Partially due to the generosity of a donor we are evaluating the changing role of our school library in the digital era. Several trends are evident which impact the role of the library...
These trends are fueling a shift in how our students interact with the library. In many ways the role of the library (and librarians) is more important for schools than ever before. With ubiquitous instant access to a plethora of information and content, our students are in obvious need of skills for searching and critically evaluating what they find. With the resources of libraries such as subscription databases and ebooks accessible online, students no longer need to come to the library for physical access to these resources. They can access “the library” in classrooms, hallways, and at home. In many ways, the traditional skills taught by libraries are more important than ever, since students inhabit this information ecosphere 24x7. Access to the world wide web has supplanted much of what used to transpire within the walls of libraries. This shift from using a limited subset of critically chosen materials to accessing an immense body of unvetted information presents striking challenges for us as educators. How is your school library thinking about these shifts and supporting students’ skill-building?
If we were to identify the goals of the school library and our needs in the digital era, I’d include:
Regarding #1 above, it seems rare for students to tap into the subscription databases when Google hits are accepted as a reasonable effort at research. I think we need more work within each discipline to move beyond accepting the surface level of information provided via Google and require students to delve into more peer-reviewed and primary source materials. I also think we need each discipline to think about how it utilizes library resources and librarians’ skills.
Regarding #2, I think we need a concerted effort between the librarians, classroom teachers, and ed-tech staff to develop curriculum that truly builds critical thinking, problem-solving, and ethical understanding around information and knowledge-building. We also need to embrace the greatly increased access to (and ability to produce) multimedia. Students of the digital era consume and produce video, images, music, and hyperlinked pages like never before. How much are we teaching students to create hyperlinked work and use multimedia within assignments?
Regarding #3, I think we need flexible spaces with rooms for studying, collaboration, and supported engagement with information resources.
Regarding #4, I think we need to look at our students’ busy schedules and expectations, and think about our own experience as readers. If we truly value a life-long love of reading, we need to make time for it in students’ schedules and model it ourselves.
Regarding being at the heart of a school’s mission, I think the library needs to continue to be a place where students can study, hang out, read, and work together. Comfortable furniture, ubiquitous access to technology resources, and a variety of tables and types of study rooms can make the library useful for all types of needs. Hosting authors, musical events, and poets can help the library be seen as vibrant and dynamic part of the school.
So what does your school’s “library of the future” look like? Is it like Cushing Academy where eReaders have replaced paper books? Are there computer terminals as you walk around and laptop-friendly carrels? Do you serve espresso and have bean-bag chairs? How do faculty and technology staff support and enliven what happens at the heart of the school?