Connections, not collections: the Molteno Library at Bishops Diocesan College

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Gerry Noel

The journey of transforming the Molteno Library at Bishops Diocesan College in Rondebosch, Cape Town, Western Cape, in fact began years ago, and was the accumulation of a global coevolutionary change in consciousness, thinking and ideas about learning and spaces.

The Molteno Library got its name from Ted and Harry Molteno, the two youngest sons of Sir John Molteno, who was prime minister of the Cape Colony from 1 December 1872 to 5 February 1878. Both boys were educated in England and, upon finishing their schooling, settled in South Africa at Glen Elgin to farm as pioneers of the apple industry. Harry died in 1969 and left funds in his will to support cultural and educational interests, especially the English language and literature.

The Molteno Library was opened on 8 September 1977, in the building designed by Maciek Miszewski1 upon his return from overseas, where he had made a study of resource centres. He decided to include the library in a broader resources centre that included a printing room, lecture theatre and a variety of different resources. Some 6 000 books were then transferred from the Brooke Library, which became the Brooke Chapel. In 1982 alone, Raymond Danowski, a school benefactor, issued the library with 5 000 books. By 1985, there were over 10 000 books in stock.

A 21st century library

Much has changed over the years with regard to teaching and learning spaces, as a result of the complex 21st century world in which people now live. Twenty-first century skills and attitudes include critical thinking and problem-solving, curiosity and imagination, collaboration across networks, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, self-regulation and responsibility, and grit and resilience.

The most recent renovation of the Molteno Library has facilitated the acquisition of such skills and attitudes by creating dynamic and flexible learning spaces in the library – an academic and cultural ‘hub’ that can be used by both the boys and staff of Bishops outside their classrooms. The role of the Molteno Library is therefore to nurture a spirit of enquiry and research, to engender lifelong interests and passions. It is a place to provide digital, written and social resources to enhance learning beyond the curriculum, very often using technology to do so.

Connections, not collections

Twenty-first century libraries, in general, are no longer only quiet places to read, but are also places of activity and action, where it’s not so much about collections of books, computers and resources, but more about connections of people to other people and a multiplicity of various resources.

A transition of this magnitude requires careful consideration. Which books are relevant to a 21st century library and which would be better suited to other libraries or places? In this regard, 13 charities came to the old Bishops’ library and chose which books they could use, and so over 12 000 books were repurposed. The Molteno Library team then considered creating a connective atmosphere in the library to establish visual contact. High shelves that were previously placed in aisles running along the middle of the floor space – something common to many traditional libraries – were moved onto the walls, creating open and free-moving spaces.

There was whole school involvement in the development of the library space. Online surveys were done with boys and staff to get their qualitative feedback on the previous library, and for them to voice their dreams of a future space. Allowing a platform for direct communication with all stakeholders helped create a sense of ownership of the new library.

This new, world-class, state-of-the-art space therefore became their space. Unlike other facilities in any school, such as pavilions or sports fields – which by the nature of their specific function will only benefit some learners – a library facility can directly benefit each and every learner.

Creating the commons

The new Molteno Library offers a multifunctional, wirelessly supercharged, flexible learning space for over 180 users at any one period of time. The different spaces that have been created in the library include the Social and Research Commons, which is on the ground floor, where users will not only find the traditional helpdesk, but also information technology (IT) assistance. There is comfortable furniture in which to relax, surrounded by non-fiction and reference books, magazines and plenty of space to plug in laptops and other devices. There is also 24-hour access to a wireless printing room.

The Learning Commons is larger than a class-sized venue, and users are able to come and work on large tables with convenient plug points situated in the centre of the tables. The history and art books are placed on this floor. Furthermore, this area boasts three soundproof seminar rooms, which have wireless, projection, sound and collaboration facilities, including ‘IdeaPaint’2 walls on which the users can write. The IT Commons is an open-space working area for IT staff, who are there to offer prompt assistance and help for users and their IT needs. The Reading Commons provides a chilled, relaxed and quiet reading space.

Finally, right at the top of the library, there is the Indaba Commons, housing the English literature, poetry, Afrikaans, French and Xhosa books. It is also a performance area for drama, public speaking, debates and speeches. This also has a state-of-the-art IT projection facility and a mini-movie theatre with surround sound.

Stimulating interaction

This transformation of an educational space has had a far greater effect than we could have anticipated. The library is jam-packed during breaks, with boys watching current events on TV or socialising in the Social and Research Commons, and collaborating and learning in groups in the seminar rooms. Reading has increased, as the quiet Reading Commons offers a comfortable space in which to read relevant and applicable material for young men. Most interestingly, peer-on-peer tutelage has organically taken off, as the Molteno Library now offers a space for them to use for this purpose – and, as every good teacher knows, nobody explains work better to learners than the learners themselves.

This change was a long, carefully thought-out, democratic and, at times, tedious journey, but it has been well worth it in the end. Our transformation has given impetus to libraries being a focal point in the academic environment of a postmodern education.


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Category: Spring 2015

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