Assessment Item 3: Literature Critique


The challenges of the school library as an evolving learning space

Word Count: 2,628


Bibliographic details:

IDEO. (2014). Design thinking for libraries – a toolkit for patron-centered design (p. 121). IDEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved from

Haycock, K. (2007). Collaboration: Critical success factors for student learning. School Libraries Worldwide, 13(1), 25–35.

La Marca, S. (2008). Reading spaces (pp. 1–12). Presented at the 38th Annual Conference of the International Association of School Librarianship, Padua, Italy: International Association of School Librarianship. Retrieved from

Lin, P., Chen, K., & Chang, S.-S. (2010). Before there was a place called library – Library space as an invisible factor affecting students’ learning. Libri: International Journal of Libraries & Information Services, 60(4), 339–351.

Oblinger, D., G. (2006). Learning how to see. In D. Oblinger G. (Ed.), Learning Spaces (pp. 14.1–14.11). Boulder, CO: Educause. Retrieved from

Willis, J., Bland, D., Hughes, H., & Elliott-Burns, R. (2013). Reimagining school libraries: emerging teacher pedagogic practices. Presented at the International Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, Adelaide, South Australia. Retrieved from



This essay will specifically focus on the libraries of educational institutions – in particular school libraries – their role in learning and the way in which design, design thinking and the design process can optimise student outcomes given the financial, physical and time constraints inherent to the school environment.


A critique of literature necessitates criterion from which to evaluate the material. One of the weaknesses in design literature in general and school library design in particular is the reliance on single story or anecdotal evidence to support decisions and change. The aforementioned six pieces of literature will be judged to see whether they incorporate an understanding and discussion of

  • how research-based educational discourse has influenced the design space,
  • the relationships between educational trends and physical and virtual spaces,
  • the incorporation of technical and physical standards of interoperability, usability and sustainability,
  • how collaboration can be enhanced through the design process, design thinking or physical, virtual or temporal spatial design

Educational Discourse

A number of themes characterise current educational discourse. Following a meta-analysis of evidence-based influences on student achievement, the conclusion was reached that major sources of variance in student’s achievement lie in the learners themselves (50%) and their teachers (30%) (Hattie, 2003, 2009). Claxton’s work on the qualities of successful learners and their underlying motivations – including responsibility, respect, real world application, choice, challenge and collaboration are of relevance to this discussion (McIntosh, 2011), as are any ways in which design thinking or changes to physical, virtual or temporal spaces can enhance the work of teachers in particular collaboration, co-planning and co-teaching with teacher librarians (Loertscher, 2014; Montiel-Overall, 2006, 2008; Todd, 2008).


Literature supports evidence that learner needs can be met by creating physical and virtual spaces, as well as using design thinking to allow learners greater autonomy (La Marca, 2008). Users should be involved in the design of learning spaces and programs (IDEO, 2014; Oblinger, 2006). Greater choice is provided by spaces that accommodate different learning styles, and promote informal learning while extending learner experience. Well-designed social spaces have a positive impact on motivation and the ability to learn by encouraging ‘conversations’ and interaction between faculty and students and intra-faculty collaboration (Haycock, 2007; IDEO, 2014; La Marca, 2008; Lin, Chen, & Chang, 2010; Oblinger, 2006; Willis, Bland, Hughes, & Elliott-Burns, 2013).

Educational Trends

The trends that have been identified that impact on the school library as a space include; learning no longer being limited by geography, time or physical spaces, the emergence of digital and virtual spaces (Joint, 2011; Kurvink, 2008; La Marca, 2008; Oblinger, 2006), a movement away from a fixed curriculum to inquiry based learning (Kuhlthau & Maniotes, 2010; Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2012; Short, 2009), rapid globalisation with more multi-lingual/cultural learners in any learning environment, (Gee & Hayes, 2011; Kutner & Armstrong, 2012; Vega, 2014) learning no longer confined to educational institutions but becoming life-long and personalized (Gee & Hayes, 2011; McLoughlin & Lee, 2009) and learning is moving away from being individual, school bound and information based to being collaborative and interactive with an emphasis on analysis, thinking problem solving and knowledge building (Chau & Cheng, 2011; Ellis & Phillips, 2013; Sinclair, 2007; Vasiliou, Ioannou, & Zaphiris, 2014; Vaughan, Nickle, Silovs, & Zimmer, 2011). One of the merits of design thinking is that while it cannot always anticipate educational trends, it provides librarians and educators with the tools to respond to the challenges inherent in change (IDEO, 2014) – provided of course they are recognised on time. Oblinger (2006) also encourages experimentation, innovation and prototyping in educational spaces.


Education space is no longer defined by physical rooms and teaching but by learning and the means of providing access to shared specialist resources both physical and virtual that is flexible, responsive to individual needs, allows self-directed learning and opportunities for interaction and collaboration (La Marca, 2008; Oblinger, 2006; Willis et al., 2013). Instead of grades and diplomas “learning is the unit of success” (IDEO, 2014, p. 97), even when the outcome appears not to be favourable.

Technical and physical environment

The literature appears to agree on the importance of setting pedagogical, philosophical and social goals before planning learning spaces and evaluating these e against the mission and values of the organisation (La Marca, 2008; Lin et al., 2010; Oblinger, 2006; Willis et al., 2013). Discussions range from the social construction of space, and how this can catalyse encounters (Oblinger, 2006) and impact on functional areas, relationships and the service philosophy (Lin et al., 2010), power structures and the messaging of signage (Willis et al., 2013) to more practical issues around the importance of useable, interoperable, flexible and sustainable spaces with a discussion of physical elements, ambiance, lighting, colour, acoustics temperature, display and ‘agile’ furniture (La Marca, 2008; Willis et al., 2013).


Sustainability is an important theme due to the longevity of building structures relative to internal components such as hard/software and furnishings with an emphasis on the importance of continual flexibility and renewal to ensure the environment aligns with pedagogy, curricula, assumed practices and social factors (Hauke & Werner, 2012; Lin et al., 2010; Oblinger, 2006; Willis et al., 2013). The employment of design thinking allows for the rapid prototyping, mini-piloting and implementation responding to changes while working within constraints and involving all stakeholders in the space (IDEO, 2014).


A substantial body of research points to the value of teacher and librarian collaboration (Ferer, 2012; Gibbs, 2003; Haycock, 1998, 2007; Jones & Green, 2012; Kachel, 2013; Loertscher, 2014; Lonsdale, 2003; Montiel-Overall, 2006, 2008; Todd, 2008; Williamson, Archibald, & McGregor, 2010), yet little practical implementable advices is given on how libraries can change their physical, virtual or temporal spaces, or even implement design thinking in order to improve the likelihood of collaboration and integration.


Literature primarily focuses on the need to merge the academic and social dimensions of learning through flexible and adaptive spaces which cater for collaborative learning amongst users and patrons, recognising the communal character of knowledge and allowing for spontaneous user interactivity (Lin et al., 2010). A convincing argument is made for considering the way in which the new constructivist pedagogies of collaboration, interactive learning and analytic thinking have impacted design practices in order to situate physical and digital information geographically and symbolically into the social context of learning in order to advance and perpetuate knowledge (Lin et al., 2010). To meet these changes, library space design has evolved to favour ample ‘agile’ mobile spaces and flexible movable furnishings to facilitate the creation of a third space that offers resources and services above and beyond what the home, office or classroom is able to provide (La Marca, 2008; Willis et al., 2013) while flexible scheduling allows the “temporal space” within which collaboration has the time to occur (Gavigan, Pribesh, & Dickinson, 2010; Haycock, 1998, 2007).

Collaboration with users allows them to be acknowledged and heard, and the design thinking process offers some practical advices with a methodology which can be extended to enhancing collaboration within programs, services, spaces and systems (IDEO, 2014).



One of the first hurdles in considering which practices translate best into practice is how to evaluate the success of an educational library space. While schools and teachers can be assessed on common standards, examination results, literacy and numeracy scores, the librarian is tasked with providing evidence for the more nebulous concepts of enhancing student and teacher learning, resourcing the curriculum, providing access to information and a pleasant physical environment (Gillespie & Hughes, 2014). Research attempting to quantify a link between achievement in the form of test scores and school libraries suggests the following characteristics of a successful school library:

  • Integration of information literacy skills in the curriculum
  • Adequate staffing, resourcing and funding
  • Collaborative planning between librarians and teachers
  • Extended library and staff hours
  • In-service training by librarians to teachers
  • Good quality, larger and newer collections
  • More student visits
  • Flexible scheduling (Kachel, 2013; Lonsdale, 2003).


However, academic achievement is just one aspect of the outcome indicators identified by the Victoria Department of Education in their evaluation of built learning spaces – others include engagement, interpersonal interactions, physical and psychological wellbeing and behavioural features – (Blackmore, Bateman, Loughlin, O’Mara, & Aranda, 2011). These features presume pre-conditions for learning receptiveness that learning spaces are burdened with assuming, and for which research indicates there is little empirical evidence.


Unfortunately this appears to also be the case with respect to the design considerations that most easily translate into practice, the “low hanging fruit” – often extolled by “library design” workshop participants (Hennah, n.d.-b) including an emphasis on ambiance, contemporising spaces, employing visual display and retailing techniques that probably all contribute to increased footfall and perhaps circulation, which however has no rigorous evidence based research that can link it with enhancing learning.


La Marca’s writing on Reading Spaces (2008) comes closest to looking at the links between library spaces and achievement attesting that giving an activity a space gives it value. Building on her own (La Marca, 2003) and other’s research (Elliott-Burns, 2003; Lackney, 2001) she identifies ambiance, access and ownership, flexibility, individuality, physical and student concerns as elements contributing to successful library reading space design, which, by implication, create successful readers with the resultant improvement in academic attainment. One could challenge this type of assumed causality as a case of post hoc fallacy.


Interestingly, none of the articles referred to above at any time indicate that any of the positive effects attributed to changes in design or placement of space may be a result of the “Hawthorne” or “novelty” effects, in which improvements may be a result of change in the environment and people’s interest in and response to the innovation or the feeling of being accorded attention when the spatial change is researched. In fact, school libraries may be doing themselves a disservice by following literature, research or anecdotes based on public libraries or perceived user needs. While innovation and novelty can increase footfall and circulation figures, (Bentheim, 2013; Hennah, n.d.-a) as Lippincott (2006) points out, after entry the library has to engage the patron in order to enhance learning and scholarship. In fact, research from museums seems to indicate that decreasing novelty could help create a non-distracting familiar environment where learning can take place (Kubota & Olstad, 1991). The need for novelty was experienced recently where, following a successful Valentine’s Day pink and red wrapped “book date” campaign (Eastlib, 2015a), the following month’s black covered “mystery book” campaign attracted little attention (Eastlib, 2015b).


Despite the importance of librarian / teacher collaboration on academic attainment, there is little mention of how physical and virtual space can enhance this – most articles focus exclusively on peer-to-peer or teacher-to-student collaboration. In an article on library staff spaces a wide range of issues is covered with only a brief mention of collaborative spaces and learning – that is focused on internal staff interaction (Felix, 2015). One has to look outside the discipline for suggestions as to how spaces can ‘manipulate and order engagement’ (Elliott-Burns, 2003, 2005; Willis et al., 2013) or ‘catalyze social encounters’ (Oblinger, 2006) – practices that have become the norm in business organisations such as Pixar, Apple and Google with their “braintrusts”, single staircases, war rooms and free meals allowing both for deliberate collaboration and ‘serendipitous interaction’ (Avallon & Schneider, 2013; Catmull, 2014; Knapp, 2014). Although Haycock (2007) includes environment, process and structure, communication and resources among the factors that positively influence collaboration, no mention is made of reconstruction of physical or virtual spaces or applying any type of design thinking to facilitate collaboration.


Peer-learning is a valuable but under-utilized method of engaging students, (Hattie & Yates, 2013), and could also assist the professional development of teachers and teacher-librarians. Communal learning spaces in libraries transformed to “learning commons” or “information commons” encourage peer-learning and collaboration between students of different ages, interests and values (Hay, 2006, 2010; Hay & Todd, 2010; Oblinger, 2006), however discussion of inter-collegial teacher / teacher librarian use of spaces is neglected. The ability to book spaces, librarians or other specialists online as well as the affordances of large flexible accommodating spaces impact how teachers learn, balancing equilibrium and disequilibrium, collaborative and individual space and enhancing shared beliefs (Willis et al., 2013).


Acoustics is mentioned with relative frequency in the literature, however discussion appears to be limited to the desirability of consideration of controlling noise levels or managing them according to the purpose of the space and acoustic standards (Blackmore et al., 2011; Cha & Kim, 2015; Elliott-Burns, 2005; Lackney, 2001; Lin et al., 2010; McDonald, 2010; Treasure, 2012). In practice, space, design or financial constraints may lead to sub-optimal acoustic environments which are difficult or expensive to remedy once a building is in use, standards change or when spaces are re-purposed (Hauke & Werner, 2012).


Much of the design literature and related research is “front-loaded” to the planning and design stages, with little literature and less evidence available on the implementation and transition phase; consolidation phase; and sustainability/re-evaluation phase with more emphasis on anecdote and design standards than educational practice and student outcomes (Blackmore et al., 2011). This may be due to the aforementioned “novelty effect” – once a new or renovated space is taken into operation, attention is on the new “next big thing” and few people are interested in measuring actual experience with design briefs or mock-up promises – this is unfortunate since significant learning is thereby neglected (Latimer, 2011). Spending time on post-occupancy evaluation (POE) literature is probably as worthwhile a pursuit as the emphasis on the design process and planning – including practical real life experiences, involving the voice and feedback of users who may not have been involved in the design process or may have had their comments and suggestions ignored (Baker, 2011; DeClercq & Cranz, 2014; Latimer, 2011).


Discussion on building and interior planning and design forms the bulk of discourse, in the chosen readings, but IDEO’s toolkit (2014) will possibly prove to be the most significant in practice. Design thinking is an empathic and intuitive process that assesses and responds to learner’s needs in as much as it is transformative and provides innovative solutions at the intersection of desirability, viability and feasibility (IDEO, 2014).


While not specifically geared to school libraries, it methodically takes the reader through the design thinking process of inspiration, ideation and iteration (Brown, 2008; Kimbell, 2011, 2012; Kuratko, Goldsby, & Hornsby, 2012) giving practical advice and concrete examples of implementation and results. Due to its public library focus however, it emphasizes meeting patron needs. It is suggested that school librarians would have to distance themselves somewhat from patron’s perceived and expressed needs and work towards applying these tools to the “wicked” (Buchanan, 1992) and “ill structured” (Simon, 1973) problems such as integration of information literacy into the curriculum, collaborative planning, extended hours, and flexible schedules, that, if solved, can best contribute to enhancing learning in the school community (Kachel, 2013; Lonsdale, 2003).


Haycock (2007) reminds us that educator / librarian collaboration is the single behaviour that most affects student achievement and that this behaviour models partnership, cooperative planning and teaching to students and other members of the community while integrating the library program into the curriculum and changing the role of the librarian from resourcer to learning facilitator. Design thinking interventions that have been observed include: giving language-arts teachers first opportunity to sign up for recess and lunch-time library supervision enhancing opportunity for deliberate and chance encounters with the librarian, as do booktalk pre-school “coffee mornings” (Day, 2015a); moving the library into the classroom through class libraries – for all subjects not just for language-arts classrooms (Day, 2013); and incorporating design thinking teaching into the research process (Day, 2015b). In practice, design thinking type interventions are likely to have lasting impact on teaching practice and enhanced student learning and merit more attention and research.


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Bentheim, C. A. (2013). Continuing the transition work from traditional library to learning commons. Teacher Librarian, 41(2), 29–36. Retrieved from

Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., & Aranda, G. (2011). Research into the connection between built learning spaces and student outcomes (Literature review No. 22). Melbourne, Australia: Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Retrieved from

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Cha, S. H., & Kim, T. W. (2015). What matters for students’ use of physical library space? The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(3), 274–279.

Chau, J., & Cheng, G. (2011). A comparative study of using blogs and wikis for collaborative knowledge construction. International Journal of Instructional Media, 38(1), 71–78. Retrieved from

Day, K. (2013, November). Liberate your book cupboards and create a more true “bookstore” model in your school library? [Web Log]. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from

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Day, K. (2015b, September 5). Design thinking for the research process (e.g., the IBO Extended Essay) [Web Log]. Retrieved September 6, 2015, from

DeClercq, C. P., & Cranz, G. (2014). Moving beyond seating-centered learning environments: Opportunities and challenges identified in a POE of a campus library. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(6), 574–584.

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Elliott-Burns, R. (2005). Designing spaces for learning and living in schools: perspectives of a flaneuse. Presented at the Australian Curriculum Studies Association Biennial Conference, Queensland, Australia: University of the Sunshine Coast. Retrieved from

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Felix, E. (2015). Rethink the staff workplace – Library by design. Library Journal, Spring, 7–9. Retrieved from

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Gavigan, K., Pribesh, S., & Dickinson, G. (2010). Fixed or flexible schedule? Schedule impacts and school library circulation. Library & Information Science Research, 32(2), 131–137.

Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2011). Language and learning in the digital age (1st ed). New York, NY: Routledge.

Gibbs, R. (2003). Reframing the role of the teacher-librarian : the case for collaboration and flexibility. Scan, 22(3), 4–7. Retrieved from;dn=129538;res=AEIPT

Gillespie, A., & Hughes, H. (2014). Snapshots of teacher librarians as evidence based practitioners. Access, (September), 26–40. Retrieved from

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Haycock, K. (1998). What works: Collaborative cultures, team planning and flexible scheduling. Emergency Librarian, 25(5), 28. Retrieved from

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Vaughan, N., Nickle, T., Silovs, J., & Zimmer, J. (2011). Moving to their own beat: Exploring how students use Web 2.0 technologies to support group work outside of class time. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 10(3), 113–127. Retrieved from

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Williamson, K., Archibald, A., & McGregor, J. (2010). Shared vision: A key to successful collaboration? School Libraries Worldwide, 16(2), 16–30. Retrieved from

Willis, J., Bland, D., Hughes, H., & Elliott-Burns, R. (2013). Reimagining school libraries: emerging teacher pedagogic practices. Presented at the International Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education, Adelaide, South Australia. Retrieved from



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