14 September 2021 Share
Daphne O'Connell, Development Director at Summer Fields school in Oxford, writes about the school's newly refurbished library
The Dutch philosopher and theologian Erasmus said: “Your
library is your paradise.”
The library at Summer Fields has always played an important
role in promoting a culture of wider reading, motivated readers and learners
for life. It also provides a vital space
for creativity and for developing independent research and literacy skills.
In early 2019, it was decided to relocate the library from
the first floor to the ground floor to ‘New Room’ and significantly expand our
library provision. We wanted to create a fully flexible and welcoming space for
small and larger groups where a variety of activities can take place and where
reading for pleasure is actively promoted alongside new technology.
Built in 1888, ‘New Room’ was the school’s original classroom for more than seventy years where our founder, Gertrude Macmillan, would have taught. Its central position at the heart of the school was a perfect location for our new library.
Furthermore, at the time of the proposed move, ‘New Room’ was an underused empty space with a unique character that had remained unchanged for many years. Its main features include original wooden benches where the eldest pupils or so-called ‘Removes’ sat, two large stone fireplaces, honour boards all around the room dating back to the 1880s, a high-vaulted wooden ceiling, parquet flooring and beautiful stone mullion windows overlooking the school grounds.
The plan to re-imagine this space and re-purpose it as a fully functioning modern library and versatile learning space while at the same time preserving and enhancing the heritage of the room, would be a significant challenge.
However, Oxford Architects' imaginative design to repurpose the school’s oldest classroom complete with mezzanine level, an adjoining non-fiction library, a dedicated periodicals room and a permanent archive display beautifully restores and preserves the heritage of this historic room while subtly blending in modern fittings and new equipment.
Furthermore, by reclaiming a number of ‘dead spaces’ the library is three times the size of the old library with more accessible shelving, better seating and additional areas for recreational reading and study.
With the generous support of our benefactors and friends, The Mark Shvidler Library was completed on time and within budget and opened its doors to our eager boys and staff in the Summer Term 2021. It has very quickly become the go-to place for all our community to retreat to for reading, learning and relaxation.
The boys just love to kick off their shoes and curl up and read a book in one of the comfortable, cosy sofas in the main fiction library while others enjoy researching a project of interest in the non-fiction reading room. Often you find boys and staff browsing the magazines and newspapers in the Reading Room and chatting about current affairs. For those who are curious about history they can explore the ‘Living History’ display in the dedicated archive room. There is also a dedicated quiet study area on the mezzanine level for the older boys who may need to get on with revision or homework.
On a warm sunny day, the boys grab a beanbag and take their book outside to sit and read on the terrace which overlooks the lawn and cricket pitches.
Our new library is a welcoming and inspiring space where young minds can explore and learn, and a real haven for recreational reading. In a letter to our major benefactor, our Head of English wrote: “The library's impact has been felt significantly by my department and we are making extremely good use of it for designated reading times, and for research and study. It gives an English teacher a great deal of pleasure to see a class of boys curled up comfortably with their friends engrossed in silence, reading. The boys have been so pleased to borrow books, and they come back outside of lessons, in break times and lunchtimes, to make use of the space. Sometimes they read, sometimes they just sit and relax. It is all that we, and they, could have hoped for and more.”
Founded in 1864, Summer Fields is a pre-prep and preparatory boarding and day school in North Oxford for boys aged 4 – 13.