Leafing through the pages of a library book to garner information is becoming an almost archaic notion in an age when students have instant access to endless information via a few clicks and swipes of their handheld devices, iPads or laptops. So how does the humble school library remain relevant in the Information Age? Locke High School in the Watts area of Los Angeles teamed up with the No Right Brain Left Behind collective (NRBLB) to examine just that question. And the results are nothing short of inspiring.
For starters, Locke High School hasn’t even been able to afford to employ a librarian for years. Teacher Kathleen Hicks noted: “Over 20 years of transient staffing meant the books were a combination of woefully outdated and randomly new or donated from well-intentioned ladies book clubs… The space was only used for meetings and testing students. It might have been a nice, traditional library many years ago, but there was no one really to keep up the space.” The existing space was also drab, rigid and uninspiring.
Green Dot Public Schools had taken over Locke High School in 2008, and set about transforming it. In 2011, Douglas Weston, Green Dot’s Director of Development, met NRBLB founder Viktor Venson at an awards ceremony and they fell to discussing education. In June 2013, the collaboration began in earnest with brainstorming sessions for students, parents and teachers to discuss and design the ideal space. From these discussions the JetSpace concept was born: a hybrid of a traditional library, collaborative workspace, learning lab and presentation space. While the physical space reopened in June 2014, the transformation of the usage of the space will be an ongoing process, responding to student needs and the availability of future collaborators.
For now the space is almost unrecognizable. Light, bright and open concept, spaces for small working groups or quiet reading are created by arrangements of the custom hexagonal shelving and seating units. The no talking rule has been abandoned and the new collection of books has been selected to be “more inspirational and more visual, books that could spark interest, and then the students can go deeper into a subject with other tools,” says Venson. Students are encouraged to use the space as a collaborative springboard for deeper learning and creative thinking. The call is out for a “Curator” for the space, responsible for day-to-day operations and managing special projects. There are already requests from other Green Dot managed schools for similar projects in their underutilized libraries. Venson states, “Our bigger vision with this is to create a kit, an open-source development plan for the redesign of these underused spaces.”
Photos by No Right Brain Left Behind