Learning Commons: Theory to practice

Defining and comparing Learning Commons, Maker Space, and Media Center

Educational Fad

Peter Pappas 21’st century skills – Educational Fad? 2009

How do we ensure that we are being truly innovative, and not just following industry fads?  I am occasionally seen as cutting edge or “an early adopter” when it comes to some technologies.  In reality, I am hesitant to jump on board some bandwagons.  It took me about 5 years of research before I finally introduced an eBook library to my community in 2012.

Pause and Research

The current buzz in the library industry is about “Makerspaces.”  I am never critical of my colleagues who experiment with new ideas, but there is a hesitation in me when it comes to Makerspaces.  Frankly, I don’t know that I or my stakeholders want Dremel tools and drills in my community’s library.  Additionally, I have seen some incredible things produced by 3-D printers, like the creation of prosthetic parts, medical models, and bones.  However,  I don’t know if a 3-D printing service is right for our library.

There is one trend that I have followed since about 2008, and that is the “Learning Commons Model.”  Most librarians know of David Loertscher, who is one of the biggest proponents of this trend.  He has declared 2015 the “Year of the Learning Commons”.   David Loertscher and Carol Koechlin are compiling an international database of library learning commons.   Loertscher has a very useful website about both physical and virtual learning commons.

Much like our school’s eBook library endeavor, we have researched the Learning Commons trend extensively before taking the plunge. There are a number of books on the topic and the list of 20 or more articles is at the end of this post.  The most helpful book and article for me was by a school librarian named Pam Harland.  It was an interesting coincidence,  that she in New Hampshire and we in Bell Buckle, TN had come to a lot of the same conclusions.

The Learning Commons: Seven Simple Steps to Transform Your Library  by Pamela Colburn Harland

Pam Harland – http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/articles/Harland2011-v28n1p34.html

Some steps to a Learning Commons model in our rural school library

  • 2008 reliable fiber-optics network for our school
  • 2008 began holding community events in the library [Presidential debate watch party, Student Council coffee house, Chinese Club tea ceremony]
  • 2008 fully wireless Internet access in the library and throughout campus
  • 2009 our library weeded the reference section by 3,000 volumes, and moved half of what was left of print reference to the circulating collection [added 45 electronic encyclopedias to our online reference]
  • 2012  in the newly open space we added cafe tables with casters and other flexible and collaborative work-spaces
  • 2013 launch of OverDrive electronic library collection, launch of school-wide BYOD, launch of e-Textbooks
  • 2014 called for donations of e-ink display e-Readers [loaded with Gutenberg Press books]
  • 2015 ordered new e-ink display e-Readers for plans to “rightsize” the collection

The Learning Commons model has worked very well for our library.  Sure, we will experiment with Makerspace /Hackerspace as well.   I do not believe that the two models are mutually exclusive.  It is all about providing space and service for the specific needs of our community.   I highly encourage you to listen to this presentation by  R. David Lankes, it was meant for public libraries and library staff, but it has so much to do with the way we organize school libraries as well.

R. David Lankes – http://quartz.syr.edu/blog/?p=8168


Pics from our evolution to Library Learning Commons Model


2008 Presidential Debate Watch [in between the reference stacks -before massive reference weeding


2012 – After the Reference Weeding of 2009 , and after the addition of cafe tables and updated lighting  –This provides for both daily collaboration and community eventsBusy Patrons IMG_20141010_155417





A Library Maker Space

Learning Commons, Makerspace Venn

Learning Commons, Makerspace Venn

A Learning Commons

A School Library [media center]






Comprehensive Bibliography – Learning Commons

Beth Holland – http://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-libraries-learning-commons-beth-holland

Pam Harland – http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/articles/Harland2011-v28n1p34.html


  • The New Learning Commons Where Learners Win! by David Loertscher, Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan
  • The Information Commons Handbook by Donald Robert Beagle
  • Transforming Library Service through Information Commons by D. Russell Bailey
  • The Learning Commons: Seven Simple Steps to Transform Your Library by Pamela Colburn Harland
  • A Field Guide to the Information Commons by Charles Forrest and Martin Halbert

David V. Loertscher and Colleagues

  • Loertscher, David V., and Elizabeth Marcoux. “Welcome to The Year of the Learning Commons.” Teacher Librarian 42.4 (2015): 6+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 June 2015.
  • Loertscher, David V., and Elizabeth “Betty” Marcoux. “Resources for the teacher librarian.” Teacher Librarian 42.4 (2015): 44+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 June 2015.
  • Loertscher, David V. “Conferences, the learning commons, and elevator speeches.” Teacher Librarian 42.4 (2015): 53.Custom Journal. Web. 20 June 2015
  • Loertscher, David V., and Elizabeth “Betty” Marcoux. “Learning commons progress report.” Teacher Librarian 42.3 (2015): 8+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
  • Loertscher, David V Curriculum, the library/learning, commons, and teacher-librarians: myths and realities in the second decade.(FEATURE ARTICLE). Teacher Librarian 37.3 (Feb 2010): p8(6). (Text: Yes (4057 words) words)
  • Loertscher, David V., and Carol Koechlin. “The virtual learning commons and school improvement.” Teacher Librarian39.6 (2012): 20+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.
  • Carol Koechlin, Michelle Luhtala and David V. Loertscher. Knowledge building in the learning commons.(FEATURE ARTICLE)(Essay). Teacher Librarian 38.3 (Feb 2011): p20(5). (2866 words)
  • Diggs, Valerie, and Loerstcher, David D. “From library to learning commons: a metamorphosis.” Teacher Librarian 36.4 (2009): 32+. Information Science & Library Issues Collection. Web. 1 Nov. 2010.


Other Learning Commons Enthusiasts

Browndorf, Margaret. “Student library ownership and building the communicative commons.” Journal of Library Administration Feb. 2014: 77-93. Custom Journal. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Cicchetti, Robin Concord-Carlisle transitions to a learning commons.(FEATURE ARTICLE)(Concord-Carlisle Regional High School’s library). Teacher Librarian 37.3 (Feb 2010): p52(7). (Text: Yes (3985 words) words)
Kincaid, Kami, and Peter Pfau. “Creating ever-evolving, school-specific learning commons.” Teacher Librarian 42.4 (2015): 8+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 June 2015.

Kompar, Fran. “Re-Imagining the School Library: the Learning Commons and systemic reform.” Teacher Librarian 42.4 (2015): 20+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 June 2015.

Linton, Jayme N. “TPACK as a framework for collaborative inquiry in the learning commons.” Teacher Librarian 39.6 (2012): 25+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 Dec. 2012.

Ramsey, Karen  The school tech squad: a learning commons technology boost.(TIPS & TACTICS).Teacher Librarian 38.1 (Oct 2010): p28(4). (1800 words)

Schaffhauser, Dian  “Will This Website Save Your Library (and Your Librarians)?” T.H.E. Journal, November 2013, http://online.qmags.com/TJL1113 (spotted in Education Digest, September 2014 (Vol. 80, #1, p. 37-43)

Stedman, Peggy and Carroll, Greg  The learning commons is alive in New Zealand.(FEATURE ARTICLE)(educational programs provided by the Allen Centre). Teacher Librarian 37.3 (Feb 2010): p59(4). (Text: Yes (1994 words) words)

Steele, Ryan. “The journey from library to learning commons.” Teacher Librarian 42.3 (2015): 12+. Custom Journal. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.
Sullivan, Margaret L. “High Impact School Library Spaces: Envisioning New School Library Concepts.” Teacher Librarian 42.3 (2015): 41. Custom Journal. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

Vanburen, Lois Presenting radical ideas to administrators and faculty.(FEATURE ARTICLE).Teacher Librarian 38.1 (Oct 2010): p24(3). (1675 words)

White, Bruce  Toward a learning commons: my journey; your journey.(FEATURE ARTICLE)(Essay). Teacher Librarian 38.3 (Feb 2011): p27(4). (3433 words)


Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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1 reply

  1. Hannah-
    Thank you for providing so much information on developing a learning commons. My concern is to how to balance the needs of each group of users within the same library. Have you experienced any conflicts among the different types of users that utilize your library? I would imagine that some students get frustrated at the noise levels, while others might request more space for collaboration, etc. I am just curious as to your thoughts and experiences in regards to this aspect.


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