Designing Evidence-Based Library Spaces for Twenty-First Century Learning: Case Studies from Singapore

Commonwealth Secondary School Centre of Excellence in Design and Innovation, Loh Chin Ee

Japanese Room, Level 4, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne

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Loh Chin Ee | National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

The design of learning spaces can constrain or encourage particular forms of learning, yet the research on how to evaluate the effectiveness of learning spaces remain scarce. In this “new culture of learning” (Thomas and Brown, 2011) students need to be open to change, ask critical questions about the world around them, imagine new solutions, and collaborate with others. The traditional view of school as a conduit for transmitting information is insufficient in this complex and fluid environment. Rather, schools need to help students learn how to manage and amplify what they know to generate greater learning, and the school library is a central space for cultivating such forms of learning.

This presentation draws on a year-long comparative case study of six Singapore school libraries to examine how the design and organization of library spaces can facilitate the development of twenty-first century skills in schools. More specifically, I draw on the examples of reading and collaboration spaces in school libraries to illustrate how space shapes behaviours and how individuals – both teachers and students – negotiate and colonise spaces within the library for their own purposes. I share broadly about how policy, programme and practice need cohere for effective optimization of the library space according to the school’s goals and students’ needs. In the course of the presentation, I will illustrate how the use of library user surveys, detailed observations (time freezes and timed narratives), documentary photography, time-lapse photography and interviews across schools allowed us insight into “what works” (Imms, 2016) in library design, taking into account pedagogic intent. I will also share the evaluation protocol developed in response to the project findings, to serve as a form of evidence-based evaluation for school libraries.


Assistant Professor Loh Chin Ee from the English Language and Literature Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, is the Principal Investigator of the Building a Reading Culture (BRC) project, a large-scale study on reading and school libraries in Singapore secondary schools. She is the author of The Space and Practice of Reading: A Case Study of Reading and Social Class in Singapore (Routledge, New York) and has spoken and written widely on the importance of pleasure reading and the role of school libraries for twenty-first century learning. Project details and updates can be found at


Imms, W., Cleveland, B. & Fisher, K. (2016) Pursuing that elusive evidence about what works in a learning environment design. In Imms, W., Cleveland, B. & Fisher, K. (eds) Evaluating learning environments: Snapshots of emerging issues, methods and knowledge. Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Thomas D and Brown JS. (2011) A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change, Seattle, Washington.