A New Library for Renbrook

Architectural Rendering of New Renbrook Library - View of Front Desk

The Vision

Image by Tecton Architects

In March 2020, Kathryn Ferrante, Renbrook’s adventurous librarian, and Matt Sigrist, Head of School, began a conversation about exciting new models for school libraries. How could we make our library the heart of the school?

Kathryn and Matt recognized that our beautiful library space is currently underused. They were inspired by the learning commons model that has emerged in schools across the country. Instead of a silent book archive, the library could be a place of communication and collaboration. There were many models out there to study; Kathryn and Matt set out to create a vision for a learning hub that would be uniquely Renbrook. Faculty, parents, and students have been involved as the plans for our transformed library take shape.

Outfitted with a curated collection of books, flexible furniture, and cutting-edge technology, the reimagined library will engage students and teachers in critical thinking, community building, and creativity. The Library Learning Commons will bring together maker spaces, 3-D printers, laser cutters, recording and filming tools, and teacher/guides. Reading, researching, collaborating, writing, making, and presenting will coalesce in versatile spaces built around learning for all ages.

The Design

Image by Tecton Architects

Kathryn Ferrante has been fascinated by working with architects to transform the library space. The architects have been learning how our school works and meeting with students. Students are excited to see how their ideas are being developed. The Parent Association, faculty, and the leadership team have contributed their ideas and dreams through iteration after iteration.

The result is a nature-inspired design that reflects our school’s identity. To bring the outdoors in, there will be a brook in the carpet, a three-dimensional tree in the middle, a retractable door to the outdoors, and an outdoor amphitheater. There will also be an indoor amphitheater that can be constructed and deconstructed.

The chief priority was for the space to be flexible and adaptable. In place of heavy, fixed shelves, bookshelves built into the perimeter will be lower and more accessible. Furniture will be on wheels. There will be a recording studio, a green screen, quiet reading spaces, and transparent walls to write on.
Our space has great bones that will now contain new uses. Kathryn foresees more cozy reading areas, movable partitions, and retractable walls to accommodate both quiet research and group work. Human resources like our tech team and learning specialists will be available for consulting. She hears not silence but a productive hum.

But what about the books? Weeding in Library Land

Our collection is huge, unusually large for a school our size. Kathryn has been culling with the help of students. They have discarded books no one takes out, encyclopedias, for example—basically the whole reference section. But books will abound in the library, and the collection is being revivified. Kathryn consults with students as she continues to build the fiction collection. She will be sure that multiple copies of books and series by popular authors are available to check out. Non-fiction will be represented by a core collection of quality books related to curriculum; the rest will be online.

The Inquiry Model of Learning

Image by Tecton Architects

Form follows function, and vice versa. As the process of reimagining Renbrook’s library has progressed, community dialogue has generated exciting ideas for a school-wide renaissance of the inquiry model of learning. The inquiry model requires students to form their own questions, prompting them to dig deep and deeper into subjects that intrigue them. In the process, students are taught the skills to pursue their lines of inquiry. Finally, they present what they have learned inventively, through a variety of media.

As the school prepares for the realization of the Library Learning Commons, teachers are working collaboratively to develop a uniquely Renbrook model of inquiry for Preschool through Eighth Grade. The new space will bring together resources that have been separate and siloed, opening new ways of working together.

Kathryn Ferrante, our teacher librarian

“As a school librarian, there is truly nothing better than seeing students have their ‘aha!’ moments, whether it be through discovering the answer to a question they have been researching or finding the perfect book that connects with them as a reader. School libraries serve as hubs of learning and exploration while fostering intellectual curiosity and a love of reading. Having a collection that represents students’ varied interests, as well as reading levels and backgrounds, is essential for building a culture of independent reading across the school. The joy of reading is palpable as students browse the shelves looking for books. The library can act as a unique outlet for students to explore their independent passions outside of the day-to-day requirements of the classroom. At Renbrook, it is a special experience to watch how students evolve in their use of the library, from story times in Preschool to in-depth research projects in Grade 8.”

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