The Library Gets a Makeover


Halle Larson

A new, sleeker look has been applied to the media center.

Voices filled with bright ideas and sudden realizations swarm the air, electrifying the room as students come together and work.

The room once filled with dark, wooden bookcases has now been transformed completely. The rows of books have been replaced with comfortable chairs, tables glass rooms and a unique new carpet.

Spaces like the school’s new Student Center are commonly referred to as “learning commons” in the library science world.  

The goal of the Student Center is to help students study and learn by providing an area with resources and services.

This change is not unique to the school. Fulton County is enacting a plan to change all school libraries into learning commons, starting with high schools. Middle and elementary school libraries will be renovated in years to come.

Many schools in other parts of Georgia have not jumped on the learning commons trend. However, this idea is growing in popularity throughout the United States. Why are schools around the country transitioning from the traditional library to the new learning commons?

Advancements in technology over the past decade have had a major impact on all aspects of life, including academics.

“Your connectivity to the world has changed everything,” said Principal Edward Spurka.

Libraries were places for students to find information. Now, with the vastness of the internet, it only takes a few taps on a phone or clicks on a computer for students to access any information they need.

According to Spurka, the purpose of libraries had to change to fit the modern student’s needs.  

Spurka said students no longer needed a place for just accessing information when that was easily and readily provided online. He said they needed a place to give meaning to the information they gathered, connecting peers and allowing them to collaborate on work.

Students are learning differently, from online classes to Socratic seminars. Like other school systems across the country, Fulton County has moved to the educational approach known as personalized learning, said Media in Education and Technology Instructor Laura Morgan.

This approach means teachers provide an assortment of different instructional approaches to meet students’ varied learning styles.

Morgan said these new learning commons are made to do just that.

“Learning Commons are all about flexible space that can be rearranged according to user needs,” said Melissa Johnston, assistant professor of educational technology and foundations at the University of West Georgia, over email.

This is shown through the variety of resources available, such as moveable furniture, study rooms, interactive boards and classroom space.

Johnston has seen the success of the learning commons model at the university level, and that success has inspired K-12 schools to apply their own versions.

“The focus [of learning commons] was on providing a space where students could work and collaborate together in a comfortable welcoming environment,” Johnston wrote.

Spurka said research done by Fulton County Schools has found that students are more successful when they work with peers.  

Critics have voiced drawbacks to the new change to school libraries as well.

Johnston said one concern is the needs of the individual learner looking for a quiet place to concentrate.

“That is why it is so important to think about designing your learning commons — there still needs to be a place for this — remember in a school library it is about meeting the needs of all learners,” Johnston wrote.

The school has attempted to address this by soundproofing the study rooms. However, students are still able to hear those in the study rooms next to their own.

The school currently has no plans to address this, Morgan said.  

Morgan also said a large worry for students who love to read is the lack of books.

“There are still books here; a lot of people say “Are you getting rid of the books?’”, said Morgan.  

The school’s books are filtered out as normal library procedure, and around 400-500 books were removed over the summer, many of which were duplications or books that had not been checked out by anyone in years.

The Student Center currently carries about 8,000 books, slightly less than what the library had last year.

Morgan said that the electronic resources are present to make up for any information from books that are no longer present.

“I do not think you lose the library in the learning commons model,” said Johnston. “It is just an adaptation of the library to meet the needs of the students and faculty. The underlying principles are the same.”

Morgan said she has found that the feedback from most students at the school has been positive.

“As a new student, I really like it because no other school [that I’ve been to] has ever had this,” said freshman Sofia Palacieos.  “A library just has books. What you could do in a library, you could do in your own house.”

Sophomore Vanessa Haak said she prefers the Student Center over the library because she feels more comfortable in the Student Center.

“I have been super impressed with how well the students have utilized the space, like with technology. It’s like they just get it,” said Morgan.

Spurka said he is excited about what the school’s new student center will bring and is curious to see how the students will use it.