What Should Be in a Library? An MI Expert Explains

In August 2018, MI Expert Dr. Thomas R. Hoerr, Emeritus Head of School at New City School and Scholar In Residence, UMSL College of Education in St. Louis, MO, wrote an article about the questions that informed the design of the Learning Library at the New City School.

Below, the article is printed in full and prefaced by a brief comment from Dr. Howard Gardner.


If you are over fifty, it’s likely that your education was based heavily on reading newspapers, articles, and books, and, for you, the word “library” connotes a collection of many written words and volumes.

Nowadays, of course, nearly everyone picks up information and skills through interactions with a variety of media. And even when one is reading words, it’s likely that one is reading them on a screen, with the chief variable being the speed and the size of the machine.

Quite a few years ago, Tom Hoerr and his colleagues at the New City School in St. Louis began to rethink the meaning and the use of the school’s library. The result is a learning environment which presents information in a variety of ways and which encourages young people to  draw on, as appropriate, their several intellectual strengths or  intelligences.

I am grateful to Tom Hoerr for writing a blog, in which he describes the School’s experiences with the Learning Library. And I want to take this opportunity to thank Tom for his unstinting support of appropriate educational uses of MI Theory.

- Dr. Howard Gardner


A Learning Library

by Thomas R. Hoerr

What should be in a library? This is a more fun and complex question than it might appear!

Our initial response is probably a quick one, as we envision shelves and shelves of books, monitored by a stern librarian who can quiet the room simply by raising her eyebrows. Indeed, that is what most of us experienced. A library was a space filled with books and periodicals. It was a place where we went to do research, to look for books, or maybe it was just a quiet and calm setting where we could study or do our homework. Of course, the library was also a place where we could link up with our friends, but it was a pretty solemn place, so after that linking we would need to go elsewhere to talk and laugh.

That traditional library, whether in a school to be used by students or located in a neighborhood and open to the community, was designed to support the way that intelligence and learning have historically been viewed. From the advent of libraries thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt and Greece, when words were written on clay tablets or papyrus, until the 21st century, libraries have been designed for a singular, linguistic, view of intelligence. Dictionary.com says that a library is “a room, a set of rooms, or building where books may be read and borrowed.”

Today, however, we understand a great deal more about learning than when libraries were first created. We know that each of us possess  more than a single intelligence, so we recognize that the design of traditional libraries fails to support different ways of learning. Going beyond being a repository for books and magazines, what if we designed a library to support how people learn?

A learning library is designed to enable to use their multiple intelligences (MI) in acquiring information and solving problems. While a library can be linguistically-based, it should also offer people opportunities to use their logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalist, intrapersonal, and interpersonal intelligences in learning. Its art and furniture will be attractive and reflect that we each have a different intelligence profile. I know that creating this kind of library is possible and I have seen the positive impact that it can have on learners and learning because we created an MI library in the school that I led.

In 2006, the New City School in St. Louis, MO had been using MI for 20 years. We knew the power of enabling students to learn through all of their intelligences and we also saw how students’ use of MI made their learning more engaging and fun in classrooms. Consequently, when we decided to build a new library, it was obvious that enabling students to use their MI should be integral in our design.

Our MI library opened in 2006. It has thousands of books and scores of periodicals, but that’s just the beginning, because it also contains pathways for other intelligences. The library includes a space for creating art with white-board walls and tile floors, huge fish tanks and a bird-nesting area outside a second-floor window, a musical area with earphones, board-games and tables, games that require use of small muscles and coordination, chairs and comfortable spaces for alone-time, other chairs and desks to support collaboration, private rooms and meeting spaces, and small amphitheater for student presentations and performances. Designed by architect Kevin Kerwin, the space is remarkably inviting and attractive, and is also used for faculty, parent, and community meetings. An article from the School Library Journal that describes it can be found here: https://www.slj.com/2013/12/industry-news/a-meeting-of-the-minds-the-first-multiple-intelligences-library/#_ .

It’s worth noting that we intentionally did not put computers or technology in our library (other than those needed to monitor book usage). Our feeling was that kids’ access to technology was pervasive, and we wanted to provide a space that allowed – required – them to use other intelligences. We have not regretted that decision.

While ours was the first MI library, I recently learned that MI was incorporated in the Jackie and Hal Spielman Children’s Library section in a public library in Port Washington, WA. It is described here: https://nyrej.com/port-wash-library-lhsadp-stalco-scc-finish-2-8m and in more detail here: https://www.newsday.com/long-island/li-life/port-washington-children-s-library-1.20609067. The article notes that the library was designed to stimulate children’s curiosity and desire to learn, and it is clear that they have succeeded in doing this. I know that this was also the case at New City School: Our library was everyone’s favorite place and was always filled with learning and smiles!

When we conceive of a library that supports how people learn, we go far beyond collections of pages. How would you design a learning library?


New York Children’s Library Inspired by MI

In June 2019, the New York Real Estate Journal posted an article about a major redevelopment of the children’s section of the Port Washington Public Library in Port Washington, NY. According to a quote from Nancy Curtin, Port Washington Public Library director, the goal of the project was to create a modern library space that took into account the many ways children learn. At the heart of the new library is a “Tree of Knowledge,” inspired by the theory of multiple intelligences. The colorful tree is made of eight branches–one for each intelligence–each of which leads to a different learning area within the library.


Port Washington Public Library Children's Room 925 med

It is exciting to see multiple intelligences present in such an important learning hub for children of all ages. We hope that the children and families of Port Washington, NY will be inspired to take an MI approach to learning and knowledge.


Photo credit to the New York Real Estate Journal

To read the article in full, click here: http://nyrej.com/port-wash-library-lhsadp-stalco-scc-finish-2-8m

Mensa Research Journal Devotes Issue to Work of Howard Gardner

The latest issue of the Mensa Research Journal, Mensa’s triannual publication of scholarly articles related to intelligence, is devoted to the work of Howard Gardner. This dedication follows Howard Gardner’s receipt of the Mensa Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017. The issue features eight research articles related to the theory of multiple intelligences, including a previously unpublished address Howard Gardner delivered upon receiving an honorary degree from José Cela University in Madrid, Spain, and the Prince of Asturias Prize for Social Science in Madrid, Spain.

mensa journal


Photo sourced from mensafoundation.org

Click here to read more about the issue: https://www.mensafoundation.org/about-the-mensa-foundation/news/inside-mrj-49-1/

Is Howard Gardner Misunderstood?

In May 2018, Dr. Gary Stager (journalist, teacher educator, consultant, professor, software developer, and school STEM Director) posted an article titled “Thinking about Thinking about Howard Gardner” on his blog Stager-to-Go. In the article, Stager poses the question, “Is Howard Gardner the most misunderstood and misappropriated educationalist…in the world today or [is] he just the only theorist most educators have heard of?”

Dr. Gardner comments briefly below.


I appreciate Stager’s ‘shout-out’ to my work. It’s true that I write a lot and also that I am misunderstood a lot. (I am writing a memoir which addresses both issues). For now, I would say that I write because I become interested in topics and find that’s the best way to set down my thoughts. I’ve probably written 50 blogs in the past few years; I am happy if someone else reads them, but they are important chiefly because they give me a chance to see (as well as say) what I think. As for misunderstandings, I try whenever possible to set the record straight—for example, the difference between intelligences and learning styles—but if there is no one paying attention, there’s little that I can do.

- Howard Gardner


Click here to read Stager’s article: http://stager.tv/blog/?p=4242

Harvard Gazette Interviews Howard Gardner About His Life and Work

In the summer of 2017, Howard Gardner had a series of conversations with reporters from the Harvard Gazette, Harvard University’s official news website. The topics of these discussions ranged from Gardner’s early life and family to his lifelong scholarly work.

In May 2018, the Gazette released an in-depth profile of Gardner based on these conversations. We are pleased to share this interview with you, accessible by clicking here. In this piece, Gardner talks about the influences, challenges, surprises, and regrets that have influenced his personal life and career trajectory as a scholar and researcher.

(Photo by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer)


MI After 35 Years

On Saturday, March 24, 2018 Dr. Gardner and three of his colleagues, Dr. Branton Shearer, Dr. Thomas Armstrong, and Dr. Tom Hoerr presented at the ASCD Annual Conference in Boston, MA. Below is an excerpt from the ASCD newsletter, Volume 27, Number 6, written by Dr. Hoerr, that provides a portrait of the event.


Last month featured a really interesting presentation at the ASCD Annual Conference, “MI After 35 Years.” Yes, it’s been 35 years since Howard Gardner’s book, Frames Of Mind, changed how we view intelligence. Recognizing that intelligence is problem-solving, Garner identified the many different ways – the multiple intelligences – that people use to solve problems. Real-world problems, Gardner knew, are not limited to multiple-choice questions. Philosophically, understanding MI means that intelligence is not uni-dimensional and that each person possesses an array of intelligences. Pragmatically, understanding MI, we don’t ask “Who’s the smartest student in the class?” Rather, we ask, “How is each of these students smart?”

Branton Shearer, Thomas Armstrong, and I each spoke about MI from our perspectives, and then we were joined by Howard Gardner, who fielded questions from the audience and facilitated a discussion. I am biased, I know, but it was a great affirmation of the power of MI.
MI Group_HG, Branton Shearer, Tom Hoerr
L to R: Armstrong, Hoerr, Shearer, Gardner.

Branton Shearer, creator of the MIDAS, an MI assessment tool, shared his experiences from administering the survey and seeing its utility as a tool to aid in learning. Thomas Armstrong, author of Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, talked about how MI is research-based yet many psychometricians find it difficult to grasp. For sure, change is hard! I spoke from the perspective of leading an MI school for 30 years. I saw the power of MI each day, I said, in students’ learning and teachers’ teaching.

When Howard Gardner spoke, he noted that MI encompasses both individualization and pluralization. In using MI, we can individualize how we teach; we are able to teach to students in the ways that they learn. And MI pluralizes because it offers a variety of ways for students to learn and to show what they know. In using MI, we learn more about our students and we are better able to serve them.

This enthusiasm about MI – both from the four of us who presented as well as the 130+ in the audience – was evident. This causes one to wonder, “What happened to MI? and “Why aren’t there more MI schools?” (I used to hear that a lot when I lead New City School.) Branton Shearer offers a very good explanation of this in the following article!

Thomas R. Hoerr, PhD
Scholar In Residence at UM-St. Louis
Emeritus Head of the New City School
Facilitator of the ASCD MI Professional Interest Community


To view the entire newsletter, click here: http://custapp.marketvolt.com/cv.aspx?cm=1148481588&x=46336138&cust=24175573

Podcast: Discussing MI Theory with Alanis Morissette

In November 2017, Howard Gardner joined Alanis Morissette on her podcast, “Conversation with Alanis Morissette,” to discuss MI Theory. In addition to being a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, musician, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and actress, Morissette is fan of MI and an advocate for integrative learning.

To listen to their discussion, click the following link: http://alanis.com/wellness/podcast-episode-11-conversation-howard-gardner/.


To read more about Morissette’s take on MI Theory, check out her blog posts on MI Theory and Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons:




Study Finds Game-Based Learning Can Increase Intelligences in Students

In January 2018, M. Esther del Moral Pérez, Alba P. Guzmán Duque, and L. Carlota Fernández García published an article titled, “Game-Based Learning Increasing the Logical-Mathematical, Naturalistic, and Linguistic Learning Levels of Primary School Students” in the Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research. Howard Gardner comments below:


In the educational literature, there is continuing discussion of whether games can contribute to learning and, if so, in what ways.  As the title indicates this study of game-based learning provides suggestive evidence that three discrete intelligences can be enhanced by weekly hour-long sessions.



Game-based learning is an innovative methodology that takes advantage of the educational potential offered by videogames in general and serious games in particular to boost training processes, thus making it easier for users to achieve motivated learning. The present paper focuses on the description of the Game to Learn Project, which has as its aim not only to promote the use of serious games and digital mini-games for the development of Multiple Intelligences, but also to analyse whether this methodology results in increased learning. Teachers assessed the level achieved by primary education students (N=119) in each learning category, before and after participating in the project, by means of a qualitative instrument. Finally, after corresponding analysis through descriptive statistical techniques, bivariate correlations, and ANOVA, the results showed significant differences between children’s learning levels in logical-mathematical, naturalistic and linguistic abilities before and after their participation in this innovative project, thus revealing a widespread increase in every indicator.

To read the full article, click here: Game-Based Learning Increasing the Logical-Mathematical, Naturalistic, and Linguistic Learning Levels of Primary School Students.

Naturalist Intelligence in the Age of the iPhone

In January 2018, Laura Jeliazkov published an article titled “An iPhone in Hand…Worth Two in the Bush?” in The Darthmouth newspaper. In the article, Jeliazkov considers the modern attachment–or perhaps addiction–to our mobile devices and the seemingly endless digital media they offer. As a way of understanding our cognitive relationship to our devices, Jeliazkov cites Naturalist Intelligence. Howard Gardner comments below:


Since the original publication of Frames of Mind, I have added only one intelligence to the original seven—that of the naturalist. (Though, I have speculated about other possible intelligences.) As described in recent publications, the naturalist intelligence initially evolved so that we humans could make consequential distinctions in our natural environment—what to eat, what to spurn, what to hunt, what to avoid, how the weather might change in the next day or the next month.

In the modern era, however, most of us do not have to use the naturalist intelligence to survive in our built-up urban environments. But I’ve argued that the mind and brain capacities that evolved initially for life in the tundra are now readily called upon as we decide what to buy at the supermarket, what clothing to wear, how to decorate our homes, etc.

And now, there is a new powerful force in the environment: our smart devices, with their numerous (soon, innumerable) apps. In dealing with these devices, we not only make available all items for which one could conceivably shop. But also, as is pointed out in the accompanying article by Laura Jeliazkov, we have the opportunity to present and re-present ourselves as often as we want—as well as the chance to get the reactions of others—in words, in still pictures, or in live video. That’s a lot for the naturalist intelligence to do—as Jeliazkov suggests, perhaps too much! While I don’t remember it, she quotes me as saying, “If we went back into the woods to be with our naturalist intelligences, people would have time to think again. But today this may not be possible.”


To read the full article, click here: http://www.thedartmouth.com/article/2018/01/an-iphone-in-hand-worth-two-in-the-bush

A New Possibility for Musical Intelligence

On January 16, 2018 the New York Times published an article by Maureen Towey, titled The Force of Sound, Captured in VR. Dr. Howard Gardner comments on this article and its implications for MI below.


According to the criteria that I devised almost 40 years ago, an intelligence is not equivalent to a sensory system (there are no visual or gustatory or tactile intelligences).  Rather, intelligences are best construed as mental computers that operate on information, irrespective of the sensory system (or, technically, transducer), through which the information initially passes. Thus, for example, linguistic intelligence operates on language messages, whether they are heard, read, or (in the case of the blind) perceived through touch.

This criterion has always posed a difficulty for musical intelligence. While there are certainly aspects of music (rhythm, meter, perhaps timbre) that can be accessed through various sensory systems, the key elements (pitch, harmony) are best accessed through the ear.  We can create visual or tactile versions of pitch or harmony but these are, at best, metaphoric.

With respect to music, the situation is changing. Visual patterns that change over time (as in the screen patterns on your computer) capture some of the musical experience (the composer Alexander Scriabin believed that music was by its nature synesthesic—with the various sensory systems being linked to tones, chords, harmonies). Cochlear implants improve hearing to the extent that musical signals become accessible to many who could not previously listen to or enjoy music. And now, as indicated in this essay from the New York Times, through the technology of virtual reality, yet more aspects of the musical experience can be experienced by someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.  As the caption indicates, it’s now possible to explore “what music feels like to a deaf person.”  I believe that in the coming years, the dependence of music on the ability to hear will continue to diminish–even if it does not totally disappear—hence helping many who were once considered disabled and, as a dividend, bolstering one of the tenets of “MI theory.”


Read the full article, originally published online on November 5, 2017, here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/05/insider/how-we-used-vr-to-explore-what-music-feels-like-to-a-deaf-person.html