Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen

Realdania

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The Learning Space

From reading room to flexible learning space

In its function as a learning space, the library is to offer a great diversity of inroads to education. Inroads that appeal to different needs, age groups and learning forms. The challenge is to create open, inviting spaces that appeal to different learning situations and to create more function-delimited learning spaces that are still in interplay with the rest of the library.

As for the spaces where educational activities and other organised learning take place, the most consistent experience is that the space needs to be completely or partially closed off, as it has proved difficult to retain focus if teaching is organised in an open corner of the adult lending section. Glass walls are a solution that creates closed spaces while at the same time they allow the activity to contribute to creating visible life at the library. A high level of transparency increases the possibility of ensuring that the delimited learning space is utilised – either for programmed activity or as a buffer for more spontaneous meetings when the need arises. 

Tårnby Library's learning space. Photo: Signal Architects

Flexible furniture and equipment can contribute to ensuring that the learning space is not locked in one set-up. One flexible, open solution can be seen at Ørestad Library where the first floor has been designed so that it can be used as a classroom, as solo workplaces and as a group work space, because the furniture can easily be moved around, and shifting the furniture can change the functionality of the space.

Connected PCs in class sets, interactive boards and similar technology are obvious facilities that can contribute to supporting different learning courses or constitute the actual focus of learning, as is the case when many libraries organise IT classes for older people.

The library as a study workplace

As a study and workplace, the library is becoming more and more popular in cities with educational institutions. The study workplaces that are in demand range from closed study cells to open workplaces in the library space for individual activities or group work. Flex spaces with glass walls for meeting activities and group work function well according to their purposes and at the same time create life in the library space, sending a clear signal about accessibility.

At the main library in Aalborg, different needs are met by means of special areas that are laid out to encourage dialogue and discussion in connection with project work and group meetings, while solo workplaces are located in different, quieter zones at the library.

Study workplaces can be placed as quick stops close to the entrance or in a central, visible place in the library space. Study workplaces that invite people to stay longer are often located by windows or in corners or niches. With or without PCs.

Group workplaces – for dialogue-based learning

Group workplaces are located in a way that ensures that conversations cause as little disturbance as possible. At Ørestad Library, workplaces have been laid out for groups of varying sizes on the first floor, while library materials are on the ground floor. In Aalborg, a large number of group workplaces are shielded off by bookcases, forming a zone of their own. Group workplaces can also be flexible so that they can both be self-organising and e.g. be used for creative workshops or language labs. Study cells are a special kind of individual workplaces.

‘The Laboratory’ at Aalborg Main Library is an example of this, as it can be used both for teaching activities and for self-organised group work.

The delimited learning space

The library's learning space can also be defined more specifically as a delimited spatiality where learning takes place in interaction between people, and where the learning is intentional.

When Tårnby Library sets up glass walls in a corner of the adult lending section, establishing ‘The Learning Space’, this is because here, IT teaching focuses on giving participants specific skills through a long, structured course for which the ‘classroom’ is the most suitable space for the activities that take place. At most libraries, the reading room has been scrapped and often converted into an IT classroom. Or it has been laid out as a room that can be borrowed for meetings, study circles and similar. 

Learning spaces for children

In relation to children, creative, playful learning is often best placed in the open children's library, because this form is more inclusive and suitable to this approach to learning than the closed space. However, in the course of just a few years, homework cafes have also gained considerable ground at Danish public libraries. They are run in very different conditions, from delimited and closed learning spaces to activities that take place at the heart of the children's library. However, homework help is typically programmed to a few hours in the afternoon a couple of days per week.

Quite a few libraries have efficient interaction with day care institutions and schools and often open their doors to visits from large groups of entire school classes who make short or long visits to the library. Many will stay in the children's zone and maybe monopolise the area a bit; others will spread out across the library, and some might disturb other activity and other visitors at the library. Many of these visits could be supported better if these visiting children's groups and their accompanying adults were able to withdraw to an auditively delimited space that they could have at their disposal during their visit. Apart from creating less disturbance for the library's other users and staff, this would create far better possibilities for the accompanying adults to prolong the visit, based on material from the library's material collection, completing a learning course with the children.

Learning space, Balagan, Malmö City Library. Photo: Malmö City Library

With proper programming and booking, this learning space could be transferred to a function as a learning space for adult users outside school hours.

Adjustable tables and chairs make it possible to adapt the learning space to users of different ages. Good storage facilities can help make it easier to tidy up before the next user arrives.

The learning centre can be an in-between form

One open learning centre that is fully unfolded can be seen at Malmö City Library, where the idea is that the library makes guidance available in the form of staffing along with search facilities, materials, PCs and printers, but that visitors define their own learning needs and receive help for their own studies

At Library 10 in Helsinki, a bespoke learning course has been developed for users. From librarian to personal music coach.

The personal music coach offers professional advice and listening suggestions that can introduce the user to different musical genres and styles. After determining the user's interest field, the personal music coach develops a tailor-made listening programme.

Make your own contribution via the Facebook group

If you have examples or ideas of how libraries can create good settings for visiting school classes, IT teaching courses etc., or if you have comments to this article, please feel free to contribute via the Facebook group.

08. Jun 2016 at. 15:17

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