Building a Learning Commons Culture: Teaching Procedures


As the school year gets underway, don’t forget the old adage that taking time to teach procedures is always time well spent.  Teaching expectations for behavior in the learning commons library is just as important as teaching rules for a classroom.  If the library is the hub of learning in the school, students and teachers need to be taught how to use the space.  Especially given that more and more libraries are staffed by one librarian, teaching patrons how to be self-sufficient with everyday needs is necessary to sanity and survival, freeing the librarian to teach, provide point of need information assistance, and aid students with book selection.

One thing I’ve come to realize is that you cannot expect that students know how to behave.  Whether it is lack of experience or that a patron is used to another librarian’s procedures, many users will need to be explicitly taught how to use the learning commons.  I really like the library rules posters that center around respect–respect the space, each other, etc.  However, you cannot assume that kids know what you mean by respect. Demonstrate how showing respect looks. Act it out, use scenarios and even a script, if needed.

As much as possible, when you develop your rules, focus on wording them positively.  So instead of “no food or drinks” try “responsibile use of food and drinks permitted.”   Scanning online for other sample rules posters, I see a number of them that include things that are redundant to school rules–dress code items, things like no bullying.  I don’t see the need to reiterate those in the library–they should be understood.  Spend your time on helping patrons learn self-checkout and even check-in if that’s possible, how to use technology, printing procedures, how they can use work spaces in the library learning commons, how to access online resources, and other types of services you offer.

Self-checkout is one of the things that I notice is so very hard for some librarians to embrace.  It’s definitely more time consuming at the beginning, but it is so helpful to get away from the circ desk, even for those of us who work with very young children.  If you’re still on the fence, or need a good how-to, this blog entry from Dr. Leigh Ann Jones is a great place to start.

Beyond that, what other functions does your learning commons offer, and how does it look when patrons are using it effectively?

I really like the library rules posters that center around respect–respect the space, each other, etc.  However  you cannot assume that kids know what you mean by respect.  Demonstrate how showing respect looks in the library learning commons.  Act it out, use scenarios and even a script, if needed.

For example, if you have a makerspace area, what do students and teachers need to know to use it successfully?  Are there expectations about when to use it?  How about how to leave it when finished?

Do you have open study space?  Is there an understanding of when students are free to use it?  Are students allowed to bring drinks and food if they use caution and clean up after themselves?

Do you have computers and/or lab space that students may use for projects or assignments?  What about open web-surfing and games?  Are these permitted if they are age-appropriate and not interfering with class work?

As the year progresses, you will be able to pull back from teaching students how to use the space, and focus on teaching them while they are in the space.

The best evidence you’ve done your job?  When you can be gone from the space and the students carry on as if you had been there the whole time.

Something making you crazy–students are leaving a mess at lunch or your makerspace materials are in a jumble?  Time to revisit the process!  Don’t assume something isn’t working because the rules aren’t being followed.  First, try to observe what might be causing it–such as students aren’t stopping to clean up early enough before they have to leave, trash cans are not adequate, or makerspace items need more containers, then help students be successful by making adjustments to the procedures and reteach them.

Creating a library learning commons with welcoming, collaborative culture requires work, but the investment of time to create it will bring big dividends!


Author: Jennifer Laboon

Jennifer LaBoon is the Coordinator of Library Technology in Fort Worth ISD. She serves on the AASL Blog Committee, on the Executive Board of the Texas Library Association, volunteers with a local children’s musical theater group, and is an avid TCU fan.

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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