Libraries, schools and third places?

As the culture outside our schools change, are our buildings changing to reflect the “outside” world?    

couryard.jpg   Mitchell Joel’s interesting Six Pixels of Separation blog comments on a fascinating article in the Economist, “The New Oases,” about how people now are much more nomadic in their use of spaces.  (I found Joel’s blog via Garr Reynold’s excellent Presentation Zen blog).

Wi-fi, mobility,  and portability allow people to connect wherever they go, and so people gravitate to both indoor and outdoor spaces where they can conveniently “connect” or gather.

As the architect professor William Mitchell points out:

“The fact that people are no longer tied to specific places for functions such as studying or learning, says Mr Mitchell, means that there is ‘a huge drop in demand for traditional, private, enclosed spaces’ such as offices or classrooms, and simultaneously ‘a huge rise in demand for semi-public spaces that can be informally appropriated to ad-hoc workspaces’. . . . The new architecture, says Mr Mitchell, will ‘make spaces intentionally multifunctional.’

These seem very significant things to be thinking about as we continue to design new libraries and school buildings.   Are they flexible?  Are spaces multi-purpose?  Are there ad-hoc gathering areas?  Separate nooks for individual laptop work?   Wi-fi and open networks?   How are nearby outdoor spaces used? 

School libraries can function as these sort of information commons in schools–providing this sort of flexibility and multi-purposing.

But eventually this sort of design should filter throughout the school–with comfortable learning nooks for students to gather, as the article describes at the new Gehry designed student building at MIT whose “student street”

” is dotted with nooks and crannies. Cafés and lounges are interspersed with work desks and whiteboards, and there is free Wi-Fi everywhere. Students, teachers and visitors are cramming for exams, flirting, napping, instant-messaging, researching, reading and discussing.”

Sometimes it seems that school building designs are impervious to the changes in the culture outside the building.   But as Mitch Joel points out,

“We have all become Digital Nomads. Able to work wherever we’re feeling most inspired (as long as there is wi-fi). I wonder how the masses will deal with this?”

What I wonder is how schools will deal with this?

5 thoughts on “Libraries, schools and third places?

  1. Hi Carolyn,

    I love the concept of small spaces – nooks and crannies. It reflects the ideas of A Not-So-Big House as well.

    My concern about applying this concept to schools and libraries is the supervision challenge it presents. I do think we can and should incorporate this in designs, but still make sure the spaces are in the open where they can be monitored. Hallway benches are seating at the ends of library stacks are two ways we’ve practiced the idea here in our district.

    Interesting post. Thanks!


  2. Carolyn–
    > I have been enjoying your blog postings and I appreciate the time and
    > thought you put into your postings. Since I am in China there are
    > several sites that are blocked (e.g, edublogs, pbwiki) so I read them
    > through rss feeds or access them through some proxies. When accessing
    > through proxies one is not able to add comments–thus it is necessary
    > to post via email.
    > I am particularly interested in your library design and construction.
    > We are also in the process of building a new library. I thought I
    > would pass on some particular sites I have found helpful–
    > Design sites:
    > From the shifted Librarian’s visit to DOK–Library Concept Center
    > Border’s Concept Store
    > JISC photostream
    > I have some other design links at
    > Again thanks for your postings.

  3. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for the links. Some incredible designs there, and it gives me some excellent ideas 🙂 for the last stages of our design!

  4. Thanks Carolyn for such a great post- so timely for me. I have to formulate a response to our Principal relating to my vision for the future direction of our library space -so wonderful of Elizabeth to provide links that will move me in the direction needed. At our library we have begun the move in this direction -our newly purchased chaise lounge couch is rarely empty and has created a cosy nook for relaxation and study.

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