Designing Evidence-Based Library Spaces for Twenty-First Century Learning: Case Studies from Singapore

The design of learning spaces can constrain or encourage particular forms of learning, yet the research on how to evaluate the effectiveness of learning spaces remain scarce. In this “new culture of learning” (Thomas and Brown, 2011) students need to be open to change, ask critical questions about the world around them, imagine new solutions, and collaborate with others. The traditional view of school as a conduit for transmitting information is insufficient in this complex and fluid environment. Rather, schools need to help students learn how to manage and amplify what they know to generate greater learning, and the school library is a central space for cultivating such forms of learning.

This presentation draws on a year-long comparative case study of six Singapore school libraries to examine how the design and organization of library spaces can facilitate the development of twenty-first century skills in schools. More specifically, I draw on the examples of reading and collaboration spaces in school libraries to illustrate how space shapes behaviours and how individuals – both teachers and students – negotiate and colonise spaces within the library for their own purposes. I share broadly about how policy, programme and practice need cohere for effective optimization of the library space according to the school’s goals and students’ needs. In the course of the presentation, I will illustrate how the use of library user surveys, detailed observations (time freezes and timed narratives), documentary photography, time-lapse photography and interviews across schools allowed us insight into “what works” (Imms, 2016) in library design, taking into account pedagogic intent. I will also share the evaluation protocol developed in response to the project findings, to serve as a form of evidence-based evaluation for school libraries.

This event is organised by the Learning Environments Applied Research Network (LEaRN). LEaRN is a multidisciplinary forum, a portal and an international network bringing together academia and industry to research, imagine and discuss physical learning environments in school, vocational, university, medical and corporate contexts at The University of Melbourne.