You Say “Library”, I Say “Learning Commons”: What’s the Big Diff?

Learning Commons

Learning Commons image via


Library image via


Where do you work?  A library or a school library media center or a learning commons? What are you called? School Library Media Specialist or Teacher Librarian or “Hey, Library Lady”?  Whatever name you’ve adopted or been handed, many school librarians are in the process of redesigning and rebranding their spaces to adapt to the changing needs of their students and teachers, as we always have. It isn’t about what we call it so much as what we start to do differently to make them the best spaces for learning.

At this summer’s ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, I attended a session called “Resource Re-defined: Libraries as Learning Spaces” presented by Stacy Cameron and Nancy Jo Lambert, two smart and sassy school librarians from Frisco, Texas. They suggested asking yourself these questions when assessing whether or not your library is set up as an effective learning space.

When you look at your space, does it…

  • motivate learners?
  • promote learning?
  • support collaborative and formal practice?
  • provide a personalized and inclusive environment?
  • adapt to the changing needs of the school community?

The presenters showed various examples of libraries that are doing this, and they were all designed for flexible use, with everything on wheels to easily create smaller group work areas for social learning with lots of different seating options, including special desks that can raise up for students who prefer to stand while working. Nancy Jo invested in KwikBoost charging stations for her high school library. She also installed bluetooth beacons to beam daily messages directly to her students’ devices.

I know all you public school librarians on a shoestring budget are rolling your eyes right now (believe me, I’ve been in your shoes), but before I lose you, creating a relevant learning space is not just about investing in expensive technologies. The presenters also discussed the importance of offering nontraditional library programming that promotes school-wide learning initiatives. At the elementary level, Nancy Jo regularly posted Math Stats Challenge questions on a bulletin board in the library and on the website that related to the curriculum. She also got a Canvas grant from Instructure to start a makerspace. She encouraged us all to think of a makerspace as an idea, not necessarily a formal, designated space in the library and provided excellent ideas for techie and non-tech projects that get the kids creating. She also emphasized the importance of fighting for a flexible schedule even at the elementary level so you can focus on meaningful collaborations with teachers.

Nancy Jo described her library as often “two glowsticks short of a rave” and that’s how she likes it because kids want to be there. She shared a quote that “students are drawn to spaces that are open, inviting and stimulating: spaces where they become fully engaged in the conversation and in the excitement of sharing new ideas”(JISC).

Is it time for you to redesign and rebrand your space to make it more inviting and stimulating? What is one exciting thing you can research this summer and decide to implement in the new school year? Or maybe you have gone through this process already and would like to share with us your trials and tips for success? Let me know and perhaps I can feature your re-branded library/learning commons here.

You can see the full Resource Re-Designed slide presentation here.

And here you can read more about what else I gleaned from this year’s amazing ALA conference.


Author: Cassy Lee

Cassy Lee is a middle school Teacher Librarian focused on education equity, empathy, and empowerment. She is the recipient of the 2020 AASL Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award and the 2018 SLJ Champion of Student Voice. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, son, and a steady stream of foster dogs. You can find her on Twitter at @MrsLibrarianLee and at CSLA in February!

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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