So, what’s the difference in a P-12 library media center and a P-12 learning commons? I’m glad you asked!

Perhaps the best word to describe the difference is “moving.” The traditional P-12 library media center is certainly a place filled with resources, technology, personnel, and learning, but it is often based upon the concepts of consistency and standardization. It tends to be a controlled environment with limited activity beyond student research and traditional procedures. The learning commons concept is much more eclectic and versatile. There is constant activity with options for students that transcend the normal realm of “library-ness.”

While there is some overlap in the two approaches to media center design and function, the learning commons concept transforms the facility into a sort of functioning laboratory. The commons becomes more fluid and accommodates the needs of students and teachers in an exciting yet practical manner. If we were to visit a learning commons, we might see any number of the following events taking place:

• Furniture is ALL on wheels so the spaces can be transformed at will
• Coffee and hot chocolate are readily available to all students in the commons area
• The digital book club is meeting in one corner
• The media specialist is demonstrating how to design a web page using Weebly on the projector
• A small group is laboring over the airplane they are creating in the maker space area
• One student is quietly reading Catching Fire on the couch
• Science students are working with the 3D printer
• An English teacher is spending his planning time in the commons and helping a student with MLA formatting
• Parent volunteers are assisting students as they design their maker fair projects

And all of this is going on at the same time! Activity abounds, and students are free to create the kind of space they need based on the task of the moment. The beauty of this scenario is that it could completely change at any second. Furniture can be relocated so that small and large groups can collaborate and explore environments as they embark in participatory learning.

This sort of morphing from a traditional place to a more fluid area of exploration doesn’t just happen by relabeling or renaming a space. It requires detailed planning and a very innovative and courageous leader!! Partnerships should be formed among media personnel, administration, parents, teachers, and students so that everyone has input into the plan for the transition. If possible, apply for grants to assist with the funding of the project. Make visits to schools or public libraries where the learning commons approach has been successfully implemented. As one media specialist from Fulton did, video the trips and use that as a selling point to faculty and staff as you plan for this adventure. Attend conferences where you can hear from presenters who went through the process and can give sage advice. This is a change that will turn your facility and program into the most popular and sought out place in the school building – and offer kids the kind of environment they need for collaboration and participatory learning!!

Some examples of schools where the learning commons concept has been implemented are linked below:

Centennial High School (Fulton County): and

Brookwood (Gwinnett County):

Woodstock Middle School (Cherokee County):

Photo: iPad at the library by Gretchen Caserotti, available under a Creative Commons Attribution License at