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All About Research and Media Centers

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Take a walk through your child's school, and it will likely look much different than the one you attended. Everything from the furniture to the floor plan may seem new. But perhaps the most striking difference is the library - or in some cases, the lack of one.

What began as a place for analog research and quiet, independent study has become, in many schools, a hub of technology, collaboration and innovation. Spaces that once felt crowded with drab, book-filled shelves and heavy, fixed furniture are now open and inviting with bright colors and furniture meant to be arranged and rearranged regularly. Rooms that used to be hushed with one person to a table are now bustling with activity and conversation.

How did this happen - what brought about these changes? There are two main contributing factors:

First, technology has evolved. Libraries have always been a source of information. But, that information has taken drastically new shapes in the past decades. Where we were once reliant on encyclopedias, reference books and newspapers, all we need now is a wireless connection; the entire physical contents of yesterday's libraries are virtually obsolete. This evolution has given way to major design, furniture and spatial changes. Today's media centers, as they are often called, typically have open spaces that lend them an airy feel - a striking contrast to the burdensome weight of their predecessors. Slender computer tables have replaced bulky shelves; lightweight, mobile furniture has taken the place of heavy, cumbersome tables and chairs; and books have turned into electronic devices of all kinds. It's even common to see furniture we've never seen before in these spaces; essentially a grown-up beanbag, soft-seating comes in many shapes and sizes and can be arranged into countless setups, making them ideal for groups of any size. They're sturdy enough to use as a seat, and their flat surfaces can double as a tabletop. You may even find a "hive" or banquette seating - think of it as a padded, upholstered circular bench with a high back and sometimes a table in the middle. Meant for group work or quiet discussion, hives offer a collaborative space with an added bit of privacy.

It's not a coincidence that these changes have a direct effect on the way students and teachers use this space; the value of interpersonal and critical thinking skills in the workforce is growing, and media centers are an ideal place to foster them. The availability of an open space with easily movable furniture that has accessible tech functionality gives these rooms incredible versatility. Both teachers and students are able to use media centers in whatever way best suits their needs - impromptu discussions, project-based work, visual presentations and collaborative group work as well as individual study can all be accommodated. This arrangement facilitates the development of social and collaborative proficiency, and encourages thinking beyond the textbook.

When we see that education is moving away from quiet, independent rote work to lively and collaborative projects, it makes sense that libraries, a space everyone uses, be one of the first - and most important - to evolve.

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