Thursday, May 7, 2009

Libraries and Learning: A History of Paradigm Change

9:30-10:45 May 7, 2009 Libraries and Learning: A History of Paradigm Change

Scott Bennett is Yale University Librarian Emeritus. Check out more information at:

Mr.Bennett began discussing three revolutions in communications technology that have created paradigms in library space. All three dictate paradigms of library design: (1) reader-centered design/paradigm, (2) book centered design/paradigm, and (3)learning-centered paradigm (end of book-centered design).

The reader-centered paradigm can be seen in many traditional libraries that were designed to affirm the unity of readers and books. Books were in close proximity to the reader, and spaces were open and conducive to study and reading. The spaces were not dominated by shelving. see Yale University Library

The book-centered paradigm showcases a library overrun with book stacks, as books were central to the idea of a library building. An example of this is the main library, University of Illinois. Check these out on flickr: Uillinois

Scott talks about the end of the book-centered paradigm (learning-centered paradigm) as informing new library spaces and perhaps a flexible model for design in libraries. The tipping point came in the early 1990s through the early 2000s with the design and introduction of Journal Storage with the likes of JSTOR. With electronic resources came a shift in spatial relationships between students and the library. New study spaces are required and this clearly signaled the end of the book-centered paradigm. This paradigm clearly points to the information commons model. The Vogel Library, Wartburg College employs an information commons, but the planning process asked: what do we want to happen in this building? The answer: "We want to make learning happen." With this answer, the Vogel Library incorporates space on the third floor of the library with no print material, moving away from the model of book-centered design. The idea, as reported by Mr. Bennett, is that studying equates to learning. Learning is controlled, described as a transformative moment in which students WANT to learn. Scott uses the term "metacognition", or the ability to orchestrate ones learning. It is also referred to as "intentional learning." It employs an end rather than a means.

These are certainly lofty goals for a library--designing for intentional learning, as Scott relates. New design has the intention of fostering intentional learning. Autonomous learning has rarely been a goal in designing a new library space. Group study spaces, cafes, learning spaces do not comprise intentional learning spaces. The element of participation and community are required for contributing to the space and the intention of learning.

We need to think like educators rather than like service providers. the book-centered design is geared toward information. We no longer "support" students, but instead actively participate in the education process by making education intentional.

Make the library as a cheap place on campus for students to take control of their learning. Take advantage of the revolutionary moment employing a learning-centered paradigm in which education and learning are intentional, not peripheral. The librarian must not act as supporting architects in assisting the student, but as primary architects in designing the students.

A systematic understanding of learning informs our ideas of design for a library. It is clear that traditional methods of design of space will produce poor returns on investment in physical library space.

To borrow Scott's words from a statement on his website: "I believe that, properly done, library space design situates information in the social context of learning. This synergistic situating of information and learning is the core function of a bricks and mortar library, and it aligns both the library and its building with the basic educational mission of the college or university."

Essentially we are talking about a future of flexibility in library design. It seems that the new model of library design is like technology: it is everywhere and nowhere. In any case, it changes our notions of the way things "should be".

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