Future of school libraries could be tech ‘think places’

Ian Munro, the new rector of Kelvinside Academy, in the refurbished school library. Picture: Contributed
Ian Munro, the new rector of Kelvinside Academy, in the refurbished school library. Picture: Contributed
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The future of traditional school libraries has become a subject of intense debate among parents and educationalists in an era of budget cuts and organisational upheaval.

A decision by Argyll & Bute Council to remove full-time libariains from its schools as the local authority stuggled to make £10m of savings prompted interventions from several well-known authors, as well as a petition to the Scottish Parliament to preserve such resources across the country.

Pupils worked with staff to create a new 'thinking space'

Pupils worked with staff to create a new 'thinking space'

But some teachers believe the future of libraries can be secured by embracing technological change, with pupils using computers to access online content platforms as well as books.

Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow has taken inspiration from US tech giants such as Google to reimagine its library as a new “thinking space”, similar to the laidback workplaces made famous in Silicon Valley.

The leading private school refurbished its Fraser Library to give the space a more “playful” feel after consultation with pupils, while ensuring it remains best equipped to meet their teaching needs in the 21st century.

“The thinking space has already become the beating heart of the school,” said rector Ian Munro. “It’s at the centre of our ongoing commitment to developing young people who are passionate about thinking and learning.

“While the redeveloped library still contains a huge selection of books, pupils are making use of digital devices to access the school’s online subscription content platforms.

“We are incredibly ambitious for our learners and believe it is vital that they develop characteristics that will allow them to flourish in a rapidly changing world. Qualities such as independence, collaboration and creativity are just as important as exam grades. The thinking space is the perfect place to nourish these qualities.”

Pupils played an integral part in the planning and development process. At their request, a number of deign features were also included, such as artificial grass flooring and LED strip lighting.

The facility includes an experimental teaching room, with tables and walls which pupils can write on.

Teachers will use the space to develop innovative teaching and learning practices.

But the future of school libraries remains a contentious subject in the public sector.

Earlier this month children’s author Julia Donaldson, a former Children’s Laureate, wrote to the First Minister to urge the Scottish Government to make a secondary school librarian a statutory requirement.

In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, Ms Donaldson wrote: “I am worried that the situation in Argyll and Bute might set a precedent for the rest of Scotland, and I would urge you to persuade the councillors to reverse their decision.”

A spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland (CILIPS), which represents 1,400 members across Scotland, said: “The availability of on-site, full-time professional librarian expertise is the most vital factor in a successful school library and we believe all schools, both independent and local government funded, should offer this.

“We believe school libraries are vital in improving literacy levels and supporting young people to develop the skills needed to manage today’s information overload in a safe and secure environment.

“School librarians support pupil preparation for the challenges of life in the 21st century in areas such as internet safety and digital skills.”