The Modern Library: a fresh approach to discovery

Head Librarian, Sarah Eldred, gives us her take on the information revolution

St Edward’s prides itself on being a community in which pupils thrive and develop a passion for independent learning. While the foundations are being laid for the Library we are also laying foundations for the use of this new space in line with our academic and wider school ethos.

As Head Librarian at Teddies I enjoy collaborating in the many interesting, inspiring and creative ways in which members of the School engage pupils in learning. However, whilst it has increasingly been recognised that there are multiple ways to teach and multiple ways to learn, our perception and use of libraries has not always changed to reflect the evolution of education. I’ve had many conversations over the years with people from all walks of life who wonder aloud if libraries are even needed any more. I always respond with, ‘Yes! – But let’s talk about what a library actually is and should be’.

Libraries are often thought of as simply collections of books but the real purpose of a library is to bring together resources that inspire and to provide a space in which to increase your knowledge, to develop ideas, to discover things which make your brain tick and fizz and spill over into passions and hobbies. A modern library is not just about books; a book is simply one type of resource and whilst books still play an important part in academia and reading for pleasure, we no longer always turn to a book in the first instance but instead reach for our phones and a web page. We have so many different ways now of finding information that increasingly librarians are called upon to teach how to find the best information and what to do with it once you have it. Although we don’t know what the future holds for information and the way we access it we do know things will continue to develop and change. To prepare pupils to navigate these changes we need to provide multiple formats and opportunities for developing flexibility in their approach to learning and information gathering.

A successful school library, therefore, is a collaborative space which brings together the whole community. It should be an active learning space which responds and adapts to the needs of its users, catering for various working preferences and abilities, acknowledging that different people have different needs. It should be a neutral space not tied to any one department or discipline, a place of possibility and imagination.

The vision for the new Library includes providing traditional elements – there will be plenty of books and places to work quietly – but our main aim is to encourage pupils to enjoy the space and develop a passion for discovery. This means providing a variety of designated silent, quiet and collaborative spaces that can be used according to need. Most importantly it means engaging pupils in the Library in ways which make them want to be there so that later, when they have to be there, they feel confident. Activities such as filming for YouTube videos with the use of a green screen, using augmented reality apps, competitions, poetry slams and movie nights may become as commonplace as book groups and quiet reading time.

What excites me about being a librarian is that I get to share pupils’ enthusiasm about whatever it is that makes them passionate to learn. I’m not tied to one discipline or interest: if a pupil wants to know more about economic theories, or rock climbing, or coding, I have a book for that… and a magazine or two, and multiple credible websites, and access to academic journal articles.

In preparing for the new building over the last couple of years the Library at Teddies has changed from a ‘Sixth Form space’ to a ‘whole school space’. With some simple furniture changes, colourful and lively book displays and quirky additions such as neon-coloured earplugs, the physical space has become lighter, brighter and more congenial. Shells now regularly raid the fiction area for more books to read in the hope of winning the Reading Challenge and Sixth Form pupils often visit for help with research projects. As we move into the new Library it’s my hope and intention that we take this spirit with us and the Library increasingly becomes a place where pupils choose to be.

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