The library as 'third space' in your school

Supporting academic and emotional wellbeing in the school community

Lori Korodaj, teacher librarian at Lake Tuggeranong College in the Australian Capital Territory, shares how her school is embracing the school library as a ?third space'.

Beyond day to day service provision, the teaching of information and digital literacy skills and resource transactions, the school library is often a ‘safe space’ for our students and even our staff (teaching and administration). This article explores the concepts of school library as ‘third space’ and supporter of ‘social capital’, and pinpoints those who may access the library in this way. Along the way, the article also explores how the teacher librarian and members of the library team take part in creating this supportive space (in school and in a virtual environment). The author provides practical examples/scenarios from her school library space and practice.

When first considering how to craft this article and its earlier incarnation as a webinar, it happened to be quite timely. Our school was about to undergo its external school review which takes place every five years. For our Lake Tuggeranong College (LTC) library team, it was an opportunity to really explore how we support our learning community – academically, but also socially and emotionally.

The ‘third space’ and ‘social capital’: what are these concepts?

‘Third space’ as a concept changes depending on the context in which it is raised. Fraser (2012) discusses it as the transition between one event and another – a place to leave the ‘baggage’ behind between events. From an information literacy/Guided Inquiry view (Kuhlthau & Cole, 2012; Kuhlthau, Maniotes, & Caspari, 2007), ‘third space’ allows the student to explore concepts between what they already know and the curriculum they are taught.

A space to consider and create their own view on what they are presented with by their teachers in the classroom.

At Lake Tuggeranong College Library, and across school libraries as a whole, the ‘third space’ is not school and it is not home. We contribute to the whole child through holistic education (Child, 2018). Most importantly, we provide social and emotional support for those in need. We also provide safe information and the skills to find this for students to take on to further education and the workforce beyond school.

‘Social capital’ is where commonalities and relationships are found in our society.

An excellent example of this is the library, where it is more than just borrowing books and browsing the Internet. School libraries are more than books; they are also about the relationships between members of our school community (classroom teachers and students; teacher librarians and students; teacher librarians and fellow teaching colleagues; the school principal and the teaching staff), and relationships between our staff and our school communities (teachers and parents). For some of our students: the school library may be the only space where they can come and speak to like-minded peers and/or a trusted adult that isn’t their classroom teacher or a parent.

Lake Tuggeranong College: Context

Lake Tuggeranong College is a senior secondary college (Year 11 and 12 only) in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). We have two part-time teacher librarians, a library technician and a library assistant. We are one of three shared use libraries, which means that our school library is also one of nine Libraries ACT public library branches.

The benefit to having a shared use library is contributing to the social capital of our wider Tuggeranong community. Our students are in the same space with older adults and library patrons – the young and young at heart! They interact with community members from babies to the elderly. Old and young make the space vibrant and lively! Our students have the benefit of having access after school hours and on weekends as well.

For me, living and working in this community fosters a shared sense of being and I appreciate contributing to the social capital of our shared use library. We get to know the regular library patrons as well as our own students, and alongside our public library colleagues can sometimes be the only friendly face and person they speak from week to week.

How does this look in the school library?

Following on from the ‘Reimagining learning spaces’ (2013) research, recent work published by Willis, Hughes & Bland (2019) has uncovered a direct correlation between the importance of school library design and wellbeing for students. Their definition of wellbeing for this research was developmental, involved a sense of belonging, and included safe and caring environments (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2012).

While their original research focused on school library design, pedagogy and curriculum, this second paper explored more fully the idea that well-designed school library spaces contributed to student wellbeing as outlined in the goals of the Melbourne Declaration: Confident learners, creative learners, and Active and informed citizens (Willis, Hughes & Bland, 2019, p.134). Their findings support ‘a framework for fostering student wellbeing through the school library that builds upon an apparent three-way synergy between the goals of the Melbourne Declaration, students’ ideal library features and preferred spatial qualities’ (p.121).

What resonated most with me in this research was that students were consulted about what they felt was important to them when visiting their school library, which mirrored the approach we take at LTC when making changes to services and learning spaces within our library.

From my past and current experience/practice/observation as a teacher librarian, discussions with other teacher librarians, and ongoing professional reading, I feel that the school library is safe in some of the following ways -

  • Cybersafe: digital literacy and citizenship
  • Playground safe: different spaces for different students, a chance to keep away from other students that may seem threatening
  • A safe place to try out new skills: Child (2018) discusses this in the context of makerspaces and the ability of these spaces to build critical thinking, problem solving and self-confidence. Students can also shine in roles of responsibility as a library monitor, taking on shelving duties, or being the ‘IT troubleshooter’ for other students.

The school library as an alternate learning area – a place for students returning from long term illness, those who are keen to learn but unable to face the classroom. It can also provide that ‘quiet zone’ for students with additional learning needs.

The school library as somewhere else with trusted adults – the teacher librarian, library staff and volunteers can sometimes be that adult the student can speak with who is not their classroom teacher.

Other perspectives are presented in the video clip ‘School libraries are a safe space’ (2 minutes, 20 seconds) created by the Students Need School Libraries campaign:

Students and staff who need our support

In our school, our experience can be similar to primary and high school libraries. We often come across students who are socially isolated by peers. But sometimes, because of the age of our students, we can find students who are grappling with issues that some adults struggle with day to day. Some students find their home life difficult (and sometimes catch up on sleep in our space), we support young carers who juggle home, school and a job, and increasingly, we come across students with a mental or somatic (physical) illness.

While our students are our main clientele, it is also important to recognise that our staff need support from the school library. We reach out to new staff as they navigate their way through their first days, provide resourcing (and advocacy about the importance of school libraries) to our pre-service teachers, reach out to our specialist teachers (in primary schools, these are often teachers who work in isolation such as our music and Physical Education teachers), keep our relief and contract teachers afloat, and most importantly, try to provide just in time skilling for our learning support staff (who often don’t receive the professional development they require because of their working hours).

Making ourselves visible – how the TL and library team take part in supporting the wider school community

At Lake Tuggeranong College, we feel blessed to have a principal who supports the school library and the staff who work within the library. We present her with our many harebrained ideas and, because we align our services with the ACT Education Strategic Plan, our school strategic plan, and what we feel our students need via our whole school lens, she usually says yes to the many and varied ways we try to make ourselves visible in our school community.

How can you make this happen?

  • Provide tutoring: lunchtimes, after school. This could be the TL providing this, it could be providing the space for peer tutoring or teachers tutoring.
  • Library monitors: make use of your ‘keen beans’. Share their successes and their leadership with your colleagues in staff meetings and in the school newsletter
  • Makerspaces: do your research (I highly recommend Jackie Child’s blog, Tinkering Child) and set up a space that will attract everyone. It can be paper and pencils, it can be origami, it can include Spheros.
  • Displays: entice staff and students alike into your space with inviting displays of resources. AFL Grand Final? Get the footy books out and find a few jerseys to hang in the space. Close to the summer holidays? Drag out books about faraway countries, modes of transport, the beach…
  • Be part of wider school community events: we showcase our student artwork in the Annual ArtsFest in the library (brings in the wider community), promote and hold our annual Literary Lunch (celebrating the word through writing and singing, and a guest author), showcase the Furniture Making class’ final products (stunning).
  • Be visible: this is a key part of my personal philosophy, which I discuss in my blog post, All things to all people.

Library literary lunch

Academic wellbeing at LTC

Students: my colleague Holly and I are available for individual student appointments on their study lines. We also support them in the 24/7 environment with the LTC Library website.

LTC library webpage

Key tabs we point them to are:

  • Curated resources under the ‘Classes & Assignments’ tab
  • The ‘Research & Writing’ tab provides support related to academic integrity, essay writing, and the Help! I’m stuck page, which points them back to the teacher librarian and also points them to our College Life (student wellbeing) team if they are super anxious about their schooling or their health and wellbeing overall.
  • Keys to Success’: this is a program that hones students’ academic skills. Students can complete this over a term or over the two years they are with us. They can also nominate to just drop into any particular session that they need assistance with ‘just in time’ (such as note taking, referencing or tackling assignments). For detailed information about this program, visit our slide presentation from the National Education Summit.

Staff: to support our teaching staff with their resourcing and professional development needs, we are available for collaborative planning appointments. These can involve simple resourcing for a unit of work all the way through to assisting with rubric creation, assignment creation, and being part of a program of learning via team teaching (more fully discussed and examples provided in At the crossroads).

  • On the LTC Library website, we have a special ‘For Teachers’ tab:
    • Annotated professional reading lists by subject available in our professional reading collection
    • What a TL can do for you: outlining our services
    • Multimedia Room: Services and resources available
    • Board of Senior Secondary Studies guidelines around plagiarism

Pre service teacher induction:We want our newest teachers to come out of university loving their school libraries and demanding that they are present with qualified staff in each school they work in during their careers. How do we do this? With ninja like stealth, via an induction process.

1st year observations: LTC Library included in the whole school pre-service teacher program.

  • Half a day shadowing LTC Library staff as part of 1st year observation rounds (For example, meetings, classes, staff/student appointments)

2nd -4th year: Appointment with TL as part of practical/observation rounds.

  • provide them with the support while they study so they know to ask for our help when they go into the classroom.

‘The library is your friend’ is something we passionately instil in them. Many, if not all, walk away saying, ‘I never knew how helpful and useful the library and the staff were in saving me time and supporting my teaching. I’ll be back!’ And they do come back during their practicum.

Social and emotional wellbeing at LTC

A simple chat

It’s more than just getting the assignments completed when the students visit our library. We allow eating in our library (they never leave rubbish anywhere but the bins – true story) and socialising in small groups. All four of us really like doing our ‘walk and talk’ around during class time and break times, chatting with the students that are working, catching up with our ‘regulars’, and finding out how their school holidays were to keep a ‘finger on the pulse’.

During this time, we often pick up on students who may not be their usual self. We may also find out about what is happening at home and relationship woes, or simply just find out that they aren’t coping at school.

Last year, we had a student (quite driven) who we got to know via our Keys to Success program. They booked an appointment with Holly, ostensibly to discuss a specific assignment. Once in the appointment, Holly asked how they were – and they broke down. Starting college was overwhelming, they weren’t coping as well as they’d hoped, and Holly and the student spent the rest of the appointment sorting out papers into a folder and getting some general organisation back into their lives. The assignment was forgotten for the time being.

From this point, we touched base with the student’s year co-ordinator (we alerted the student we’d be doing this) and also some of their teachers. Now about to complete Year 12 in a few short weeks, this young person is a confident student, ready to take on the world. And we believe that had we not been there to intervene in such a simple way early in Year 11, this wouldn’t be the case.

Alignment with College Life (our student wellbeing team)

In the last 2 years, we have started working more closely with our colleagues in the College Life space. Seeing students outside of the classroom, interacting with them differently to their classroom teachers, we feel we can provide a more rounded view on a student.

  • We contact teachers directly after a student has seen us for an appointment to point out what we covered and what they may need further clarification about in the task;
  • We contact year co-ordinators if we feel we’ve noticed a change in a student who we see on a regular basis (particularly if we are aware the student has mental health issues)
  • We are currently working with the faculty Head in charge of College Life to be part of transition from high school to college in relation to academic skills, to minimise attrition of students in early Year 11.
  • As part of my Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) degree, I explored online support by the LTC Library to keep students with mental and somatic (physical illness) connected with school (reducing isolation from peers). This was after observing a number of students in this situation over the previous year. This is still a work in progress and yet to be progressed. You can read more about this ongoing project, ‘Library as third space’, where you will find journal articles, videos, websites and other helpful resources.


Our LTC Library team is passionate about providing best practice service to our school community. We believe that as an adjunct to the support we provide from the library, we lead from the middle. You don’t need to be in a recognised leadership role in order to do so. It is about careful discussion and planning to ensure that we meet both the academic and social/emotional needs of our entire school community.

  • We discuss future directions (particularly in relation to the General Capabilities and the 21st century learning framework) with our principal, senior leadership and faculty heads to ensure alignment with pedagogy and delivery of curriculum;
  • We actively plan out how we can save colleagues time in the classroom and our students time with research and completion of their assignments;
  • We set up appropriate spaces and times in which both staff and students can work with us;
  • We provide referral to our College Life team for those students we believe require social and emotional support, and they in turn refer students to us for additional academic support. This is an ongoing relationship we fully support.

Reference list and further reading

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: Development of a children’s headline indicator. Information paper. Cat.No.PHE158. Canberra: AIHW.

Bland, D., Hughes, H. & Willis, J. (2013). Reimagining learning spaces. Final report to the Queensland Centre for Social Science Innovation

Child, J. (2018). School libraries enhancing student wellbeing. SCIS Connections, 105.

Fraser, A. (2012). The third space: Using life’s little transitions to find balance and happiness. North Sydney: Heinemann.

Kuhlthau, C.C. & Cole, C. (2012). Third space as an information system and services intervention methodology for engaging the user's deepest levels of information need. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 49(1), 1-6.

Kuhlthau, C.C., Maniotes, L. & Caspari, A.K. (2007). Guided inquiry: learning in the 21st century. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Korodaj, L. (2019). Library as third space – Eduwebinar July 2019.

Willis J., Hughes H., Bland D. (2019). Students reimagining school libraries as spaces of learning and wellbeing. In H. Hughes, J. Franz, & J. Willis (Eds.), School Spaces for Student Wellbeing and Learning (pp. 121-137).

How to cite this article – Korodaj, L. (2019). The library as ‘third space’ in your school: Supporting academic and emotional wellbeing in the school community. Scan, 38(10)

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