A not so secret garden

By Kathryn Williams, Heather Harrison

Kathryn Williams and Heather Harrison, from Fraser Coast Anglican College, share their experience and the rewards of transforming part of their library space into a storybook garden.

‘Once upon a time’ we had a dream to turn part of the library into a storybook garden. Walk through the doors today and that dream has become a reality. The striking entryway consists of stacked, oversized book sculptures that hold a scrolled sign welcoming people into the space. Central to the garden are four, buttressed strangler figs that clad existing columns, extending out to support a leafy canopy.

Dotted through the fig trees of the storybook garden is an array of Australian wildlife including a ringtail possum, a quoll, a black cockatoo, a kookaburra, a lace monitor, a family of sleeping bats, and various insects. These animals have created the launching pad for the cross-curricular lessons, with sustainability and environment being our first major theme. Reading and storytelling promotes brain development and imagination, teaches a child about language and emotions, and strengthens relationships. Bringing creativity and literature together can be a powerful tool in teaching. It allows children to explore their imaginations. Getting involved in a story reinforces the learning, brings a subject to life and therefore captures a child’s interest.

A storybook garden in the Fraser Coast Anglican College Library

Bringing creativity and literature together can be a powerful tool in teaching.

Dream into reality

What does it take to create such a space? The first six months were spent in discussions, research and meetings. It was never the intention that we put a tree or garden in our library just because it looked pretty — it had to have a purpose, and pitching that to the stakeholders was the first step, as it had to be a shared vision.

After initial discussions with the business/finance manager, we sourced images from around the world of indoor and outdoor storybook gardens and located a local company, NatureWorks, who specialise in artificial indoor trees and entrance statement sculptures. We then presented to our executive leadership team and college council an overview of our vision and the educational values this would inculcate in our students.

Once we received approval in principle for the idea, we sent NatureWorks photographs of our space. They subsequently created several designs that met our layout and approved budget, and staff were asked for input. Once the desired option was agreed upon, another proposal was submitted to council for final approval. Over the next 12 months, we received photographs and updates as the garden and entrance statement took shape.

A new take on the 21st century library

Our library is only 10 years old and was the first in Australia to be created under the Building the Education Revolution program. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd even visited and laid a brick or two. Technology was a firm focus in the facility, which even in the space of 10 years, has undergone some significant changes. However, over the past couple of years, we have observed that, despite all the technology on offer, the students continually gravitate to the traditional board games, LEGO tables, colouring, drawing, cutting, sticking, pasting, creating and shared reading of various picture books.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the college community about our storybook garden has confirmed for us that a 21st century library can be a dynamic place that appeals to young and old alike. Learning in such a space enriches not only the literary experience but provides endless opportunities to develop students’ understanding of their natural and human environments.

People questioned why we needed changes when our facility was still so new, but libraries should never remain static and, when the funds became available, we wanted to bring something innovative and dynamic to our already much-loved space.

I would urge you to have the courage to put your ideas forward about your library space — even if they seem unattainable. Be prepared for obstacles — they’re a given. Ultimately, we needed to show faith in people and belief in our ideas because the rewards are exponential.

Image credits

Image supplied by Kathryn Williams

Kathryn Williams

Library Services Manager

Fraser Coast Anglican College

Heather Harrison

Library Technician

Fraser Coast Anglican College