School libraries are no longer places where one is required to maintain silence and confine oneself only to the company of books. Above: American Community School library in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Anjana Sankar/XPRESS

Abu Dhabi: A stroll to the neighbourhood library and spending an afternoon poring over your favourite book is a throwback to an era gone by for many of us.

With the infinite world of knowledge just a scroll away on our laptops, tablets and smartphones, many of among us may have already forgotten our association with traditional libraries.

But a visit to some school libraries in Abu Dhabi will make you think differently.

With lounge chairs, bean bags, conference tables and WiFi-enabled reading rooms, these traditional powerhouses of information have been modified into cosy spots. The steely silence that was the hallmark of traditional libraries has given way to giggles and happy chatter. And there are no prying eyes of a strict librarian watching as students hold group discussions, movie screenings or just work on their laptops.

Tradition with technology

As Steven Crandell, librarian at The American Community School (ACS) puts it, “Libraries are the new community place inside school. We encourage students to celebrate what they have – be it arts, sports or just friendship.”

Briton Crandell, 56, who has been a librarian for nearly 30 years, the last 11 of which have been with the ACS, said school libraries are thriving despite tough competition from the internet because they have been reinvented to suit the needs of students.

“I have to accept the change that is happening around us. We incorporate technology to go hand in hand with the traditional concept of reading,” said Crandell who doubles up as a history teacher.

The library at the ACS that was established in 1977 has over 20,000 books, and the collection gets upgraded throughout the year.

Reinforcing the relevance of libraries, Crandell said every week around 1,000 books are borrowed from the library.

“The demand for fiction is definitely much higher. Most students use the internet for research. It does not matter whether they use physical books or not as long as they have the love for reading.”

The changing face of school libraries is also visible at Raha International School where children get together to brainstorm, do homework or just talk among themselves.

Digital revolution

“Gone are the days when librarians do shhh…shhhh to maintain silence. Instead we encourage interactions,” said librarian Marina Koniotouinnes. “Digital revolution does not mean books are dying. There are diverse platforms where students can access information, and libraries will continue to be one of the most authentic sources,” she added.

In Abu Dhabi Indian School, one of the oldest educational institutions in the capital, the physical appearance of the library remains somewhat the same. But the mood in the spacious hall with a massive centre table is a relaxed one. Children huddle in groups and discuss books while teachers use reference materials to prepare for the next lesson.

The library has around 30,000 books and more than 800 books are borrowed a week.

Librarian Pratya Tripathi says it’s all about keeping the place interesting for students. “If I want students to come here, I have to offer them what they like to read and not just what I think they should read,” said Tripathi who has been working in the school library since 2006.

“We do not discourage them from using technology. But it is in the library they learn how special it feels to hold a book,” said Tripathi.