John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Sara Kelley-Mudie, Director of Student Inquiry and Research at The White Mountain School, a private college prep day and boarding school in New Hampshire. Today, we’re talking about The White Mountain School’s new library. Welcome, Sara.
Sara Kelley-Mudie: Thank you, John.
The New School Library
John: Sara, tell me a little bit about The White Mountain School’s new library and how it developed.
Sara: The new library really puts inquiry at the heart of the school architecturally, as well as academically. The library is a hub and is a center for students and for teachers, and that central location puts research at the center and puts inquiry at the center of everything we do. I like to think of the library as really the heart of the school. Everything that happens can connect through that library, through research and through inquiry, and that is a space for students and for teachers to come together around ideas and around questions.
How the School Library Was Designed
John: Okay. Tell me a little bit more about that and what educational philosophies went into the design of the library, and in particular the spaces inside that you’ve created.
Sara: We really wanted to make it a space that’s central to the daily lives of students, and in that way it mirrors a lot of what students will see at college libraries, that learning commons model where there is a free flow of spaces, and that students come together, and they’re working on different things, but they’re working in the same space. It’s an opportunity to connect, to ask questions, to share ideas.
There are also different types of spaces for students to work. My belief is that libraries should have spaces for both contemplation and collaboration, and the new library embraces that. There are places for students to work completely alone, there are spaces for students to work by themselves, but in the same space with other people. There’s places for students to really work together collaboratively, on the same thing, at the same time.
John: Right. I think that when we think of an older traditional library, we think of the librarian saying, "Shh" and you’re not allowed to talk to anybody else. You’re just supposed to sit and maybe you get a book out and you look something up in the book, but you’re otherwise supposed to just be doing work on your own. This is a different philosophy where, yes, there’s spaces where students can do that, if that’s what they need to do in order to work on their projects, or their academics or whatever it is that they’re doing. But that there are spaces available for collaborative projects and for people to be able to talk and engage in a conversation about a topic and bounce ideas off of each other and things like that.
Sara: Absolutely. It reflects how so many of us learn and how so many of us want to interact, that ideas build and grow on one another, and by having the chance to ask questions of one another throughout our work, students can build deeper understandings of what they’re studying.
John: Okay. We’re living in a digital age now. What types of resources do our kids need and does this new library provide those as well?
Sara: I think students really need the same types of resources they’ve always needed. It’s just that now they have easier access to them, that we can connect in any number of ways to not just the resources we have physical access to here, but through consortiums, through databases, through seeking out personal connections. Even we have access to a wealth of different resources and a wealth of different experts who can help students explore their questions. We really deliberately built these networks to connect us to ideas, to knowledge and to people.
Working with Boarding School Students
John: Okay. How do you work with your boarding school students here, at The White Mountain School, to help them know where to look and how to get answers to their questions?
Sara: I really listen to their questions and ask them questions in return. What I really want students to understand is that they’re not alone in their search for knowledge and understanding, and to help them think about how they connect with other people who share their questions. To think of themselves as a researcher, as someone who is pursuing a question the same way someone who’s in college, the same way someone who’s a professional that might pursue answers to those questions, and where might they look, and how can the student tap into those types of networks. We really face a much different challenge in our search for information than previous generations faced, in that we don’t have access to too little information, we have access almost, sometimes, too much. I really work with students to think about how to find resources that address their questions without being overwhelmed with too much information. The joy is working with students to identify and articulate what it is that they want to know, and seeing the joy a student experiences when they really connect with an answer and have that 'Aha' moment, it’s why I do what I do.
John: Any final thoughts on the changes that were made to the library, and how the new spaces that are available will help students to achieve that goal that you were just talking about?
Sara: What I’ve really enjoyed seeing is how students are making the new space their own, and how they’re using that as a space to connect with one another, to connect with teachers, and to really spend time with their questions, and deeply engaging with those questions, and seeking answers.
John: All right. That’s great information, Sara. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Sara: Thank you.
John: For more information, visit the School’s website, at whitemountain.org, or call 603-444-29-28.