Jun 01 2023

What Does the Modern Library Look Like for K–12 Students?

Schools are upgrading their libraries to media centers with new technologies and collaborative, flexible designs.

While the classic school library has always welcomed students to relax with a book, do a bit of research or find distraction-free study time, this quiet space is being transformed into a creative gathering place for the whole school. Today’s school libraries are introducing new technology, flexible design and adaptive library furniture. Across the country, librarians are acknowledging and embracing the need for a modern library that prepares students for a connected, digital world.

Kristina A. Holzweiss, a certified school librarian and educational technology enrichment specialist at the Syosset Central School District in New York, sees librarians as leaders in their schools and calls the library “the great equalizer.”

“We need to have a balance: We need students to learn from books but also to learn from new technologies, like artificial intelligence,” says Holzweiss. “They need to know how to navigate this digital world.”

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How Are K–12 Schools Upgrading Their Libraries?

The new library space at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska, won't be entirely ready until fall of the 2023-2024 school year. However, the tech upgrades that were made this past school year have already had a strong impact on students, said Laura Anderson, the school’s librarian and media specialist. Demand to use the five 3D printers has been overwhelming, as students vie to print objects for classes and clubs. The vinyl cutter, t-shirt press and new laser engraver are also quite popular.

After four decades without any updates, Wasilla High’s library is finally being modified to “fit the needs of the modern student,” Anderson says.

The upgraded library will be split into three distinct sections:

  • a traditional library space for reading and research
  • a makerspace to support hands-on learning and pre-apprenticeship skills
  • a job center that encourages students to explore career paths and connect with local employers

Modern, functional alternatives to the old tables and chairs include desks that allow students to sit or stand. All the new library furniture has wheels to quickly adapt to the needs of students and teachers.

“Prior to this transformation, the population of students who utilized this space was limited. The library is now more of a community space where students come to collaborate and work on projects. Teachers have also been using the space to work on projects. The library is now filled with students and has become the hub of the school,” says Anderson.

DIVE DEEPER: Untether tech in the modern K–12 learning environment.

Modern Libraries Feature Media Centers with Collaborative Spaces

In terms of layout, Holzweiss has noticed that — as a reaction to the isolation and distancing of the pandemic — school library upgrades often focus on creating warm, welcoming spaces. Students can use these spaces as a refuge from the day and also to connect with each other. New library furniture reflects this, introducing comfortable, collaborative furniture, like chairs and tables with dividers that allow students to work alone, in pairs or in small groups, but that can also be moved easily to create small pods.

Multimedia and production spaces are also popular when it comes to library upgrades. Podcasting rooms, green-screen rooms and news production studios where students can work together are showing up as schools make renovations. However, Holzweiss adds that these new features aren’t always housed in separate library rooms due to space constraints.

Laura Anderson
The library is now filled with students and has become the hub of the school.”

Laura Anderson Librarian and Media Specialist, Wasilla High School

Library and Media Center Upgrades Prioritize Flexible Design

Flexibility is a key consideration in modern library design. Richard Pense, the procurement and assets coordinator for Royse City Independent School District in Texas, previously worked as the principal of the district’s new Bobby Summers Middle School, where the library was intentionally designed to include flexible learning spaces.

The goal was to construct a place that was “inspirational, promoted collaboration and was accessible for student technology integration and support,” Pense said. “In our eyes, the library was to be a main hub of learning at the front of the building, with big glass windows, movable book carts and soft seating that could be arranged to meet student and teacher needs, instead of being filled with walls and racks of books that usually tower over these spaces.”

What Is IT’s Role in the Modern Library Media Center?

The library at Lumberton (Texas) Intermediate School for grades 3 to 5 underwent a significant expansion — from 1,500 to 4,300 square feet — that allowed for a makerspace and Lego wall, among other features. The tech selected for the library included a mounted, interactive TV and FrontRow Bluetooth surround sound with a microphone.

In the planning process for upgrades, the school’s librarian and media specialist, Michelle LaRue, worked with the IT department to choose the types of equipment that the new space needed.

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In fact, the Lumberton School District librarians and instructional technology specialists commonly meet monthly and go over technology needs and concerns on each campus. Later, the specialists meet up with their IT department to address those needs and concerns.

“I see my campus IT technician often, and it’s easy to communicate when something is needed,” says LaRue, who adds that her role has dramatically shifted in her 9 years as a school librarian. While initially very book-focused, she is now the go-to person for any technology help on the school campus. She also plans thematic lessons, research and activities for her students.

LaRue still works with a large book collection but has “moved past just a check-in/check-out book person to a fully integrated part of the curriculum, with a splash of technology on the side.”

The modern library is clearly a collaborative, tech-heavy space that grows community, and Anderson believes that all schools should be working toward this important goal.

“The new technology brings about creative thinking, problem-solving and hands-on learning. Additionally, it encourages students to take an active role in their learning experience and helps support skills they will need later in life,” she says.

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