Rethinking the Library to Improve Information LiteracyDecember 8, 2010 | Andrew Marcinek
In January 2007, I was hired by Springfield Township School District to teach English. One of the first pieces of advice I received was, "Seek out Joyce Valenza." I took this advice and sought out Joyce, the STSD librarian, immediately. Joyce and I collaborated on several lessons and she was always excited to help my class find new ways to approach research and Language Arts.
In January 2007, I was hired by Springfield Township School District to teach English. One of the first pieces of advice I received was, "Seek out Joyce Valenza." I took this advice and sought out Joyce, the STSD librarian, immediately. Joyce and I collaborated on several lessons and she was always excited to help my class find new ways to approach research and Language Arts. Although it was three years ago, Joyce was ahead of the curve and understood the necessity of information literacy and the importance of emerging technologies and the evolving library.
Many schools that have adopted a 1:1 program have made the mistake of forgetting the library. The library is the cornerstone of every school and is in a current state of flux. No one knows what to make of the library and some feel it is a relic in the context of schools. New information technologies emerge and the library is soon forgotten or pushed to the side, however, the library has never been more important.
While the aesthetics of the library must change, the mission is still the same: connect students to vast networks of information. As many schools acquire and integrate more technology, the case for rethinking the library and the librarian emerges. Similarly, the case for integrating lessons in information literacy is becoming a necessary skill all students must learn and develop.
Step One: Rethink the Library's Role
Schools must collectively rethink the library and not completely change it or simply forget about it. Develop a committee that will work towards evolving the library and allow students, teachers, academic technologists, administration, and librarians to exchange ideas in a collegial manner. Expect resistance to change. Expect an all out rally for the preservation of books. Expect the "technology is a distraction" sentiment. Expect resistance from every angle but turn that resistance into questions. Which books can we still use and which can we replace with new technologies? If our students are distracted, are we really providing them with engaging lessons? And if so, what do those lessons look like? How can we harness new technologies and blend them with ageless resources? If our budget is tight, how can we still incorporate new information literacy learning strategies in the absence of technology?
Step Two: Rethink the Library's Design
The next step is to rethink the library's design. The contemporary library should still house books, but blend in new and emerging technologies. It should look like a hip coffee shop with plenty of outlets for students to connect as well as comfortable places to read a book. Where there used to be print periodicals and encyclopedia sets, we now have an iPod or iPad station. We must accept that the modern library is everywhere, but before we present that concept to our students they must understand how to use it effectively. The one element that should never change in a library is the librarian.
Step Three: Rethink the Role of the Librarian
While books and periodicals may soon be replaced by Kindles and iPads, the school librarian will never fade. However, he or she must evolve and accept new trends. The school librarian should embrace new technologies and help guide students through the vast fields of information. Students need to understand how to effectively search, cite, and integrate. These skills have never been more important. The library should not be avoided, but embraced by all teachers and students.
The library will always have a place in schools and places of learning. The design may change but the mission will endure. Teachers must find ways to integrate lessons in information literacy and lead students in the direction of accessing information and making smart connections. One of the best connections they can make is with their librarian.
These connections must happen. Many students come to my English 101 course in college thinking Google is the only outlet for information and not competent enough to use online databases. And these are just the basics. While Google has become our best friend, students need to know the best route for accessing information in a field of tangled weeds. Students must possess the skills to discern and filter credible information while sifting through the weeds.
I am not writing this post as the foremost expert on library science and information literacy, rather, someone who wants to provoke a conversation. The library will always be relevant, but the ways in which we access and use the library will change as we continually evolve our practice. There are many librarians out there making great strides in promoting a new direction in information literacy, however, there are just as many taking a stand against change. If you are one of the reluctant ones, please make an effort to embrace, even if it is only in small, incremental steps, this change. Be part of the conversation, promote emerging technologies in your library, and embrace your librarian. Really. Give them a hug.