Library refurbishment is a tricky business. How do you create a new library inside a building that already dictates limitations by its size, shape, and place within the school? For many older schools there is the added dimension of the significance of the building in terms of its age, its architectural merit, or the place it has held in the fabric of school life for generations. You begin to mess with a well-loved space with some trepidation.
Cheltenham College faced just such a challenge. The library was indeed the ‘academic heart’ of the school but that heart had begun to suffer from a clogging of the arteries – it was ‘dark and claustrophobic’ according to the students. It was time for radical surgery that would build upon the school’s heritage but would also allow it to move forward healthily into the future.
The College was fortunate in that the existing space was large with several classrooms leading directly off of the main space. The students had particularly asked that the main space remain as a quiet working zone, and that some of the more traditional ambience be maintained. Their request was honoured but the furniture was cleverly re-arranged to create a more cozy ‘boutique’ approach to study spaces, much different from the previous regimented desking, that both muffles noise and gives students plenty of ‘nooks and crannies’ in which to create their own private undisturbed work space.
The satellite rooms were used to house the Careers Library, two teaching spaces for class research use, and a good-sized office for the Library Staff. The Careers Room includes a break-out space with a coffee facility, a flat-screen television and small group conference rooms. This overall combination of rooms allows for greater personal choice in terms of working space, and minimises distractions for both groups and individuals.
The design echoes a modern high street bookstore with clean lines, superb signage, and an outstanding use of lighting to both illuminate the space and highlight the resources – the books literally glow on the shelves! The colour scheme is light and modern with a palette that links perfectly with the heritage timbers of some of the traditional furniture that the students asked to be retained. The result is modern but with an attractive link to the heritage of the school.
Technology is imbedded throughout with wifi access, iPads, electronic whiteboards, workstations, etc. But what is most impressive is the sheer flexibility of the space. Nothing is fixed and the furniture is all moveable. This is an extremely beautiful library that bridges the gap between the traditional library and the emerging learning commons model. The heart of this school will continue to beat strongly for many years ahead!