Cool School Libraries from Around the World

What makes a great school library? WhichSchoolAdvisor takes a look at some of the most inspirational and innovative libraries we have seen in schools around the world. Let the Battle of the Books begin!
Cool School Libraries from Around the World
By Carli Allan
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International school libraries look very different today. The rows of long tables, antique wood shelves filled with dusty books, and “Be Quiet” signs have been replaced with movable, colourful furniture, iPads, learning pods, beanbags and stages. As well as being a classroom for weekly literacy lessons, the school library is a venue for book clubs, creative writing workshops, and visiting author talks. It is often described by principals as the hub of the school on our campus visits – and we love to see a library that is buzzing with activity and excitement.

The modern-day school library has moved from a silent space where librarians shush every noise. There are carts of iPads, computer stations, and 3D printers next to shelves of books, and many schools have brought makerspaces into the library where students can develop STEM skills using snap circuits, Lego and K'Nex. While once the library was a quiet refuge for the individual, it has also become a collaborative space where students sit around whiteboard tabletops to brainstorm, and they can move walls and furniture to create flexible classrooms.

To celebrate World Book Day on Thursday, we look at some of the most inspirational, remarkable and unforgettable school libraries that we’ve seen around the world.

Singapore American School, Singapore

Slightly unconventional and with several ‘out of the box’ ideas, the middle school library at Singapore American School has a recording studio and wobble boards where students can stay on the move while reading. At the heart of the library is the makerspace, which has transformed what is typically the quietest part of a campus into a hive of activity. Here’s a space where we saw students being challenged to step out of their comfort zone and to take risks in their learning. It is an example of how SAS is championing proactive learning, with young builders and engineers working on self-directed projects as varied as designing a unicycle, guitar or a wooden clock with gears through to building prototypes for new student lockers or a video arcade machine.

There are also some creative touches in the school's elementary library where sofas are painted by middle school students, with designs ranging from Babar The Elephant to Alice in Wonderland, and books are arranged by genre such as Realistic Fiction.

The Harbour School (Grove campus), Hong Kong

Students at The Harbour School can ‘literally’ slide into the enormous library, which is a split-level, naturally-lit wide open space that’s filled with books, reading snugs, deckchairs, beanbags, rugs and armchairs. As well as being used for library sessions, students stage small performances here, can complete jigsaw puzzles during recess, and work on art projects. THS injects a lot of fun into its library; this is a place to explore, find a place to read, climb and slide, or cuddle up to one of the many soft toys.

The library features a set of steps that are designed to resemble rolling green hills; with books tucked away under every step, this is another spot for students to read in. There’s also a ‘secret’ door that leads inside a treehouse, where students walk down a winding staircase to exit through a child-sized door into a room where they can play chess and other traditional games.

RGS Guildford, UK

The Chained Library at Royal Grammar School, Guildford is one of the few remaining examples of a chained library located within a school.

A chained library is a library where the books are attached to their bookcase by a chain, which is sufficiently long to allow the books to be taken from their shelves and read, but not removed from the library itself.

Now used as the headmaster Jon Cox's study, the bookcases date from 1897 while the collection dates back to circa 1480. Notable books include two early editions of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia.

The diamond shapes in the hugely innovative roof at the under construction Royal Grammar School Guildford Dubai (above) are a nod to the original leaded windows in the Guildford campus, while the ‘chains’ across each diamond imitate its ancient ‘chained library’. When finished this will not just be about aesthetics. In fact, how is this for the actual definition of 'cool': The roof's diamond shapes are in fact air filled ‘bubbles’. Each bubble is comprised of several layers of a high-tech foil. The air inside these bubbles will be constantly refreshed by compressors sat on top of tall internal structures. The technology creates UV filtration, enables temperature control and allows natural light to pass through a design which would have otherwise warranted unmanageably large sheets of glass.  More on this here.

Tanglin Trust School, Singapore

The senior library at Tanglin Trust School has a presentation area, quiet zone and ideas hub whereas the junior library has board games, floor cushions, puppet shows, brightly decorated walls, reading corners, a cosy performance area – and higher noise levels! The infant library is built around a glass-walled Creation Station filled with Lego, straws and craft materials to get students exploring, building, creating, and tinkering.

Rosendale School, UK

We're yet to visit this library, but it really caught our eye as one of the most unusual places for children to read in a school. Located in the playground at Rosendale Primary School in London, the Library Bus, which has been operational since 2011, is a unique way of creating a reading area where space is limited. Run by parent volunteers, the bus is open every afternoon for parents and children to visit and borrow books.

GIIS SMART Campus, Singapore

Far removed from a school that relies on paper registers, GIIS SMART Campus immerses its students in a world that revolves around technology. So, librarians are replaced for most the school day by touchscreen monitors where students can check books in and out. Every floor here is themed to help students navigate their way around campus, and you follow the red carpet on the North American-themed floor to reach the library. Here you'll find several trendy design features including swinging chairs and US-designed seating.

Kellett School, Hong Kong

Kellett Kowloon

Kellett School is clearly dedicated to raising a community of book lovers. At the Kowloon campus, it has a library ‘without walls’, which overlooks a vast atrium with a living tree at the centre. The open library has shelves of fiction, lots of electronic non-fiction books, an open study area, and an IT desk (a must for a school like this with a 1:1 laptop programme). Here is a school that  has been "built around learning as passive supervision where the students take ownership of the space".

The school also has a charming tradition called Book Flood, which is  based on the Icelandic custom of gifting a book on Christmas Eve. Before students join Reception, parents choose a book to gift their child; the child’s name is placed in the book, and it becomes the first book their child borrows from the school library.

Nexus, Singapore

The new primary school library

The two-storey Learning Resources Hub (library) is right at the centre of Nexus school's new campus, and reflects the school's innovative, open plan style of teaching. The Hub has flexible spaces and nooks for our learners to read and study in, as well as spaces with removable walls for teachers to close off whenever they hold lessons or reading sessions. Even the staircase leading from the primary to the secondary libraries is used for reading areas.

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