What’s the difference between a school library and a school learning commons, and does the name make a difference? The Alberta School Library Association, which is informed by a larger Canadian and American field of school library studies, offers this:
Traditional school libraries are seen as quiet places full of printed books, people reading and librarians ‘shushing’. A Learning Commons takes school libraries into the 21st century. Yes, we still have printed text, and there are still people reading, and there is still a librarian, however the Learning Commons has so much more! There is a hum of activity with students talking, learning, searching for information on a variety of devices, focusing on content creation and synthesizing of information. The Learning Commons becomes the hub and the heart of the school; a place for teachers and teacher-librarians to collaborate to build inquiry learning and critical thinking skills in students; a place for technology integration and experimentation; a place that is ‘owned’ by students and staff alike.
The term learning commons recognizes that information, teaching and learning, and knowledge are collaborative in nature, and not confined within any walls, restricted to any format, nor rigidly scheduled. Like Calgary Science School, a learning commons has the doors wide open, and the lid off.
To me as a professional, a school library has never meant, “just books”- it has always been a gathering of resources, services and spaces for people, with a focus on teaching and learning (and I don’t think it has meant “shushing” for a very long time!). It reflects and supports the mission and vision of the learning community in which it lives.
While there are times you’ll find our library quiet and almost deserted, in most cases, (and I celebrate this) there will be the “…hum of activity with students talking, learning, searching for information on a variety of devices, focusing on content creation and synthesizing of information.”
Just like our understanding of what a classroom looks like, what the role of a teacher is, what learning means, the definition of school library has evolved. Whether we call it a learning commons or a school library may not be all that important. What is important, I think, is that when the literature on the learning commons is examined, our library, although still a work in progress, is moving in the right direction, and is indeed, “…a place… to collaborate to build inquiry learning and critical thinking skills in students; a place for technology integration and experimentation; a place that is ‘owned’ by students and staff alike.” We will continue to be informed by research in learning, which includes the learning commons, and for the time being, rather than changing the name, we need to continue to adjust our understanding of what a school library is, and maintain our direction of responding to, and supporting, the unique and dynamic teaching and learning happening everyday at the Calgary Science School.