By Robert Helmer and Dennis Steigerwald, Singapore American School

In the past few years, we’ve seen school libraries undergo radical transformations. Models such as the idea of Learning Commons and books such as High Impact School Library Spaces have shaped the way that schools address these transformations.

In transforming our library at Singapore American School (SAS), we created a vision centered around a hub concept of information, innovation and impact on students–a Center of Innovation.

We wanted to include programs that allowed students to explore their interests and pursue their passions, maker concepts, design thinking practices and create a way to have sustained dialogue with other institutions. Oh, and we wanted to do this on a limited budget. By keeping focused on our vision, the SAS mission, integration of services and programs, data collection, decision making and curation, we have radically transformed our library. Here’s how!

Resources (and People)

The first step was to transform our resources–and we weren’t just talking about books. We did this in four ways:

  1. We curated the collection to include a wide range of books that met the curriculum and reading interests of the community–and it also left us with more space at our disposal.
  2. Right away, we expanded our online collection of resources both in terms of databases and ebooks to further meet the curriculum and reading interests of the community. (This included works such as Gale’s Global Issues in Context database and Jstor’s Demand Driven Acquisition book program).
  3. We also enhanced our SAS Archives collection to celebrate the continued innovations at SAS and provide access to primary sources.
  4. We built In-Residence Programs, both for an entrepreneur and writer, and cultivated networks to allow students access to professionals on a consistent basis.

Space (and People)

Singapore Blog 2We renovated our newly rethought space and transformed some areas of the old library footprint into a design lab, guided study lab, multimedia studio and maker space. Spaces from other universities, schools and organizations such as SMU-X and the Singapore Impact Hub pushed our thinking immensely.

In transforming the space to meet these growing changes and enhancements, we not only gathered data about archetypical users in the space but actively sought input from student council, a Library Advisory Group, teachers and administrators. This research and data collection was crucial in making decisions and rapidly prototyping/iterating changes to the spaces.

We wanted to make the space flexible to address various learning styles, but also keep some degree of fixed space– namely a dedicated silent room–based on student desires.

Services (and People!)

We integrated other services into our newly transformed space, and we did this with the help of a dedicated staff. The Center of Innovation Director oversees the macro-work. This includes the integration work of Library Services, Maker Programs, Global Online Academy, a Learning Lab for guided study, the SAS Catalyst program, the AP Capstone program and Advanced Topic Development. All of these programs are central to our work around the SAS Desired Student Learning Outcomes (DSLO’s) and highlight our dedication to personalized learning, blended learning and networking.

Pass it On!

Can other schools undergo transformation on a limited budget? We think yes, and if you want to try, here are a few tips.

  • Integration of services and programs is essential.
  • Be deliberate in space allocation (i.e., collaborative spaces).
  • Remember, weeding books is okay–curation is key!
  • Gather data from your students, faculty, community and other outside networks that to help drive decisions. Do lots of outreach and build networks.
  • Keep oriented towards purpose–focus on the impact of what information and innovation can do for kids.

We radically transformed our library in a relatively short time frame (1.5 years) and continue to develop our hub concept–honing in on our goals of information, innovation and impact. We are grateful to be reminded daily of how our transformed resources, space and people are having a positive impact on student learning at SAS.

For more, see:

Bob Helmer is High School Librarian, AP Seminar and SAS Catalyst Teacher at Singapore American School. Follow them on Twitter: @SAmericanSchool


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