HISD Focuses on Building Libraries with 21st Century Features

Students at Billy Reagan K-8 study in the library, which incorporates a large amount of natural light.

Gone are the days where librarians stock books on shelves according to the Dewey Decimal system. Today, librarians are considered information professionals who check out books to students through e-reader devices and facilitate learning through technology and collaborative groups.

“Think about the future of our libraries as a Barnes & Noble store combined with a traditional library,” HISD’s Manager of Library Services Liz Philippi said.

See more photos of the Billy Reagan K-8 School library

As planning and design begin for the $1.89 billion 2012 bond program, HISD officials are focused on creating environments for 21st century learning, including innovative libraries, also known as common learning spaces. These areas include more open seating for students, perimeter and moveable shelving and accessible computers, laptops and other technological devices.

As an information professional for nearly 30 years, Philippi has witnessed the transformation of libraries and the integration of flexible spaces and technologies.

“Today, our kids are all about communications,” Philippi said. “Our students learn in a lot of different ways. We still want our kids to read and get information, but they also have to have the ability to look at websites and get the information they need.”

The job of the librarian has also changed. Information professionals help facilitate discussions and learning, encouraging the use of technology as a resource, Philippi said.

“We have to move away from the structured learning atmosphere and work toward an integrated web system of learning,” Philippi said. “Instead of sitting in class listening to a teacher lecture, students need to learn how to extrapolate information from group discussions and make analyzed decisions.”

Libraries designed for the 21st century allow students that freedom to work collaboratively and access information from a variety of resources, according to PBK architect Richard Chi.

“Instead of getting information, the library is now a place where you create information,” said Chi, who has designed several 21st century libraries, including the one at HISD’s Billy Reagan K-8 School.

Chi said 21st century libraries have a specific design attributes to address student’s current learning styles, including lighting and reading spaces.

“Learning is everywhere because of technology, and the facility must respond to that,” Chi said. “The traditional view of the library is outdated; we have to provide a space that’s fun, cool and that the kids can’t wait to go.”

PBK was recently rewarded a contract to design new facility incorporating the new science wing at Bellaire High School as a part of the district’s 2012 bond program. Chi said community input will be vital.

“We understand the sentiment and the importance of existing heritage, culture and tradition of existing schools,” Chi said. “We want the community to know that we’re not just constructing a new school on a new site.

“It’s a rewarding experience to work with kids so they feel like they’re a part of the library design process, Chi said. “Kids see it and feel as if it’s their ideas coming to life.”

HISD is planning on using the 2012 bond program as a way incorporate 21st century technology in schools throughout HISD, according to HISD’s General Manager of Facilities Planning Sue Robertson.

“The library is the information hub for students and teachers,” Robertson said. “It’s our job as designers and planners to make sure we’re providing the best resources to facilitate student success.”