Up to scratch;Digital visions

12th March 1999 at 00:00
A new breed of school superlibraries has proved popular enough to resist attack

The architect of Littlehampton Community School's library building was somewhat taken aback when he made a return visit five years after its grand opening. "Oh! It hasn't been vandalised," he remarked in surprise to Catherine Brophy, head of the Library Resource Centre at the West Sussex school. Infuriated by the assumption that a library would attract vandals, she was also glowing with pride that her creation - one of a new breed of school superlibraries - had proved popular enough to resist attack, writes Susan Young.

"My philosophy was that I wanted all the things that were so exciting about information and communications technology, but alongside that wanted to recreate the wonderful time I had reading children's books," Brophy said. "Children are used to shops like Waterstone's - we had to make this somewhere as enticing, where they could take away three books free."

Ms Brophy was lucky enough to be starting from scratch with a new building and a large budget. So alongside the 20,000 books in the huge, bright room with its lemon walls (chosen by a colour psychologist to encourage study) are 24 Tiny computers, plus a considerable number of CD-Roms. Twenty will have Internet access after Easter, much to the excitement of the 1,700 students.

The building will become even more of an academic nerve centre in September when the new Integrated Learning Centre resource room (partly funded by a local Millennium fund, with 50 more computers, opens for business. Local business people who have donated to the project will be able to book learning time on the machines, working alongside pupils.

The library is also an integral part of the school's fast-developing intranet, which is linked to the West Sussex County Council intranet and is being expanded as fast as finances allow.

Littlehampton's headteacher, Geoff Smith, is keen for pupils to have as much access as possible to the technology, as long as it aids learning. The school's system has evolved partly because ICT is taught as a cross-curricular theme and Ms Brophy works with the head of subjects.

She believes there are many reasons for the library's popularity. Two assistants help pupils with classwork. Ms Brophy, too, finds herself helping both pupils and teachers with IT. "It's not embarrassing for them, because I'm learning too," she says.

And the computers make the library a more attractive destination for boys. "Reading books isn't seen as a macho thing to do. This way the library isn't seen as a sissy place."

Pupils are encouraged to use the facilities as individuals as well as in classes. Ms Brophy says the surroundings make it one of the most popular places in the school. From 8.30am pupils can pop in and the library is open until 4.30pm. Homework and English clubs take place.

The library's popularity means pupils are using it more regularly than they otherwise might, improving their IT skills, learning how to research, working, and reading books. The teachers are interested in what the Net can do for them and keen to access the National Grid for Learning.

Ms Brophy is excited about the effect the information revolution is having on libraries. "My job has changed over the past five years. Within another five, it could have changed all over again."

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