GREENWICH, Conn. — There is no “shushing” in the International School at Dundee’s library.

Students can talk; they can even get a little noisy while tapping away at keyboards, peppering a guest speaker with questions, or giving a presentation to classmates. Head over to the “makerspace,” and you will hear the rumbling and beeping of 3D-printers churning out their latest creations.

This is the soundtrack of ISD’s new, transformed library. Here, students do not stop by just to check out and read books. They visit more often, come for a wider range of activities and stay longer.

It’s not even called a library anymore. Or a media center. It is now the “learning commons,” a hub for students and teachers. And it is a model that is set to spread soon to other schools, as the boundaries between libraries and classrooms dissipate during the district’s ongoing digital learning initiative.

“I was really looking for this space to become a much more dynamic space,” said ISD Principal Terry Ricci. “The tenets of the learning commons align really well with 21st-century skills and with our International Baccalaureate program. The learning there is now much more powerful.”

The learning commons model represents a new stage in the changing role of the school library. Books are still very important, but the space is not dominated by row after row of towering stacks. There are more commons areas that allow students and teachers to do more collaborative work.


In fact, in a learning commons, teachers and media specialists co-teach classes together – with the media specialists focusing on the digital skills kids need to master.

“One of the first things that I see when people create a learning commons is that kids come in, and they really want to be there because there’s so much going on,” said David Loertscher, a professor in San Jose State University’s School of Information, who has written extensively about the subject. “It’s a space that turns over to the user rather than the user having to adapt to the space.”

ISD launched its commons this school year – a change that was led by media specialist Jeannine Madoff. The traditional model of having all students come to the library once a week for media classes had become restrictive.

“I was feeling frustrated because the kids would start a research project with their classroom, I would be there at the beginning, then I wouldn’t see them for a week,” Madoff said on a recent weekday. “And then I’d come in, and they’d be halfway done. Here, I can take five, six days, however long we need to do it.”

Madoff now has four times as many periods to collaborate with teachers each week than she did last year.

At the same time, the district’s launch in 2013 of its digital learning initiative spurred the need to change how libraries are used. As of next year, each elementary school student will have his own tablet, many already do, and every middle-schooler will have a laptop. As a result, kids no longer rely on labs in their schools’ libraries for computer access, and media specialists have become more important because they help students and teachers adapt to the array of new hardware and software.


“We are hoping that this learning commons model really becomes the way we do the library media program,” said Fran Kompar, the district’s K-12 coordinator of library media services. “It is imperative that the library media specialist has time with the kids and teachers in order to make that change.”

The launch of ISD’s learning commons happened swiftly. In the spring of 2014, Madoff attended a learning commons workshop led by Kompar. She then pitched the model to Ricci, who agreed to let the faculty try it out.

“It is nice to be in a different part of the building and to have more interaction,” said first-grade teacher Laura Peters. “You feel that you’re more a part of the school community, out there in the open, rather than just being in your classroom all day with the door closed.”

Amid all the changes, there remains one constant: books. Monthly circulation at ISD is up 20 percent this year compared to last, according to staff – a rise they attribute to increased student engagement.

There are fewer books – from about 18,000 last year down to roughly 17,000 now. But the reduction is mostly because of the traditional “weeding out” of texts each year, they say.

“We’re still doing reading initiatives, and we’re still looking for great literature, whether it’s an e-book or print book,” Madoff said. “We’re not leaving any of that behind.”

The learning commons can still function like a traditional library, with space for kids to read or study quietly.

“I think we are very fortunate at ISD to have an administration and teachers that are both open-minded and risk-takers, to adopt a new model that will enrich the learning of the students,” said PTA Co-President Patricia Carey.

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