Has the school library a future in the digital age?

The concept of a school library in a digital age is challenging. With the capacity to download books onto a range of digital devices there is every possibility the library could look superfluous to youngsters growing up today. Why would you want to visit a room which is essentially about storage and distribution?

This question has exercised the mind of my school because senior school students are already equipped with iPads. We had to consider what for many teachers is the unthinkable – is the library an anachronism? A resource to be discarded as no longer fit for purpose?

If we view the library as purely a function of lending books this is indeed the case. However, we felt very strongly that the library is more than a facilitating process – it has cultural significance which matters. The library can inspire. It is with good reason that the great Library of Alexandria is remembered today as a fulcrum of intellectual curiosity and invention. It was here that Archimedes invented the screw-shaped water pump; Eratosthenes measured the diameter of the Earth, and Euclid discovered the rules of geometry.

The Renaissance witnessed the exponential growth in libraries with the invention of printing. What interests me is not just the explosion of the printed word but the inspirational library spaces created to curate them. The Vatican Library is illustrative of the artistry of the Renaissance and the sense that this is not just a repository for books but an iconic crucible for learning. This grand purpose underpins the modern British Library which offers the visitor a unique experience.

So what does this mean for a school? It means a great deal. It is my belief that the library has the capacity to enjoy its own renaissance. Because of the digital revolution it is no longer just about the printed book. As a space, it is about inspiring young people.

The design brief for the libraries in our junior and senior schools is premised on inspiration. In the junior school the task was to create a space all about the power of the story. The story courtyard complements a room which is configured to invite children to engage and explore. It invites them into a world all about the imagination. In both spaces there will be cultural signifiers – the lamp post in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” or a disappearing White Rabbit. Signifiers referencing children’s literature which are integral to the power of the story.

 A corner of a cabinet, painted by Frans II Francken in 1636

A corner of a cabinet, painted by Frans II Francken in 1636

The senior school library continues the journey. Here we aim to combine the power of the story with a concept premised on the Cabinet of Curiosities. Curiosity in its purest sense where a student’s learning is entirely unrelated to examination specifications and is encouraging learning for its own sake. The first Cabinet being mooted relates to an evening next term where the films of Charlie Chaplin will provide both entertainment and a cultural reference point. Our Curator of the Cabinet of Curiosities is tasked with supporting this with the curation of a range of objects which will stimulate interest and encourage inquiry. Our approach is unashamedly about inspiring a love of learning.

The digital age therefore far from sounding the death knell of school libraries offers schools an opportunity to create their own distinctive library space. Libraries have a history of offering inspiration – they also have a future.

3 thoughts on “Has the school library a future in the digital age?

  1. 3arn0wl

    And actually, shouldn’t all our classrooms be Cabinets of Curiosity? Inspiring and challenging our students not only by what we say, but what’s displayed too?

  2. Sue Cowley

    What a brilliant take on the library of the 21st century!
    I love your idea of the cabinet of curiosities, I’ve seen something similar used in early years settings as well where the children collect random interesting objects which are kept in a cabinet and brought out to inspire talk.


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