Rearrange the furniture

I will admit, up front, to being a burglar of ideas. Our reading lounge, which was previously discussed in my blog (, came from something I saw at a colleague’s library. Holiday borrowing was influenced by another colleague’s practices. Ditto bookmarks, ditto lots of things. Imitation. Flattery. The creative soup of sharing. By visiting my blog you are probably aiming to pick up some ideas to burgle and use too – and I hope you do!

Recently a few colleagues and I gathered at my school library to share ideas. Everyone brought photos of their libraries on their flash drives/nerd necklaces and we took a ‘tour’ of each on the big screen. To admire, to suggest, to enquire, to ask for help, to give advice, to see what had been done and, hey, let’s be honest, to see what we could burgle!

In one library, there was an arrangement of tables in a hollow-centred square, seminarlike. ‘How does that work?’ I asked curiously. It does, I was assured.

The idea took root, and I talked about it with my school assistant the next day. Could be interesting, we thought. The first photo here gives you a glimpse of the non-fiction seating arrangement before we started. Six tables, six chairs around each, the tables arranged in two lines of three tables. It’s the layout I inherited when I came here and which, until now, I haven’t seen any way to change. This idea, however, seemed to have possibilities worth exploring.

The new arrangement of seating in the non–fiction area

The non-fiction seating arrangement before rearranging

We would need more tables. We did some rejigging of what was where – in the glassed-in seminar rooms, for example, we could reduce four tables to two without a major negative impact, and those two tables could go to the classroom area down the back, while two of the tables there could come into the non-fiction section.

A teacher came by while we were rejigging, and I asked her what she thought. Hmm. She didn’t like the idea of a closed rectangle, she wanted to be able to get into the middle of it for teaching (or what I think of as ‘Geoffrey Robertson Hypothetical Mode’). Fair enough. Useful feedback. We swapped in one smaller table, leaving a gap. It faces, you will note, away from the entrance to the library on the right, so kids are less distracted by the general comings and goings of people.

We observed responses, interested to see how it might go. It’s not going to suit every teacher instantly, but then that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. It means it’s new.

The new arrangement of seating in the non–fiction area

The new arrangement of seating in the non–fiction area

What I like about it: it presents a non-verbal message about the library as a learning space, thanks to its ‘seminar’ style. It breaks up groups (which can become rowdy) and says, we’re here to learn together. That said, it’s still possible to do group work. It makes the students more accountable – instead of being clustered in groups, with friends across the table, it makes each student more visible. Their front is to the world, not protected by their mates across the table.

Psychologically, it’s a different game, and the impact of this is something we’re only gradually seeing. Of the classes who have used it so far, our unscientific observation is that they’re quieter, maybe because of that visibility. I also like that it looks more mature, more sophisticated, and treats the kids in a more adult way.

It remains to be seen how it goes in the longer term. I’m asking teachers and students for feedback, and observing classes as they use it. Our lovely cleaner says it’s easier to vacuum around, and my helpful school assistant wants to try this in our other two classroom areas (not sure if we have enough tables for this, or enough space, but it’s noted as a possibility!).

What you will need: enough tables, enough space and some muscle power to move them. And a shiny optimistic enthusiastic smile for the staff members who look at it and say ‘Oh...’, in that tone. And a grin for the students who stop dead and say, ‘Oh!’, because it’s different.

Ruth Buchanan,
Teacher Librarian

Colo High School, New South Wales
TL/teaching blog: