Friday, November 21, 2014

Developing a dream library

This weeks post is a guest post from Philip Williams, an Australian living and working in Laos at an international school in Vientiane. I first met @flipoz through #mypchat on twitter, then we were able to meet in person at an IB workshop I was facilitating. As part of the workshop we had a sharing time where a few of the participants shared some of their best practise, and Philip shared what he did to transform a library from a boring space into a dynamic and exciting learning space. I was so impressed with his presentation and method of transformation I asked if he would write a post for Library Grits.  He has also started his own blog, The Library Element, so there is another great practitioner to follow through your favourite reader. Now onto Philip and his library transformation.....

Photographs and further information about the transformation can be found on VIS Library development page.


Imagine creating the library you have always dreamt of. My dreams of the ultimate library are quite lofty so I still have a long way to go however I have been thrilled by the process of redesigning and redefining our library at Vientiane International School (VIS), Laos. The VIS Library has just been through a dramatic renovation which involved packing up our entire collection, stripping the building down to it's shell and redesigning every detail.


The first step in this process began with my very first step into the VIS Library back in 2011. A huge amount of work had already gone into building the library from a very small collection into a fully functioning library providing resources for students across K-12 but more work needed to be done. While the library was well used at that time there was very little about the physical environment that reflected the values, pedagogical approaches and philosophies of VIS. The next stage in the development of the VIS Library was to address this mismatch. 

So what took up that 3 years between arriving at VIS to the renovation taking place in July 2014? Preparation involved a careful consideration of the unique needs of the VIS community..... 

  • Collectively we challenged our assumptions about the role of the library and what strategic design features would contribute to our community. 
  • We observed library traffic and student usage of the spaces, we gathered formal and informal comments. 
  • We consulted with parents, students, teachers and carefully observed student usage patterns which informed us about what they needed. 
  • We also consulted with other librarians & library interior designer Kevin Hennah in 2013 to gain an outside expert perspective on our library spaces and have adapted and implemented those suggestions with wonderful results. 
  • We culled heavily and invested in reinvigorating our collection with the aim of providing a rewarding experience for students enticed to explore the spaces.


We have defined our space with student centred strategies & built a flexible future proof environment. A key focus was to create a unique experience for visitors so a visit to the library has become an event in itself. We have decluttered making the literature the star of the show, we have minimised the administrative features and maximised student agency through design features that invite and encourage student independence. Students can now experience the quiet pleasure of solitary reading as well as a more boisterous collaborative experience.

While it is still too early to use circulation data to investigate changes in library usage, the volume and variety of library visitors has changed dramatically. But most importantly, the variety of independent student led inquiry in the library has confirmed the theories and philosophies behind the changes we made. I can now see the emergent nature of student learning happening before my eyes through access that is student led, inquiry focussed and above all, fun. When I walk around the library at break times I see students engaged in a wide variety of learning engagements entirely initiated and led by the students as they naturally respond to their context. There are what we would describe as literacy circles, mother tongue buddy reading, solitary reading for pleasure, collaborative studies and investigations (sharks, castles and dragons are common areas for exploration), access to all text types and genre and parallel reading (parallel play but with books). 


One key indicator that we have achieved our goal is the occurrence of emergent student behaviour that I did not predict. The students rearrange furniture to configure their environment to suit their needs. Maker spaces come and go as student inspiration impels them into action. This emergent nature of student response to their new library environment has been the most satisfying experience to be a part of. 


These images were taken during a random 60 second walk-through during a recent break time but captures some of those deep moments of emergent learning. 




So while my dreams of an even more adventurous library remain, the VIS Library is now a space I (and many others) thoroughly enjoy. Please visit next time you are in Vientiane, Laos, or contact me if you would like to know more. 

How do you imagine the library you have always dreamt of?

1 comment:

D's Journey said...

What an inspiring post! Hooray to guest posters...