A library with(out) walls: Show me the evidence.

28 Mar

A library that does not physically exist is a very uncomfortable concept to consider but it is not too far from some peoples’ reality. At Coburg Senior High School, in Melbourne, Jenny Sargeant has written about how they reconfigured the idea of the library as a space and worked with what she terms a ‘distributed model of information services’ (Sargeant, 2008). This is applied in terms of building and is ‘based on an integrated service model’. Instead of the library being housed in its own facility, the library exists everywhere in the school; occupying different zones to serve specific functions such as the recreational space being the hub for current affairs by provision of access to newspapers, news journals and current news broadcasts and another zone being ‘a reading space [with] access to a rich fiction collection’(Sargeant, 2008). Sargeant elaborates aspects of the integration of the library throughout the physical spaces and equates this concept of library integration as supportive of constructivist approaches, being student centred and supportive of 21st century skills. Sargeant contends ‘making this shift allows us to reconfigure the purpose of library from a service model to a learning culture’ and she stresses ‘the true value adding of the school library lies in what happens in that space’.

This last statement, about space is the one that I cannot shift as it is space and the library as a space that I am concerned with. Even though Sargeant contends the library is integrated, the library physically no longer exists. Surely there is an implication of a loss of value for the purpose and importance of the library as a zone that you can visit within itself.

There are two key points to consider in this regard the first relates to reinforcing the importance of a library in our lives that comes with promotion of actually visiting libraries for pleasure and for promotion of independent learning.  The second relates to the importance of the social function of the library as a safe haven  for students who want to escape other spaces and feel ‘safe’ within the walls of the library. Neither of these functions and purposes should ever be underestimated and undervalued. With this model at Coburg Senior High School this loss of physical existence will certainly contribute to diminishing the importance of both these functions.

Beyond the loss of a physical space at Coburg Senior High School, the role of the teacher librarian takes on a position of being a ‘partner in learning’ as the teacher librarian is available throughout the spaces(Sargeant, 2008). Even though some of Sargeants arguments are sound and grounded in great ideas, the role of teacher librarian feels more like a role of support and doesn’t seem to capture the potential of the teacher librarian. I would certainly be interested in any evidence that demonstrates that, within this model, students and teachers develop a true understanding of the expertise of the teacher librarian and the teacher librarian skills in information literacy. I am also interested in evidence of information literacy being integrated throughout the curriculum in such a distributed model and the effect on student achievement.

Clearly, I love the physical space of a library and am loathe to see examples of it disappear. Granted, the challenge for Coburg Senior High school revolved around not having a physical space to begin with and this was a solution for their school.

I do value the extension of the library through virtual spaces and the redistribution of physical space to incorporate the challenges of internet and information access both within the library and outside of the library. But remove the walls is something I would never advocate for.

In support of the importance of libraries I would like to draw attention to a comprehensive study by Hay(Hay, 2006) with a key aspect of the study focussing on student benefits of a good library program in schools. This study provides comprehensive evidence of the value of the library and of particular interest is the value placed on being able to attend the library to access information or work on schoolwork in the library. Some examples pointed to having access to school programs that were not available at home and being able to work on these programs in the library enabled the completion of schoolwork. Other aspects pointed to having technology issues resolved, such as a printer not working at home, and by being able to access the services of the library the student was able to print work due. Other important findings relate to the expertise of the teacher librarian and the value added to student learning as a result of working in the school library with the help of a teacher librarian.  This led to improving the value of information accessed and an improvement in information literacy.

Beyond this comprehensive study, with irrefutable evidence of the value of the library and the teacher librarian in the school program, the physical space will always be important. Whether it is important for educational purposes as outlined or for the purpose of providing a safe haven for students who need it, it should never cease to exist as a separate space. Existing as a separate space does not preclude integration in a constructivist model of learning, nor should it be a barrier to integration throughout the curriculum and framework of the school and beyond. It should be the hub, that is certain, and collaborative practices underpinned by the promotion of information literacy would contribute to this.

Now for some audio visual in support of some ideas mentioned that can reinforce and clarify some concepts further.

The last two links take you to youtube but are worth watching.


Hay, L. (2006). School libraries as flexible and dynamic learning laboritories? That’s what Aussie kids want. Scan, 25(2), 10.

Sargeant, J. (2008). Re-configuring place, space and purpose. Synergy, 6(1), 3.


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