The modern school library is a multipurpose, flexible facility; where at any one moment there is a class of students under instruction, a group ‘studying quietly’, researching on personal devices, creating project content, a kid is catching Pokémon, and a bookworm is escaping to a fictional world. Dovetailed with the library’s traditional purpose the space is now required to function as a classroom, a breakout quiet zone and accommodate group work. Architecture and modern teaching methods require an open plan or open cell type, dynamic layout, allowing teachers and staff line of sight to students at all locations.
Whangaparaoa Primary School knows all about acoustics and aesthetics, as they recently refurbished their school library with Autex Composition, an acoustic wallcovering. Principal Kevin Cronin said acoustics were important because of the way they impact children’s learning environments by eliminating noises and distractions. Modern learning spaces, libraries included, are designed to promote the cycle of learning. Students focus alone or in pairs; to generate ideas, plan, or digest information, then come together to learn, share, present or build on ideas creating a shared point of view, collaborating, then break apart to take the next steps, then repeat.
To enable the cycle to operate correctly the spaces are typically laid out as zones, areas within the space which are designated to support the two typical activity types, instructed, collaborative work and focus work, solitary or in pairs. There can be multiple zones in any one space creating a dynamic, tailored facility. Cronin further comments on the functionality of the retrofitted libraries’ zones saying “We have lots of students in different pockets and different areas [in the library] and their work and learning can be separate from children who are quite close. They are not being distracted by others [as] the sounds are just being absorbed by the environment.”
Zones can be denoted in different ways; sometimes by pathways inlaid in the carpet, blocks of colour, ceiling elements or installations, curved walls, feature finishes and purposeful furniture. The zones work like islands where the feel, layout and the furniture elements define the space’s use. Students will gravitate towards them naturally, and move between them dependent on the activity.
The architectural and acoustic separation of these zones is created using space, dividing walls, and strategically placed acoustic elements. Flexibility is added using movable screens and partitions.
The finishes of each space can enhance the activity. In the modern multipurpose library, best practice includes full coverage acoustic ceiling, acoustic wall coverings are used to line walls and partitions around focused work areas, offering a change in colour and absorption to reduce the reverberated sound energy elevating distractions. Suspended ceiling elements are a means of defining space without interrupting the floor area.
Good acoustic design makes a facility like this possible. The Ministry of Education ‘Designing Quality Learning Spaces – Acoustics specifies the ambient sound level in a library. There is a wealth of information available on the design of quality learning spaces and New Zealand has some of the best acoustic consultants in the world, and Autex is on hand to aid at any step of the design process.
Throughout the retrofit of the Whangaparoa Primary School library, Cronin was assisted by Autex who collaborated to get the library to a high standard.
“We’ve been lucky enough to have people who have been very accommodating and prompt in their response. They have worked with us to make sure the design options are discussed and that we are happy with things. They have shown us things along the way and kept us informed so we are always in a position to say yes or no or how about this,” he says.
The result is a learning environment which is a pleasure to be in, promotes the learning cycle and future proofs the school for many years of growth.