Transforming the library space: Version 2.0

Is it a fish tank? Is it a shark tank? The library has implemented yet another feature on its upper deck and it’s capturing students’ attention. The novel addition is a cube-shaped room with glass walls. Not a fish tank, not a shark tank, but a “think tank.”

On the exterior, the glass walls give an impression of a completely muted atmosphere, yet upon settling into one of the chairs inside the perimeter, students discover that the open ceiling only muffles the outside noise. 

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The Think Tank. Photo by Mina Mayo-Smith

This box is only one recent transition in the new facility. Some of the changes that have taken place in what was once a traditional and quiet library are dramatic. Besides the removal of bookshelves on the top floor and the influx of open, collaborative workspaces, the space has been branded with a new name. The Khoo Teck Puat Library is now simultaneously referred to as the Center of Innovation.

Dennis Steigerwald is the new coordinator of this space, and though it may appear SAS has lost a library landmark, Mr. Steigerwald assures students, “We are not removing the library.”

According to Mr. Steigerwald, the vision for the new space came from the research and development that took place over the last three years.

Because the changes are recent, students are still getting used to the modifications and the new ways of working and collaborating within the space.

“The R&D team had the idea of changing high school spaces to become more open, flexible, and collaborative, for example by changing the library from being a place that stores things to a place that does things for people,” said Mr. Steigerwald.

Bob Helmer, the school’s librarian, said part of the goal last year was to open it up and consolidate – to reshape this space based on programs like the Catalyst Project, Emerging Technology, and the Maker Movement. “We wanted that participatory culture going. We wanted to have people use the space more and more.”

Seniors working together in the Center of Innovation. Photo by Mina Mayo-Smith

Wondering what happened to all the books that used to fill up this space? They have all been brought downstairs.

“We saw all that light up there, and we wanted to open that up,” shared Mr. Helmer. “We want to streamline the collection to better match students’ reading interest and the curriculum needs of the school and open places where students can come explore what they need to explore and be supported through resources and services.”

Mr. Steigerwald believes that the true innovation happens in the entire high school. He said the Center of Innovation works to “support great things happening for kids throughout the high school.”

For that reason, they have created three hubs consisting of the Information Hub, the Innovation Hub, and the Impact Hub.

The primary focus of the Information Hub is literacy, whether it’s digital literacy, informational literacy, or media literacy. Theunnamed resources students need – such as books, teachers, online databases – are at their service.

The second hub is the Innovation Hub. Staff of the Center of Innovation are prototyping space, providing students the opportunity to have open and collaborative spaces upstairs and adding learning labs and spaces for group meetings downstairs. The Makerspace is set up primarily for student interest and projects.

“In actuality, the entire upstairs is a space for innovation where we’re prototyping different settings. So students may not know this, but we’re collecting data,” Mr. Steigerwald said. “For example, where Nora sits is a ‘third space atmosphere’.”

The area is comprised of comfortable chairs circling round tables rather than square ones. The staff are looking to see when students use it and why they use it. When Mr. Steigerwald mentioned the Think Tank, he described it as semi-private. “It’s not quiet, people can hear it. All it does is create a glass barrier between the people inside and the people outside.”

He explained that if the ceiling was closed off, it would give an impression that students can be as loud as they want inside. In a sense, the decrease of privacy encourages productivity. And though confident with the new addition, he admitted, “We are amazed every moment kids are in there and being productive.”

The third hub, which Mr. Steigerwald described as “probably the most important,” is the Impact Hub. When all the research and development took place, they realized they needed to make sure programs like the Catalyst and online learning were given a supportive environment that created sustainable change at SAS. “We tried to move from a teacher-centric perspective to a student-centric perspective,” said Mr. Steigerwald. 

The Center of Innovation is an ongoing project, with a vision to support students’ collaboration and ideas. It is a place where students can come and explore their interests and pursue their passions in new and flexible ways. And as Mr. Steigerwald and Mr. Helmer say, it is continually evolving. Let’s see what V3.0 brings. 

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