Why the school library is a vital space for student learning and wellbeing

Written by Dr Hilary Hughes
Associate Professor
Faculty of Education, QUT

The school library is a vital space for student learning and wellbeing. It is generally the only place at school that inclusively welcomes students of differing ages and abilities.

For students moving up to high school, the library can be particularly helpful in promoting a sense of belonging. Many new students are daunted by the greater size of the high school compared with their primary school. It can be hard to find their way to different classrooms through a maze of unfamiliar passageways and intimidating crowds of older students. Amidst this uncertainty, the library offers a safe, welcoming meeting space (Hughes, Franz, Willis, Bland & Rolfe, 2019).

Students themselves place great place importance on the school library, as my research shows. On the other hand, they seldom say they that don’t want a school library.

By presenting the viewpoints of students, this research complements extensive evidence that school libraries make a considerable contribution to student literacy and learning based on other credible data sources, such as test scores, surveys and observations of school principals and teachers (Hughes, Bozorgian & Allan, 2014; Lance & Kachel, 2018; Scholastic, 2016).

Why does the school library matter to students?

Because in the library students ‘learn and have fun at the same time’ (Year 6 student).

Students say that in the library they can:

· Think and learn

· Be able to be me

· Feel comfortable and safe

(Hughes, et al., 2019)

Students often appreciate the school library as an alternative space, beyond the classroom, where they can think and learn. They like that the library offers a change of scene to spread out, seek information and share ideas. Here students find freedom to engage in formal study or explore individual interests, with teacher-librarians on hand to help as needed.

In the school library, students often feel ‘able to be me’. They express a sense of belonging to the whole school, while also having choice to sit alone or interact with friends.

For many students, the library represents a space of comfort and safety:

"[In the library] If you don’t like someone, like they’re not kind of nice to you, you can spread out a little bit so you don’t have to be near them." (Student A).

The school day is busy and tiring. So outside class time, many students are glad to escape to the more relaxed environment of the library. Here they enjoy peace and quiet away from lunch areas and the oval, especially in hot weather:

"It’s nice because it’s quiet and you can come in here and relax and read books and it’s cool." (Student B).

"Just sit and do nothing or read a book which is fun." (Student C).

The library also offers some privacy amidst the otherwise very public life at school:

"If you want to be away from the rest of the world, just be by yourself and be yourself then you can just go to the library." (Student D).

Students feel a sense of belonging in the school library where they can "be me" [Image:authors]

What do students wish for in an ideal school library?

When asked to imagine their ideal school library, students offered a mix of fanciful and practical ideas, including: a rocket-powered elevator; a cupboard leading to Narnia; waterfalls; and coloured lighting that designates specific areas of the library (Willis, Hughes, & Bland, 2019).

Overall, the students’ responses indicate four key wishes for:

· Peacefulness

· Connectedness

· Adventure

· Technology.

Students associate peacefulness with secluded nooks to read and study that are furnished informally with beanbags and cushions. Connectedness relates to students’ wish to feel part of the wider world and the natural environment, through views of nature, outdoor spaces like a library patio, and online. They seek adventure in the library through reading and story telling, as well as creative activities and digital exploration.

However, students often wish for plenty of books and physical resources alongside the technology in their ideal library. They also recognise that the library needs to be flexible to:

cater for students who need hands on learning material plus students of all ages – catering for many different interests and needs in a comfortable and creative environment” (Year 5 student).

Most of all, students want to feel welcomed, valued and engaged at the library. Their enthusiastic imagining reflects the importance of the library as a special place at school that engages students’ hearts, minds and senses. Supportive teacher-librarians and library staff are essential for creating a library environment that enables their learning and wellbeing.

“[The library] has an elevator that goes up to the games room. It has slides to go down to the reading and sleeping area!” (Year 6 Student) (Image: authors)
“[The library] has an elevator that goes up to the games room. It has slides to go down to the reading and sleeping area!” (Year 6 Student) (Image: authors)


Hughes, H., Bozorgian, H., & Allan, C. (2014). School libraries, teacher-librarians and student outcomes: Presenting and using the evidence. School Libraries Worldwide, 20(1), 29-50. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/74876/

Hughes, H., Franz, J., Willis, J., Bland, D., & Rolfe, A. (2019). High school spaces and student transitioning: Designing for student wellbeing. In Hughes, H., Franz, J., & Willis, J. (Eds.) School spaces for student wellbeing and learning: Insights from research and practice. Singapore: Springer, pp. 97-119. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/126919/

Lance, K. C. & Kachel, D. E. (2018). Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(7), 15-20.

Scholastic. (2016). School libraries work! A compendium of research supporting the effectiveness of school libraries. (4th ed.).

Willis, J, Hughes, H, & Bland, D (2019) Students reimagining school libraries as spaces of learning and wellbeing. In Hughes, H, Franz, J, & Willis, J (Eds.) School spaces for student wellbeing and learning: Insights from research and practice. Singapore: Springer, pp. 121-137. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/126979/

More about the author

Dr Hilary Hughes is an Associate Professor at QUT. Hilary is a passionate educator researcher who promotes innovative practice that addresses the needs and contexts of contemporary learners. Her qualifications include Doctor of Philosophy (Queensland University of Technology), Master of Arts in Librarianship (University of Sheffield), and a Bachelor of Arts (CombHons) (University of Birmingham). You can learn more about Dr Hughes' research and publications.



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