Words of advice

10th May 1996 at 01:00
Leonore Charlton, consulting team manager for the Cambridgeshire Schools Library Service, is an acknowledged expert in the design of school libraries. Library resource centres should be in the centre of the school, she argues, accessible and well signposted throughout the building. Most of those she has helped design have a display window outside "to draw pupils in" with a show of work or resources or, in the case of one school, impressive artefacts brought back from a visit to Russia.

Inside, the centres should have an uncluttered feel and be attractive and "exciting", with a colour scheme which is "not too violent and not dead". A lot of consideration is given to atmosphere and all the libraries have a very airy, relaxed feel.

Crucial in the design is flexibility, not only to allow for a range of uses now, but also to permit growth and change in the future. "Usually the only static things are the office (nearly always glass-walled so that the librarians can see what's going on outside), the counter and the shelving round the walls," says Leonore Charlton.

Everything else should be movable so that groups of different sizes can be accommodated, for lessons, workshops, storytelling sessions or whatever is needed.

"It is important that centres are designed for classes and individual use at the same time, so it has to be possible to split parts off, for example with screens." Tables and chairs should be comfortable and built to last.

Most of the shelving is found along the walls. "Don't put too many shelves in the middle," she advises. "It takes up space and is more expensive than wall shelving."

She tries to discourage schools from using amateur or custom-built shelving - "it usually has to be replaced within a few years".

Ensure that slots for adequate guiding information are built into the shelving, so that pupils can easily see what is on the shelves, she suggests. Fiction and non-fiction should be planned in easy to understand and follow sequences.

Computer workstations are usually sited individually or in groups of not more than six, with enough space for writing and for printers and CD-Rom drives.

Lighting is very important, but Leonore Charlton counsels against "letting the architect get carried away with windows as care should be taken to balance the amount of window space with the need to use wall space for bookshelves".

The hub of the library resource centre is the counter, which should be positioned ideally with the office behind it in a place from where the librarian can easily supervise and offer help.

Most of the Cambridgeshire schools run the library using the SIMS (Schools Information Management System) library module, a computerised monitoring system which allows resources to be found by keywords as well as authors and titles.

It all adds up to a room which is often the most attractive in the school, but Leonore Charlton is unrepentant about this. "Ideally I would like all the school to look like this, but getting pupils to use materials is so important that we have to do all we can to make the library resources centre attractive".

"When a library is refurbished, all the pupils want to get in and use it," says Leonore Charlton. It is an enthusiasm the service wants to encourage through constant change and development.

"Library resource centres are extremely well placed for the future. They represent a way of learning which is not about people telling pupils something, but about them finding out for themselves," says Margaret Smith.

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