Hamilton Wilson, Education Specialist, Wilson Architects, shares his insights into the future trends of education architecture and how to design a 21st century library.This piece is part two of a three-part series; the first explored the school of the future. Lead image: UQ Ipswich Resource Centre


Technology has had far-reaching effects on the library as we used to know it. The idea of the library has been completely transformed from a repository of resources – with controlled access and clearly defined rules – to a gateway of information that can be accessed anywhere, at any time. The focus has expanded from the collections to the community, and the myriad ways they can come together to learn, create and share the huge amount of information now at our fingertips. The library is no longer defined by a physical space – in a school environment, the library services can extend to all the campus – classrooms, outdoor spaces, circulation areas and even the students’ own homes.

Today libraries face similar challenges to schools, where growth in student numbers has led to a fragmentation of student services and reduction in the overall student experience. The library can play a significant role in enhancing the way students learn, and building a sense of connection between the learning community so they don’t feel isolated from each other and their teachers. 

Firstly, the library needs to offer education impact and not just services and information provision. A 21st century library provides diverse learning experiences. Printed and digital information are combined in an environment that is user-focused and service-rich. Students can work collaboratively in spaces that support today’s social and learning patterns. Because resources can be accessed from anywhere, spaces need the flexibility to be used for impromptu study sessions or classes by both students and teaches.

For example, the design of the Brisbane Grammar School’s Lilley Centre (which was recognised by the OECD Centre for Effective Learning Environments as one of 60 international education facility exemplars) opens up opportunities and potential for teachers to teach in entirely new ways, and for students to study in the ways that work best for them. Since opening, use of the library has increased by 800 per cent. During formal lessons, students are using the flexible learning areas to access information in a variety of different ways, including teacher-led, on-line, and from their peers. In some situations, teachers have begun team-teaching, with up to five classes being taught by a single teacher, while the other three or four teachers act as tutors, and have the opportunity to view how their colleagues work.


^ The Brisbane Grammar School’s Lilley Centre was designed by Wilson Architects to maximise the opportunities for active and social learning, and to extend the role of library throughout the school. Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones

The main driver for designing this kind of library is learning behaviour; technology, although essential, is a support tool. The core design consideration of the modern library is the students. The library should support and expand the student-centred or independent learning process, accommodating different study types (i.e. group or quiet) and reflecting the diversity of human behaviour (i.e. different learning preferences and personality types). Considering the whole campus as a library provides many opportunities to create spaces where everyone will be able to find somewhere they feel comfortable, and that suits their study style.

The library can also play an important role in supporting social learning. Incorporating large-scale active learning spaces, and social learning areas in larger, flexible spaces, encourages peer-to-peer learning, which extend learning beyond the classroom environment. Other social learning spaces outside classrooms and in other areas of the campus become an extension of the library as a study space and demonstrate a shift in the definition of the traditional learning and research library.  


^ Bond University refurbished their library to create the Multimedia Learning Centre (by Wilson Architects) to cater to a range of study styles and modes. The Centre received more than 100 000 visits in the first three months after opening. Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones

A whole-of-school library creates connected learning experiences by looking at the entire school as a learning environment. Information Technology has dramatically changed the way we interact with information and has dramatically changed the way we interact with space. Students are mobile, and able to move quickly between learning modes as it suits them. It is important for students to have access to a variety of flexible study spaces that are spatially linked (e.g. breakout spaces, booths, presentation spaces, group spaces) so students can move easily between them and change modes of study quickly and seamlessly. These dynamic study experiences then connect into each other, creating a richer student experience.

Another key role of the library is to provide a variety of service types in the library hub. A student-led / staff-assisted service model based on the latest in retail service can provide the flexibility and accessibility students need. Students can choose from self-service to fully-assisted service points, and have access to interview rooms and pods, and flexible furniture. Staff move around the space providing help as needed. Models such as this offer formal and informal opportunities for students and staff to interact, and are very efficient.


^ Named by the Guardian as one of the world’s best libraries, the University of Queensland’s Ipswich Resource Centre by Wilson Architects is designed to optimise the learning environment, and combines a rainforest garden with a river winding through the centre of the library to separate the quiet side of the library from the open precinct with its group study spaces. Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones

The Ipswich Resource Centre (pictured above) combines all of the non-teaching/service functions within a united ‘shopfront’, including the Library, Student Centre, Student Union, Student Support Services and Health. The Centre is the signature building for the campus, providing a focal point for the community to visit and for the campus to reach out into the wider community.

The innovative Helensvale Cultural Community Youth Centre  (CCYC) + Library, by Complete Urban and Lahz Nimmo Architects in Association, has transformed the local area into a vibrant and well-used community hub as well as increased library attendance levels by 40 per cent. It is an important public space that also acts as a business and creative incubator, with facilities including a 200 seat-auditorium, dance hall, recording studio, 3D printer, meeting spaces, recreational classes, and organised activities for children and families. In a similar way, schools can use the library and its varied services to encourage interaction between the school and the wider community. 


The Helensvale Branch Library and Community Cultural Youth Centre by Complete Urban and Lahz Nimmo Architects in Association is a vibrant and well-used community hub that is now more popular than the established shopping centre next door.


^ Photography by Brett Boardman

140218_HamiltonWilson.jpegAbout the author:

Hamilton Wilson is Managing Director at Wilson Architects. He is a fourth generation architect with a strong interest in the education sector, and a fascination with university libraries and learning environments.