Library as a performative space

Cries of bloody murder, hubris induced whispers and supernatural cackles are not the regular sounds one expects to hear emanating from a school library but last Friday night Loreto’s library was transformed into a performance space for the Drama department’s collaboration with Bell Shakespeare. It is the sixth consecutive year that Bell Shakespeare has been coming to work with our Year 10 students and each year the week long intensive culminates in a performance held somewhere different. In order to demonstrate how thrilled the library team are that Chris Woods, the school’s Head of Drama, will be taking my place this year as I go on maternity leave we thought why not host the evening in the library? As with most things in the ‘Scottish play’ the decision turned out to be prophetic given the library offered some respite from the extreme temperature outside.

However, there was more at work behind the decision to fly in the face of long held rules about libraries and it is summed up nicely in the Four Space model developed by The Danish Royal School of Library and Information professors that speaks about libraries in terms of; inspiration space, learning space, meeting space and performance space. In a contemporary library these spaces overlap and intersect because libraries must excite and inspire the people who use them not the resources they house. In a person-centred school we talk about the person being at the centre of “learning, relationships and programs.” The focus on people provides a nice synergy between the school’s vision and the library as a source of change and excitement, an explorative learning space, a place for collaboration and participation and ultimately, as Friday night proved, a space for marvellous creation.

Inspiration comes from aesthetic experiences, to be inspired is to move beyond the everyday, to have in front of us something different from our usual choices. The library at Loreto is in a unique position in that it is a main thoroughfare for staff and students moving through the school. Our visibility provides us with a chance to create inspirational installations that aim to take our community out of the everyday and to inspire behavioural change. Take for example, Monday’s celebration of Library Lover’s Day (Valentine’s Day to the uninitiated). The sudden arrival of a vignette enticing a moment of reprieve, a moment to lose yourself in a book coupled with the students love of social media (see the image gallery below) gave us a chance to talk favourite books with many Loreto staff and students, many of whom walked away having borrowed a recommended or new book. Putting a book in the hand of a reader is a unique joy for our library team.

Our library is of course also a learning space and 2017 has seen us work hard to onboard the Year 12 students into their study periods where they must increasingly regulate their own behaviour by managing their time and their study. The ability to settle, to focus and to find ‘flow’ is lifelong and prepares them for their role as workers and learners of the future. Learning is a process of discovery, an exploration of what is known and unknown. This process does not always happen in isolation, we have collaborative rooms for group discussion or small class sessions with teachers. We also co-teach classes in the library in order to spark connections across disciplines and subject areas and inspire thinking outside the usual classroom experience. How best to utilise the library space for learning is something that the library team has been actively working on and trialling and will continue to do so over the course of the year.

We know that people must be at the heart of the library and while learning is central to the role of a school library it must also provide a meeting space for leisure and relaxation. This is perhaps the most challenging use of space for people who still see libraries as a place of “ssshhh”. In an increasingly urbanised culture the creation of public meeting spaces has never been more pressing and Loreto library sees itself as a central meeting hub of the school. Time and space for serendipitous meetings, for unplugging from technology, for idle chit chat and for simply being in community with one another are crucial to our human development. We must not lose sight of this in the busyness of the everyday.

Connecting all is the notion of libraries as performative spaces, spaces for publishing and distributing users’ work and activities. The shared library space ought to provide a stage of sorts where student talent and achievement can be showcased. Last year we held an evening entitled History in Conversation: On the Trail of Truth wherein our Year 12 Extension History students discussed their major works. To be given a platform from which to reflect on the process of creation, the discoveries made along the way– both expected and unexpected– is where real self-knowledge and discernment happens. The Macbeth performance provided yet another opportunity for students to live out their learning. We hope for many more such occasions.

It can be disheartening when mainstream media so often chooses to focus on what’s wrong with schools rather than see them as the innovative spaces of creation and involvement they can be. I think we are all sometimes guilty of doing the same when we focus on the limitations of spaces rather than having the courage to use a little imagination and dream big.

Ms Elizabeth Green,  
Knowledge and Learning Strategist