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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Rethinking the Library to Improve Information Literacy

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.

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Donald Johnson's picture
Donald Johnson
Fired ex-Geography/Journalism/English teacher, Houston, Texas

Perhaps the concept of a library as a repository for all learning materials not contained in a classroom needs the re-think. Some libraries are getting rid of all nonfiction books they can replace with computer, but while it makes sense not to continue buying encyclopedias and almanacs, I'm hesitant to throw existing ones out.

Instead, I propose that another large room should be devoted to simply reading, nothing else. Absolute quiet would be required as would adult parental supervision (not teachers) who would model reading by their mere presence. All the books the library considers unfit would line the walls, including all fictional novels and discarded non-fiction.

This room would remain open for as long as adults would supervise them (suggest 24-hour camera supervision as well) with community donations encouraged and participation required.

Perhaps the primary reason our children don't read anymore is because we do so little to facilitate it.

Public libraries are closing or reducing hours constantly, complaining about budget shortfalls. A re-think would provide a place for BOOKS to be read outside of school(not simply another Facebook venue) without adding unreasonable maintenance expenses. Extending this idea to the community would offer an alternative to the expensive, tech-heavy learning centers libraries are evolving into. Let's provide an oasis for solitude and restore for some the opportunity to experience the pleasures libraries have given learned people for centuries.

oscella burson's picture

I do fully agree that school libraries should be places that evolve with the times. I had the honor of working with a librarian, who reimagined her school library into a welcome, inviting and wonderful place. She had help, of course, from the school library assistants and the other librarian/media specialist. What was once an uninviting room became a room revitalized. New furniture, a teacher work station, sofas and chairs for reading, and shelves of relevant current literature for students turned a dour room into a welcoming adventure. An added bonus for teachers was the addition of computer workstations to accomodate several classes at a time. Her goal, I believe, was to get students in and reading. It worked. By necessity, high school libraries as well as other grade level libraries must become the tech-heavy,expensive learning centers we may not care for if we are going to prepare our students for college and the world beyond high school. But I also agree with having simply a reading room to teach students the meaning of quiet focused reading. So many have grown accustomed to reading in a noisy environment that quiet reading almost drives them crazy.

Kelly Welch's picture
Kelly Welch
Library Media Specialist for rural schools in Montana

I agree with Andrew--the heart of the matter is helping patrons to access reliable information, not the look of the venue where it's stored or whether the information is print, digital or verbal format. In the past two weeks it's become blatantly obvious that he/she who can access information can wield enormous power.

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Thank you Andrew,

ReThinking the Library is a very important topic:
and your concise 3 Step Analysis Framework is an excellent guide to
Discussions and Action Plans...to innovate our traditional schools and public libraries.

I'm a old-timer (card-carrying AARP member :-) but very interested in saving and re-creating new libraries for schools and communities, as they inevitably converge...

As a kid long ago and as an adult patron and "Friend of the Library" volunteer, I was and am enchanted with magazines, journals, and newspapers, etc.-- the daily, weekly, monthly "pulp" that creates a vibrancy in my intellectual, creative, and worldly domains...

When I read a magazine, I "instantly belong"!
I am part of a community, a country, a culture, a society: a participant
with interests and values and activities...

--National Geographic Magazine opened me to the World out-there, beyond my hometown city...
--Sports Illustrated connected me to my Teams, my Heroes, Athleticism, and Battles about "Winning and Losing" with luck and excellence...
--Time Magazine connected me with the News and Powerful People "making the news", and International Affairs, and the World of Entertainment, etc.

Of course I love books as well, but over the years, I have come to appreciate the immediacy and "visuality" (maybe i just made-up a new word :-) and connectivity and accessibility and "Ownership" of magazines... "This is My Copy of Rolling Stone Magazine, and I can cutout the poster if I want to and tape it up on my bedroom wall!" :-)

So, to get to an Actionable Plan and Suggestion:

I would suggest that school libraries and public libraries have and/or create an organized space/desk/shelves for students,teachers, parents, communty members to donate free (appropriate) magazines for their users to read and take home and/or keep or return/recyle back to the library if they wish...

Wikipedia has a list of "Professional and Trade Magazines" to give you some ideas, but every community has people working who read Trade Magazines that get discarded: Doctors, Engineers, Contractors, Businesses, etc. and Other Regula' Folks who read O=Oprah Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, New Yorker magazine (the covers alone are fantastic to create an every-changing classroom mural...,
the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, etc.

Final comment: I used to live with a computer engineer who subscribed to the IEEE newspaper... and within a few months, I knew what an FPGA was... and after a few more months: I began to think that an FPGA was my friend, and after a few more months: I began to think that an FPGA was one of my new housemates... :-)

Allen Berg

lblibrarian's picture
lblibrarian
Library Media Specialist

We need to find that happy medium: blending creativity and preparing for the "test", instilling that love of reading while preparing our students to use the latest technology in a savy manner, wading through the sea of information available at their finger tips.

Yes, libraries do need to be re-imagined. Yes, there needs to be a dialogue based on the librarian, teachers, administrators, parents, and students. The library is a resource for all users, whether it is for research, study, or as a quiet haven.

Librarians, library media specialists, whatever you call them have a big job ahead of them...

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