How to Create Collaborative Spaces in Your Library

How to Create Collaborative Spaces in Your Library // Here are five different things you can do to create collaborative spaces to support your students in your library.

Our libraries are no longer solely the silent, individual study zones that they used to be.  More and more schools are recognizing the value of collaboration, and the library can be the perfect place to support it.  But traditional library environments (think heavy wooden individual tables, tall, imposing stacks, etc) don’t really provide a collaborative environment for your students.  Now, if we all had excellent renovation budgets, it would be easy to quickly and completely transform your library space. But even if you have little to no funds, there are still some changes you can make now.

How to Create Collaborative Spaces in Your Library

Group furniture items together

Unless you have special funding or a grant, you probably aren’t able to replace all of your furniture right away.  While it’s ideal to have lightweight tables on casters and lightweight chairs, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a collaborative environment without them.  You can start by grouping furniture together. Instead of having 20 individual 60×30 tables, work at least half of them into pairs. Or combine a few to make a long conference table.  Put a side table near that group of comfortable chairs. The key is to provide a variety in the size of groups and the types of spaces, so student groups can have choices in where they want to collaborate.  Do leave at least some of the tables by themselves though – while collaboration is awesome, there are still times where students prefer to work alone.

Whiteboards for brainstorming

Collaboration often involves working out ideas visually, creating outlines and planning.  Whiteboards and other writeable surfaces are absolutely perfect for this. You could paint a wall with whiteboard paint.  Or an old wooden table. You could have mini-whiteboard cut from showerboard from home improvement stores. Or go fancy and get a mini-whiteboard cart.  Or even find an unused whiteboard in another school space and have it moved into your library. The point is to provide your students with spaces where they can write, doodle, brainstorm and work out ideas visually.  And maybe draw an occasional comic or write their favorite meme. Because it’s their library after all. (Want to know more about how writeable surfaces are awesome?  Check out this post)

Provide power

Whether your school is 1:1 iPad or BYOD or something else, more than likely, your students have devices that need to get charged throughout the day.  Unfortunately, many of our libraries were not designed with access to power in mind, so you might have to get creative. Obviously, observe safety rules and don’t go running extension cords through walkways or doing other things that are fire hazards.  Do consider adding power strips with usb ports in them. Or having facilities change out your outlet covers to ones that have usb ports built in. Think about making charging cables available for checkout. Or do like Gwyneth Jones and check out portable chargers to students.  There are certainly more expensive charging options out there, but don’t feel like you have to go out and buy them. While some of them are fantastic, others are more hassle than they’re worth (or a magnet for phone thieves). Start small and DIY and then evaluate how things are going. That’ll give you a better idea as to whether or not you should fundraise/grant-write to get that expensive charging station.

Teaming tables

This one is not as easy to do affordably, but it is something to consider and maybe write grants or advocate for funding for.  A teaming table is a large table with a monitor and a device that allows students to share their screens to it. These vary in price from insanely expensive to relatively reasonable.  If your school is 1:1 iPad, you could probably get away with using a small flat screen TV and an Apple TV. If you are BYOD, there could be lots of different devices, so you’ll need a teaming setup that can support a variety.  These types of tables are fantastic for supporting student collaboration on digital devices.

Make it mobile

Traditional library furniture (heavy wooden tables and chairs) is designed to stay in one place and never be moved.  But if you’re like many libraries, you host bookfairs, faculty meetings, PTSA banquets, author visits as well as classes working on projects, doing research, checking out books, etc.  All of these things require different setups and lots of furniture moving. If you can’t afford to replace all of your furniture right now, look at hacks you can do to make it easier to move.  Maybe your faciltities crew could add castors to one or both sides of a table, making it easier to move around. Maybe you can’t replace your tables, but you can afford to replace your chairs with lightweight stackable ones.  Eventually, work towards finding the funds for mobile, lighter weight furniture.  Being able to move and rearrange things quickly helps students to easily create collaborative spaces.

If your ideas are bigger than your budget, check out my grant resources page for ideas on how to find the funds you need,

What types of collaborative spaces do you have in your library?

4 thoughts on “How to Create Collaborative Spaces in Your Library”

  1. Hi we are fortunate to have a Learning Commons Space (and furniture) in our school library (kindergarten-grade 3). We are currently trying to manage sharing the space for library check outs and collaborative working space as the noise can get loud. Any suggestions?

  2. Diana,
    Thank you for this blog post about how to make collaborative spaces. You have really worked hard to come up with the key pieces to help facilitate collaboration! You’ve found many basic, but invaluable ideas to put into place to help students. I especially like the idea of the white boards and appreciate the simple but necessary power reminder. Do you have any suggestions for what to purchase for the Teaming Table?

    • Hi Christi,
      I haven’t purchased a teaming table yet for any of my spaces, but there’s a ton of options out there. The main thing to consider is what types of devices your students are most likely to use and what works in your space and budget. Demco has several different brands of them available, and many vendors carry them.

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