LC design is more than Arborite and chrome- it’s acoustics too.

I recently had an online discussion with fellow teacher-librarians about building a learning commons.  Ideas. Problems. Design.  The topic of noise- acoustic control- was raised.  As always, Karen Lindsay, raised the issue in relation to a renovation project.  Sometimes we must teach in conditions that deny us optimal surroundings.  I’ve been pondering and worrying about changes in a learning commons model that are more cultural and long term.  I am acutely aware of the increase in noise level.  The drone of a commons and all the assorted activities is now outweighing the conditions that optimize learning. Forget the chairs.  Forget about the fancy new shelving or furniture. Those items can be moved, acquired, replaced…. what about the environment?

Chairs I think we are now at a point where our foot traffic and bookings is disabling learning.  It’s in my wheelhouse because apparently no one in my building wants to ‘hear’ my concern.  Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking articulated what was bugging me for some time.  All the excitement and activity is delightful but we owe it to guide the environment somewhat.  Who will be steward to quality control?  When admin sends 30 kids from a class, without a TOC, to the Library; which is already booked at capacity and kids must sit on the floor, when does learning become a nuisance?

Quiet opportunities does not mean we go back to empty silence in the Library but I think noise, however, well intended begins to pollute learning.  In my case, there is literally no other public space (except closed classroom doors) where you can find any quiet area to sit, read, reflect or study.  Our learning commons has been an evolution. Teens creating and working, however studiously, generates noise.  I have carpeted floors in a large open space.  The noise still travels. My lab has concrete floor. I bought special chair wheels to quiet down the screeching.  I have a MFP copier, which is the sole networked printer for hundreds of student’s laptops. Faculty still copy despite my being a copier student access Nazi! This all adds considerable noise. The other day, a faculty member was doing a lesson with a guest Skype speaker and the collateral noise was so bad I literally kicked out 70 drop-in students to finish. Does a learning commons exclusively act as a drop-in collective maker space or does it also act as a classroom?  My concern with eliminating or discouraging classroom functions, the learning commons is becoming a multi purpose room with books. Sadly, I have very little support with admin and staff to discuss these issues because access and the need to provide a safe space for kids has become more important than any quality control or learning model.

Sometimes it seems like education is not the focus but rather to have a supervisor (me) house and manage an assortment of teenage spirit that has nowhere else to go?  Secondly, I have also noticed a change in tone.  Students seem to now think the Library (no one calls it the Commons) is THEIR space for anything.  IT IS NO LONGER MY CLASSROOM OR ANYONE ELSES.  Some kids get quite snarky when I have to ask they move their card game outside so I can have room for a poetry class setup.  If first come-first serve is the new attitude, how are we different than any Starbucks, Public Library or Rec Center? Who asks the ‘homeless’ people to please exit the Library? Is it appropriate for a librarian to persuade one activity over another? Who sets policy?  Who enforces it? What is the teacher-librarians role as gatekeeper of spaces, resources, and quality learning activity? Noise? A LC is more than chairs or acoustic control. It should be the most sophisticated, energetic, high functioning scholarly classroom in the building- shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t a teacher-librarian, mandated as a teacher, to manage the resources, have more than one simple vote? Where do principles like classroom management or the virtues of Socratic circles have a place in a Commons that becomes an asylum. To manage our school Learning Commons AND maintain an instructional Library program, with any integrity and mindfulness to all patrons (members of the school) is demanding more of my wit and skill than any time in my career.

Most educators, including a few administrators, do not automatically think of the collective. They are conditioned to think of the class and course. It is in the DNA of a teacher-librarian to focus on the bigger community and evaluate what resources and strategies might render the greatest good.  Our KSS Learning Commons evolved over many years with the support of the staff and interests of the students.  My future replacement will need to find a new consensus- a new mission.  We have enjoyed a tradition.  The KSS Library was a learning commons by collective evolution long before anyone thought we should change the name or buy new furniture.  New school libraries across BC are rethinking how to re-design their form and function.  That is a healthy thing.  People who do not understand the soul of a Learning Commons and hijack the term disturb me. A room full of iPads does not make a high tech classroom.  It takes logistics, instructional skills and vision for these tools to promote real learning.  Wonderful new furniture does not make a great library.  Not every school can be renovated and a new building project is rare. What do we advocate for them?  Like my parents generation, who through out huge beautiful oak dinning tables to make room for shiny chrome and Arborite suites.  Progress? I’m just worried we will throw out the baby with the bath water- as we make a loud and shiny splash into a new age.


On Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 7:29 AM, Jeff Yasinchuk <> wrote:

According to Carol Koechlin (Learning Commons guru), it’s important to recognize that without a recognizable program to support inquiry, sharing, and collaboration (for both students and faculty) bringing in new furniture doesn’t necessarily turn a ‘library’ into a ‘learning commons’.

From: [mailto:bctla-forum@googlegroups.comOn Behalf Of Mary Whyte
Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 4:38 PM
To: bctla-forum@googlegroups.comSubject: [BCTLA Forum] Island TL Question re Learning Commons


 “The medicine chest of the soul.” ~Library at Thebes.  |  

“A car is not merely a faster horse. And email is not a faster fax. Play a new game, not the older game but faster.”-S.Godin


Filed under Library Events, Personal Learning Network, School Library, Teacher Professional

7 responses to “LC design is more than Arborite and chrome- it’s acoustics too.

  1. Judith Comfort

    Hello Literate Owl,
    I totally support your observations and comments.
    You’re not running a student lounge, or a Starbucks, or an Internet café. The operative word is “running” – you are in charge –don’t let em grind you down.

    To me the same rule I applied in my classroom makes sense in the library – individuals do not have the right to highjack the learning opportunities of others and that goes for the sound pollution as you describe. It also goes for noisy groups of kids with nothing to do, sent to the library by a teacher . I just turn em around and take them back to class.

    With 100 seats (including the floor) and 1300 kids and 75 staff, I have to manage what I think is the best use of the space and resources within it. And I figure that seeing as “learning” is what taxpayers are expecting their kids to do at school, then that is my primary focus. Only one rule – kids must be doing schoolwork or reading. The noise reflects the activity. Sometimes it is very quiet if I have a lot of the 40% of people who are introverts who love to snuggle into a comfy chair and read. Sometimes it is noisy, hard not to be when 100 kids are studying together for tests, or doing collaborative projects.

    Bottom line – kids know that if they are off task, they should leave –“ Go play in the traffic” is my standard line. Our halls are filled with kids slouched on the floor, texting, and playing games and talking and eating. But not in the library. Kids come to the library because we respect them and take their intellectual challenges seriously. We can help them with research and homework, but they also appreciate when we remove an annoying person who is interrupting their concentration as they try to study for an exam. If not the library, where else will they go?

    I am not sure where this learning commons thing got off the rails but I know that the universities have brought back old-fashioned study halls for the quiet types and separate upholstered collaboration spots for others. We cannot afford separate space in our 1950’s physical plant, so I do the best to be as fair as possible. The place is busy every minute of the day in spite of not having IPADS and a 3D photocopier and art-supplied play sandboxes, coffee machines and angry birds. What we have is special, and I mean the KSS library too. Maybe you can put up a few walls?
    Take care, Judith

    • Ha you make me chuckle. I am thinking of walls- or at least reshaping. Moving out some stacks for seating and some private spaces would be part of my goal. 🙂 thx for your strong advice.

  2. Judith Comfort

    1000 pound atlas stand

  3. I agree that the primary purpose of our spaces, whether you call them libraries or learning commons, is that they are working learning spaces: full stop. The challenge wit most of our spaces is that they don’t easily allow for different working styles. I know that it’s near impossible in my space to have collaborative group work going on next to silent study. I don’t kick kids out for making noise. I will kick them out if they’re using the space as a lounge and I will make them aware of those around them if their work is interfering with that of others. It’s a tough line to walk and the only solution is to design spaces with those kinds of mixed uses in mind. Acoustically separate space. Flexible spaces. “Learning Zones.”

    My 2 cents. (Or do we have to call that a nickel now that we can’t find two pennies to rub together!)

  4. I was just in a conference session with Joyce Valenza who articulated these very concerns about her library and questioned if we have gone too far in creating these hubs of activity. I agree with the concept of the Learning Commons but the emphasis is on ‘learning’ and therefore echo your statement that ” It takes logistics, instructional skills and vision for these tools to promote real learning”.

    And although I believe in messy, active learning I am still attracted to the traditional view of the library as a place of quiet, of solitude and of contemplation. Is it possible to have both?

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