Whether witnessing the Northern Lights, reading an inspiring article, attending a world premier opera, dining at a pioneering new restaurant or swimming with sharks; these moments are etched in my mind and filed away as memories to be cherished again and again. Why? Because they made every cell vibrate with life. Often the best moments in life are those we experience on multiple levels --- mind, body and senses powerfully engaged.
How is it that moments that engage on both the cerebral and corporeal level are the foundation of learning? How do we create the opportunities that keep us coming back for more? How do we consistently offer this opportunity and the discovery inherent in education? How do we continually provide the same stimulation that lives permanently in our memory and informs future endeavors? The path lies in the way we create learning spaces - vibrant learning spaces, to be specific. Spaces pulsating with energy and excitement. If we carefully curate the space, providing the proper mix of tools, resources and inspiration, the full experience of learning will occur more rapidly and more frequently.
At Heart of America (HOA) we know that learning can happen at any moment but the right space is an imperative. For the past 20 years, we have explored and tackled this issue, learning throughout our journey. Our work has transformed small and large learning spaces in schools, community centers and public libraries – sometimes through complete overhauls and sometimes through thoughtful adjustments to elements already there, always with the goal of vibrancy in mind as that is what stimulates and captivates. That is the engine.
Today’s libraries should reflect how we ideate, ruminate and ultimately discover in our constantly evolving environment. Libraries must embrace more active and diverse ways of encouraging and allowing education to happen. Libraries were created as learning environments, but as time went on, all too often their lack of funding or lack of understanding of how to keep step with the world outside their doors, ultimately created a situation in which they remained still while the world rushed by at a dizzying pace.
The amazing and not unexpected reality is libraries continue in many ways to own the potential to be best-in-class learning environments. How? By embracing their ability to be a strategic inventory of digital and print information, creation spaces, art museums, learning labs, open collaboration areas, technology hubs and makerspaces. These vital municipal spaces should be a beacon of light for our neighborhoods, our schools, and all types of community groups by creating spaces that beckon, entice and cajole entry.
Years of experience and experimentation has taught our HOA team how to design vibrant learning spaces and libraries. The secret sauce? Orchestrate a true community effort incorporating the following six steps:
- LISTEN: Listen to the stakeholders who use, work in and manage the library to understand how and why they use it; ask what would elevate their learning, what would make their job easier?
- INVENTORY: Catalogue current inventory of books, technology, art, materials; who are the users (demographics, languages, occupations, etc.).
- OBSERVE: Watch traffic flow; note the types of activities that take place in the library; where are the active spaces and where are the quiet? Is the space conducive for multiple types of learning styles – solo and group?
- DREAM: Think and design BIG with library stakeholders and community members; reimagine new learning environments; create an equipment and resource wish-list; brainstorm and sketch out an ideal library.
- BUILD: Engage local funders, donors, sponsors, partners who live, work and grow in the community; utilize local trades, artists, designers to build the dream.
- NOURISH: Continue to update resources and assess Library progress with community stakeholders and engage Library partners.
In celebration of HOA’s 20th anniversary, we want to share, excite and engage communities across the nation. To do this, we are hosting an interactive and stimulating discussion series focused on the evolution of learning spaces, including libraries. Join us. Contribute to our communities with us. Whether in person or via podcast, please be an active part of the conversation to help advance our collective work on creating vibrant learning environments throughout our country.
Jill Hardy Heath
President & CEO
The Heart of America Foundation