Monday, February 7, 2011

Humdrum vs. Heartbeat

"You see, I don't believe that libraries should be drab places where people sit in silence, and that's been the main reason for our policy of employing wild animals as librarians" ~ Monty Python

In the past two years I have visited a lot of different school library media centers (K-12) either as part of my field experience or as a substitute teacher. It always amazes me how each and every school library / media center is unique. I recently visited two very different high school media centers that were both built within a year of each other in the same county and boasted of beautiful rounded windows with lots of natural light, new materials and the latest in technology. They even had the exact same building design. But each space had it's very own feel... er... personality (if indeed a space can have its own personality).  For the purposes of this post and to avoid confusion, I'll call the first media center "Humdrum" and the second "Heartbeat." 
     Humdrum was crazy quiet throughout most of the day with little student traffic. It's stark white walls surrounded bookshelves, computers and a few tables with hard chairs. There were plenty of books and abundant workspace. It just didn't feel comfortable, like a jacket that's so tight you just can't wait to get out of it. There were no colorful book displays, no cushy furniture inviting you to sit down and stay a while. After only five minutes at Heartbeat, however, it became clear that Heartbeat is the heartbeat of the school. Students and teachers seemed to claim that space as community space. They obviously felt welcome and comfortable there as they gathered around the cozy sofas and cushy chairs. The eye-catching new book displays drew a lot of attention and started conversations. It didn't quite have the feel of Barnes and Noble but it was comfortable and welcoming. Students came in frequently before school, during lunch and between classes to check out books, work on group projects, use the computers and read magazines.
     Unfortunately, media centers like Humdrum often give media centers like Heartbeat a bad name. It is no secret that school libraries and librarians have a boring stereotype to either live up to or to prove wrong. Here's to proving them wrong! This is the 21st century! Libraries aren't what they use to be. The 21st century school library media center is an exciting place to be. It is the largest and most expensive classroom in the school. It is the center of the learning community. It is a place for reading, learning, discovering, collaborating, connecting and sharing. 

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