In the second of her articles about Waterstones Children’s Laureate Cressida Cowell’s Life-Changing Libraries project, Catherine Millar, Reading for Pleasure consultant, takes a behind the scenes look at their design and creation. The project is designed to monitor pupils’ engagement and reading behaviour over the course of the following year as they explore their new libraries.
Design elevates the mundane to the magical. Many schools have tired library spaces with tatty books and despite the best efforts of teachers, children can see them as informal places for fooling around. The six school libraries in Cressida Cowell’s Life-Changing Libraries project have been transformed from dumping grounds to enlightening sanctuaries, places to pause away from classrooms where Covid catch-up is the focus.
The proposed home for the library was an important factor in selecting schools for the project, so the six schools have very different spaces; from a large, former classroom to a converted cupboard. Some have access to outdoors while others are in a corridor. It will be interesting to see the impact of these different spaces on the pupils as the year progresses.
Children who haven’t had access to books can find a library overwhelming. With little prior experience, they may not know which genre they prefer or be able to identify a favourite author and being asked to choose a book can end up as a grab for the closest to hand that doesn’t look too ‘babyish’.
This is where good library design can come in. By providing a space where children want to be, we enable children to relax and spend time surrounded by books. We replace some negative peer pressure with positives. The corridor library built in Woodchurch CofE Primary ensures that as children walk through the school they can pass children leafing through books, talking to friends about reading and having fun in their beautiful space. According to the Salford University ‘Clever Classrooms’ report on the impact design has on learning, differences in the physical characteristics of classrooms explain 16% of the variation in pupils’ learning progress over a year. The authors also found that corridor libraries improve reading progress. Could this be because the library and the reading behaviours of older role models are so visible?
Most schools don’t have a spare room for a library, so the space needs to be multi-functional. Key components of the furniture provided by FG Library & Learning for this project are flexibility and mobility. Skerne Park Primary School’s library was initially installed in the central atrium, but after a reshuffle of classes it is now housed in a former classroom. Shelving units on wheels greatly helped this process. In Griffin Primary School, the units are organised to allow a class to browse the books easily, but for the library opening when a group of children enjoyed a visit from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and Cressida Cowell, the furniture could quickly be wheeled back to create a space large enough for a whole class to sit in.
‘Our design service is dictated by the school’s brief and we aim to work as collaboratively as possible,’ explains Andy Parker, Design Consultant for FG Library & Learning. The proposed space is measured and sketched and CAD plans are then drawn up and shared with the school. Schools can make changes and mix and match colours and furniture units. Different themes are available, such as boats or castle tops on the shelves, as well as the woodland theme that complements Cressida’s amazing dragons. Once this project’s designs were finalised, Promote Your School were able to measure up for the wall art stickers installed once the furniture was in place.
FG Library & Learning and Promote Your School have created beautiful, awe-inspiring places, and the book selection from the BookTrust team ensured plenty of ‘wow’ moments when the libraries were opened.
Many of the children in the six schools didn’t understand the fundamental concept of a library. As a former teacher, I’m well aware of the discomfort in throwing away books, but sifting stock and removing torn, unloved or outdated books is an important part of organising a library. ‘Treating books as rubbish sounds like a modern mentality towards waste, but the quality of the books chosen by BookTrust offers a far greater reading experience,’ says Andy Parker. ‘We often find schools say they will cull 200-300 books out of their collection of 3,000 and then actually get rid of 1,000 titles.’ This culling process elevates the remaining books and frees up shelf space for front-facing displays, crucial in encouraging children to browse and discover. Eileen Anderson, headteacher at Saviour CE Primary, agrees that their new library spaces – two small rooms due to restrictions in school layout – allow children to feel a sense of awe, and that this sense of respect for the space and books spills over into a more motivated school of children ready to learn.
All children deserve to love books. Our young people deserve the best library space that we can design for them. As Clare Talbot, Headteacher for Benwick Primary School says, ‘Our library will be a different world for our pupils to disappear into, but one that’s safe and reliable and always there for them.’
Based on our experience, take these steps when creating a library:
Where is the best site for it?
Be sure to cull unloved books
Display books so children can see front covers and not just spines – rotate the books on display
Flexibility and mobility of furniture is key
The Clever Classrooms report found the use of colour has a curvilinear impact – don’t have too much or too little colour
Think about sightlines and routes when placing furniture
Enjoy the process
Catherine Millar is a former assistant head teacher and reading consultant. You can follow her on Twitter @allicatski and check out her website here https://www.readingforpleasure.co.uk