger, asked if a Chromebook is all you need. Last year, I asked myself the same question. My library was due for computer replacements and I wanted to use the opportunity to make the room’s workspace more spacious, flexible, and efficient. Chromebooks seemed perfect. I thought that by removing desktops and bringing in a cart of ultra-thin laptops, table space would emerge, as would the ability for students to work in comfortable chairs or even on the floor. Further, it’d be easy to collaborate in small, ad-hoc groupings. And it could be done quickly. The Chromebook’s solid-state structure, with its fast boot-up time, seemed like an excellent way to be “always on.” I wondered, though, how the place would function with a whole new OS and a whole new approach to computing. Would browser-based cloud computing meet the academic requirements of my school?

After a full year of trying it, it’s clear that the answer to this question is, yes. The desktops, along with their slow network connection time, weren’t missed. Initially, more limited printing seemed like a significant loss, but it didn’t take long for teachers and students to become experts at sharing work through Drive. Similarly, my school’s adoption of Google Apps for Education seemed to be accelerated by the Chromebooks’ single sign-on for multiple integrated services, like mail, calendar, Docs, and add-ons like EasyBib. Now, many students can’t even imagine working with clunky software on a big, bulky machine. In short, as a result of abandoning desktop (and laptop) computing for a mobile approach to schoolwork, my library has become a more modern, more collaborative, and more productive workspace.

We also chose to deliver this new computing throughout the building. By using cushioned camera cases for five Chromebooks, we created what we call “Chromepacks” — kind of like field packs, but for computers. The library has a total of 41 Chromebooks, 25 of which are in Chromepacks available for use in the library or for classroom check-out. At the end of the day the camera cases are simply opened and placed alongside a DIY charging cart. The charging system, like the use of the Chromebooks themselves, is fast and easy.

“Chromepacks” charging
Camera case holds five Chromebooks
Charging cart for library
Tables free of desktops and cables


Quiet in the Library

lamp_and_bookSince reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I’ve been thinking about creating more quiet spaces within my library. In the book, Cain says, “We also need to create settings in which people are free to … disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus….” She lists people like Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak who “need extra quiet … to do their best work.” I think trying to meet such needs by providing isolated areas for concentration and independent work makes sense. It seems like the right thing to do.

My Ideas for Quiet
But, because carving out private workspace is difficult, especially in small school libraries and within those designed as an open and collaborative learning commons, I wonder what other librarians might have done. I’ve thought of a couple ideas that I’ll be working on this summer: My desktops are up for replacement and I’m taking that opportunity to substitute Chromebooks, which will allow computer users to move around more freely and find more isolation. I’m also converting a small virtual learning room within the library to a silent room, where all students will be able to work.

Other Ideas for Quiet
While I count myself among those who consider noise to be part of the new normal in a school library, I appreciate the message of Susan Cain’s Quiet. If you value quiet and have made changes to your library, I’d be interested in learning what you’ve done. Or, if you’re just considering change, I’d also like your ideas. Please share by leaving a reply.

eBooks, Print Books, and Library Space

ebook_surveyWhile this recent BBC story about the San Antonio Library’s all-digital branch describes an eBook advantage for underserved and rural patrons, some reader comments highlight a persistent attachment to print. Even as large urban libraries embrace digital collections and even as digital check-outs increase, print doesn’t seem to be losing. In fact, as the story points out, in one remodeled New York Public Library branch, “far more books will be visible than ever in the past.”

This situation–the growth of both digital and traditional book collections–is ongoing in school libraries, too, and mine is no exception. In my library Kindles are circulated and a digital book-on-demand approach has been in place for two years. Yet, circulation records show that students prefer print. Clearly confirmed in a 2013 survey I conducted, where two-thirds of respondents showed a fondness for print books, it seems that my students mirror others around the nation. In a broad-based January 2013 survey, the Scholastic company found that kids read electronically, but when possible they grab old-fashioned books.

For me, because my library is small, the idea of scaling back space dedicated to print in order to expand student work space is attractive. Given student preferences, though, this seems impossible. Are other libraries in the same situation or are some school libraries experiencing a different trend? What are other librarians doing regarding space needs and book needs?

CMTC 2010: Building A Virtual Learning Commons

Presentation at 2010 Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference: While the physical learning commons provides learners with information resources, space, and technology for research and content production, the virtual learning commons offers the digital equivalent. From databases and eBooks to Web 2.0 tools like wikis, blogs, and various productivity sites, the virtual learning commons gives students a place to gather, seek, create, and share. By highlighting a wide array of online tools organized around the themes of doing and sharing content, this workshop suggests ways that traditional websites can be expanded and made more modern and useful for today’s 21st-century learners. Illustrative school and library websites are also profiled. Explore the virtual learning commons concept as illustrated by different academic websites.