A few weeks ago, the fifth grade library classes at the school where I work as a K-8 librarian began an exciting participatory project. They are designing Dream Libraries.
After peaking the fifth graders’ interest with an *exciting* slideshow presentation featuring innovative libraries from around the world, students were divided into teams of three or four and they began to brainstorm their dream libraries. I provided a few prompts but they soon moved far beyond the constraints of my simple questions.
The Dream Library Design Project is inspired by the Hyperlinked Library model, and the process is built on revolutionary concepts in education. Sir Ken Robinson laments that traditional modes of education, which adhere to a one-track-to-success form, often dislocate students from their diverse and natural talents. When this happens, students disengage from learning and, sometimes, from their passions altogether. This is neither fair to students, nor to our future society, which is dependent on a variety of talents (2010). I see this disconnect in the school library when students are not given an opportunity to engage in ways that are natural and exciting for them. For example, some students struggle to listen to an otherwise fascinating story if they feel physically and mentally crowded among 20 classmates. Some students love to read but find themselves in a rut, stuck between middle-grade literature that is too simplistic and young adult books that are just a bit overwhelming. They need readers advisory but have trouble getting past social boundaries typical of their age. In general, many students don’t feel at home in the library. This impression will stick with them as they move into the real world.
According to Will Richardson, the gap between school learning and life learning is increasingly wide (2016). Richardson outlines 16 Modern Realities that schools need to accept in order to foster a relevant learning environment. I will sum up Richardson’s Realities by stating that it is impossible to teach students everything they will need to know because we cannot predict what they will need to know. The globally networked and connected world means that “teachers no longer stand between the content and the student” (Richardson, 2015) but that peer-to-peer interactions flourish. Finally, learning in the real world is about doing real work for real audiences, not regurgitating information on standardized tests.
The Library Dream Project reflects the modern realities by engaging students in a real life process. Students are given a concept, which they collaboratively brainstorm, research, and present. The content and mode of operandi is entirely up to them, allowing them to implement their diverse and natural talents. Once their designs have been presented, they will receive feedback from their peers, and the project will continue. Retroactively, the class will be informed that they conducted a successful research project, complete with searching techniques, documentation, presentation, and evaluation. Taught in the traditional style, research is boring for some, intimidating for others, or seemingly irrelevant to their interests in life. With The Library Dream Project, however, they are invigorated by how the process allows their ideas to come alive.
And speaking of engaging the diverse and natural talents of many different types of learners, here are some of the highlights from the brainstorming session:
What is the physical space like?
→ Circular design with rooms for each genre and and info desk in the middle
→ Reading rooms made of marshmallows (squishy and soundproof)
→ Slides that take you from fiction to non-fiction sections
→ Rock candy lights
→ Lots of nooks for reading
→ Clear spiral staircases climbing trees
What can you do in this library?
→ Home delivery service: Books delivered by drones
→ Pet library: check out a pet for a week
→ Physical Recreation – ice skating; soccer; ping pong
→ Food court
→ Digital librarians
→ Multiple gaming spaces
→ Recording studios
What does it feel like to be in your library?
→ Sense of freedom
Next week, teams will begin to represent their library designs through a multitude of modes including Minecraft, marshmallow modeling, drawing, and image boarding. The science teacher has offered time slots for them to use the school makerspace and the art teacher is encouraging them to integrate the designs during their art class time. In this way, the project goes beyond the walls of the library, blending place and purpose in a meaningful and memorable experience.
Richardson, W. (2016). 16 Modern Realities Schools (and Parents) Need to Accept.
Robinson, K. (2010). Bring on the learning revolution!