School Finance 516: Singapore American School's Evolving Libraries

School Finance 516: Singapore American School's Evolving Libraries

For SAS students, one of the most exciting, interesting, and fun places to be in is the library. In recent years, the three SAS libraries have evolved to meet the challenges of the information age. While still housing thousands of books, they also guide students in accessing the e-resources crucial to learning today, as well as offering creation tables, makerspaces, collaboration rooms, and performance spaces. In partnership with classroom teachers, literacy coaches, and technology coaches, our five librarians and ten library assistants act as reading advisers, information guides, idea generators, and independent project facilitators.

The SAS libraries have undergone significant physical changes, with the biggest project the merger of the primary and intermediate libraries in the summer of 2013. The consolidated elementary school library gives students freedom to explore personal reading preferences, find that "just right" book, and move through the collection at their own pace. "We have worked hard to expand what we used to call "crossover" materials (targeted at grades two and three), as well as our Spanish and Chinese language materials," notes librarian Rosa Shin-Gay. Early Learning Center children access elementary books in their own "library corner," which supports the student-centered Reggio Emilia-inspired approach by matching offerings to students' interests. Future elementary library plans include discarding a number of little-used nonfiction books, reorganizing the fiction section by genre, providing more student workspace, and expanding the upper level's exploratory activities.

The middle school library and media center has also seen significant evolution. Print materials have been rearranged to create more group work areas in the "collaborative side," while the "quiet side" is reserved for silent reading and study. Spaces such as the Note Pad (a music and recording studio), the Tiger's Eye (a photography and videography studio), and the Top Ten Den (containing popular book selections) facilitate learning through multiple intelligences. Other changes include remodeled office space and the "central connection," where literacy and technology coaches work with students. Librarian Ron Starker notes that the library's unofficial motto is "everything is connected"; connecting students with a wide variety of resources to match their interests and facilitate knowledge creation is the overarching goal of the middle school library.

The high school's Khoo Teck Puat Library has been reorganized to support more personalized and project-based learning. "We see the library as a learning hub, based on the 'learning commons' model," librarian Mr. Bob Helmer explains. This idea transforms the traditional library into a place where students can work independently or in groups, use technology to access information, and get individualized help from library staff when needed. "We want to provide the resources, services, and programs to support innovative learning opportunities," says Mr. Helmer. The library now includes a design lab, a media creation room, a theater, group and silent study rooms, the SAS archives, and the Center of Innovation. A new classroom will be completed this summer to support students engaged in Catalyst projects, and the popular silent reading room will also be expanded.

The SAS librarians select high-quality resources that match our community's curricular needs and reading preferences. Materials are hand-picked to support units of study and the desired student learning outcomes. "We exercise due diligence in creating and curating a large, rich collection that will benefit SAS students both in class and outside it, when they simply want to enjoy a good book," says elementary librarian Ms. Kate Brundage. Old, damaged, or irrelevant items are culled, often replaced by e-resources that take up no space, are regularly updated, and are accessible by multiple patrons at once, from school, home, and travels. Ebooks can be more economical than print materials, and their links and extras appeal to certain readers. However, we know that others prefer physical books, which also have proven benefits, especially for young readers. We continue to maintain and add to both types of collections.

In addition to supporting student learning, all three libraries are important to the broader SAS community. Parents and staff may use their SASCards to borrow items from any library. Comfortable chairs, laptop-friendly spaces, newspapers, magazines, and book displays attract those with extra time on campus, as well as students before and after school. Parents with young children often visit a library while waiting for older siblings to finish school. The libraries also host community events such as the Parent-Teacher Association book fairs, author readings, expert talks, divisional coffees, parent book groups, film festivals, poetry slams, and volunteer activities.

Student fees finance the SAS libraries, with divisional budgets allocating funding for materials, subscriptions, and equipment. With our shift toward e-resources and our commitment to capping annual tuition increases at 3.5 percent, the divisions have moderately reduced library spending over the last five years. Library staffing costs are included in the salaries and benefits budget and have remained constant, while the facilities fund pays for maintenance and renovation projects. Support for our libraries also comes from the PTA and the SAS Foundations. The PTA sponsors visiting literary professionals as well as purchasing special materials. "We are very grateful for the PTA's generous support of our elementary author and illustrator in residence programs," says elementary librarian Ms. Alison Cuthbert. "We are able to offer students a profound experience that has a lasting impact long after the guest of honor leaves." The SAS Foundations have funded the maker space areas in each library, and much of the technology and equipment in those spaces.

We encourage parents to come in and explore our libraries, where the emphasis is on developing a love of reading, learning how to access reliable and relevant information, personal exploration, and creativity. As always, we welcome comments, questions, and suggestions for future articles at We look forward to hearing from you.