I love LEGO. I love the history of the LEGO company, I love their product, and I love their vision. Amos Blanton summed up their philosophy in What do we Mean by Learning Through Play? (Lego Foundation, 2016). To paraphrase, when people are engaged in creating something new that reflects their own experience, knowledge, and interests, it makes the learning more powerful. I think this philosophy directly applies to the future success and relevance of libraries. When people play, they learn. And learning is a rush. It is delightful and playful and memorable. An environment that both promotes curiosity and evokes a sense of personal connection will energize patrons to participate. And this participation breathes ongoing life into a library.
For school libraries, engaging students means offering choices and designing project-based learning experiences that are playful. In other words, offer something for everyone and make the work irresistibly fun. A challenging example is the teaching of research skills, a task that often gives the school librarian a bad name. This year I tried something new: The Dream Library Design project. The fifth graders worked as teams to brainstorm, design, and present their concept of a Dream Library. The only instructions were that no one’s idea could be rejected and presentations involved a Google Slideshow. Brainstorming was outlandish, collaboration was messy, and students enthusiastically poured their hearts into this project. They found images on the Internet, built idea boards using Google docs, designed spaces on MineCraft, and created totally unique models and drawings. As Joshua Block notes, “learning is a messy process — and authentic, project-based learning immerses us in unique parts of this mess” (2014). The word “authentic” is meaningful because the Dream Library Design offered students a chance to practice a process that is realistic to their future. As Lippincott states, “Active learning and learning as a social process converge well with an increasing emphasis on the need for students to develop collaborative skills and the ability to communicate effectively and professionally in various media” (2015).
The library also benefits from offering social, play-based projects. First of all, such programs attract a wider patron base to the library because they offer an entry point for every type of learner. This sends a message that every student has a place in the library. Some find sanctuary in quiet corners, while others learn and thrive in a social, collaborative environment. Many students are empowered by the choices such projects offer. They get to choose from a variety of mediums and digital tools that reflect their diverse talents and interests. In this way, the school library becomes a hub of activity – a Learning Commons (Vangelova, 2014). A second benefit for the library is the input generated from participatory, play-based projects. Simply observing students’ process provides a goldmine of information about how they learn, what they want, where they’re going, and how the library can participate now and in the future.
Since I have been sharing the progress of The Dream Library Design project, I thought this would be a good point to share bits of the final presentations, which students shared in library class last week. The following slides, borrowed from students’ presentations, reflect the scope of their imagination and convey the way they want libraries to feel.
I have been thinking a lot about how a The Dream Library Design project might play out in a public library. I picture this as a family program, maybe even a contest. During a regular family programming time, families would be challenged to plan their dream library, or perhaps one feature of a dream library. They would have access to building materials, both physical and digital. The room could be filled with art supplies, photo and video equipment, green screens, computers equipped with basic design software (and MineCraft :), and a couple staff members or volunteers knowledgeable about the technology. If possible, library administrators could attend. At the end of the program, invite each family to describe their creations and follow up with some sort of reflection – maybe video interviews – that could be archived and available. I promise the enthusiasm and energy will be infectious and the library will glow with life from its community.
Block, J. (2014). Embracing messy learning.
Dream Library Design. (2018). Slides used by student permission.
Lego Foundation. (2016). What do we Mean by Learning Through Play?
Lippincott, J. (2015). The Future for Teaching and Learning.
Vangelova, L. (2014). What does the next-generation school library look like?