Don’t Worry, a School Library with Fewer Books and More Technology Is Good for Today’s Students

From The Conversation:

A recent article about a new approach to a school library sparked vigorous discussion on social media. Many worried the school had completely abolished traditional library services. The article describes how a Melbourne school changed its library to a technology-focused centre staffed by “change adopters” who host discussions with students and encourage creative thinking.

. . . .

The school’s principal was forced to defend the library’s restructure. She wrote that its traditional purpose hadn’t been lost.

The College Library has been transformed into a Learning Centre that continues to offer all library services to students and staff, including a significant collection of fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers, magazines and other print resources, as well as online access to other libraries.

This school’s approach isn’t unique. Many schools have reconfigured their library spaces to embrace a model of integrating library services – where traditional library resources are combined with technology. Some have installed new technologies in so-called “maker spaces”. These are where students can be creative, often using technologies such as 3D printers and recording suites.

The purpose of today’s libraries isn’t only to maintain the traditional roles of promoting reading, developing information literacy and providing access to a collection of books and other resources. Today’s school libraries are fundamental to broader digital literacy, information provision and developing critical evaluation of information.

. . . .

There is a lack of understanding of what librarians can do for a school community and a belief children don’t need help with learning how to use technology. Information can be inaccessible, and misunderstood, without proper instruction, guidance and support. This is especially true for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have good access to the internet at home, or those with learning differences.

As the evidence base for what makes an effective library grows, it’s becoming recognised that

the 21st century school library professional is a digital leader, an innovator, a creator, a promoter, a resource and research specialist, a curriculum adviser, and much more.

Teacher librarians educate children in the core skills of searching and evaluating information. They also support and empower students in areas such as digital citizenship. This enables children to fully participate and engage with the complex digital landscape.

As Chelsea Quake, a teacher librarian at a Melbourne public school, told us:

Students leave school reading fake news, turning to Instagram for answers to their health questions, and falling flat on their first university paper, because they never truly learnt how to research.

Link to the rest at The Conversation

14 thoughts on “Don’t Worry, a School Library with Fewer Books and More Technology Is Good for Today’s Students”

  1. Pioneers are easy to spot. They’re the ones with the arrows in their backs.

    IMO it is a good discussion.
    What is a library?
    What is the purpose of a library?
    What is a librarian?
    What do we require of a librarian?

    In today’s world, is it still a library if it has no internet connection?

    • In David Drake’s Republic of Cinnabar series, librarians are information retrieval specialists. They organize, catalog, and manage information of all kinds and The term Library is simply a place where people find information.

      No unlike the usage in the modern computing world.
      Thinking Libraries are simply stacks of dead tree pulp is sooo last millennium! 😉

      The series is excellent, btw: one of the co-protagonists is in fact a librarian. She’s a holy terror with a terminal or a handgun. Not a woman to trifle with. Her partner (and strictly platonic friend) is a very James T. Kirk-ish starship Captain who only dates airheads, on purpose, to avoid entanglements. He nonetheless ends up married to a woman of substance. Last seen wondering how that happened.)

      The series is built around recastings of actual military and political scenarios from the history of the Roman Empire. Where the HONORVERSE series is clearly inspired by the Hornblower books, the Cinnabar series is just as clearly inspired by the Aubrey-Maturin books.

      Volume one: WITH THE LIGHTNINGS is free at the BAEN Free Library.

      (Now I need to go reread the series.)

      • Felix, I know the RCN series.

        Years and years ago, when development and construction of the Space Shuttle’s pre-launch telemetry recording and playback system was my responsibility, I refereed the war between three separate contractors, four if you count the one that NASA had. (I got those NASA bastards — I hate NASA — to shift that contract to the Air Force so I could run it.) Of all those people — about seven dozen — we had only one software librarian. I told her boss that, no matter what the contract said, I required that he submit her vacation requests to me for approval. If he did not, I would zero his performance mark for the quarter.

        She was indispensable, and I knew it. We never had a library glitch. (Okay, there were problems, but she solved them within 5 minutes.) I routinely rewarded her performance. Because I knew how to grease the marks with Chief Prosser, her name showed up prominently in each quarter’s award.

        I know the value of librarians. Drake is right. Librarians will become those who catalog and search. And likely build the search engines, too.

  2. Cushing Academy in western Massachusetts removed almost all the books from their library in 2009.

    They reintroduced them on a limited basis starting in 2016.

    It sounds like what happened here was nowhere near as radical, but this was my first thought. Go figure, but I couldn’t afford the $50,000-ish a year to send my kid there, anyways.

  3. As a rural library trustee, I read a lot about what is happening in libraries, go to library conferences, and talk to librarians all the time. I’ve noticed two big trends in libraries in the last decade: digital circulation (ebooks, audio books, videos) is steadily becoming more important and libraries as community anchors as centers information and discourse open to every member of the community.

    That is not to say that paper books are becoming less important– in our statistics paper is holding its own, not declining, and digital continues to rise.

    Public library spaces are relatively expensive. They are high traffic. In several municipalities I know of, the library gets more foot traffic per square foot that any other public building. That means the floors and furniture has to be built to take it. Turn a residence into a library (we’ve done this) and it crumbles in a few years without continual upgrades and reinforcement.

    The model we have been going for is to use library public space to display books we think our readers are interested in (and our computer system tells us a lot about that) and comfortable facilities for reading and discussion, rather than paper warehouses. Warehouse space for less used material is much cheaper than public space.

    Not everyone likes this– I hear complaints that we don’t have enough books on the shelves, but our circulation metrics continue to improve and the door counts keep rising when the weather cooperates.

    Now for some speculation: before the 21st century, access to books and information was difficult. Most people had to settle for what they could get. Quality was not a big question. Any information was better than no information. Libraries had it easy.

    Today, information is plentiful and cheap, but quality is hard to assess. Libraries have been traditionally opposed to all forms of censorship, but it’s getting hard. Is it censorship to distinguish between a self-serving sponsored research and disinterested research? What is self-serving and what is not is a question fraught with politics.

    Surely there is a higher standard than “It is true because I agree,” which is the basic tenet of the social media.

    • Is it censorship to distinguish between a self-serving sponsored research and disinterested research?

      I suppose that depends on who funds the disinterested research, who is interested, and whose ends it serves.

      Re the books… What did you do with the books no longer being stored in the library bldg? Warehouse? On site? offsite? Are all titles easily accessible, or are things boxed up? Is it like the big libraries where only library personnel have access to the stacks? Are the books still in the catalog? How do I get one?

      I keep hearing about libraries changing space usage, but don’t know the fate of the displaced paper.

      • The most common is off-site high density storage, with courier service to the library site. I don’t know a lot of details about how the warehouses organize the books, but they are relatively common, especially considering that a lot of large university libraries have been doing this for decades as they ran out of space. The titles are in the library catalog and easily requested through the catalog (it would be an automated process), and usually a courier gets the books to the library site for pickup within a day or two.

        One note is that this method is actually better for older books than keeping them at the main library, because the warehouses are climate controlled and access is limited to employees, so they are much, much better preserved (no damp, no dirty fingers, stable temperature, etc.)

  4. As a volunteer in the bilingual program at our local elementary school, one of the biggest challenges my kids face is access to tools. It’s an issue trying to teach them to LOOK FOR THEMSELVES given the plethora of tools the school makes available. It’s far easier to ask the teacher (or the volunteer!) where to find something than to go digging through the toolkit yourself. I’ve learned to ask, “What did you find when you searched?”

    Spoonfeeding kids of the 21st C. is definitely not the way to make independent learners of them.

    • Have you considered that the powers that be don’t really want independent learners? All available evidence is that the educational system exists to beat natural inquisitiveness out of kids. What today’s pols want is unquestioning followers and consumption units. Shop and vote, don’t question.

      If they really wanted different the educational system would’ve been fixed decades ago.

  5. A few years back I took in a very interesting presentation at Gen Con Trade Day on the idea of libraries as “sandboxes” where patrons could learn about and make use of all kinds of technologies that they could never have afforded to get into individually. If libraries are going to be centers of learning, they can offer more and different ways of it than just books.

    It then follows that libraries don’t necessarily have to be about (physical) books mostly, or even at all. Libraries should be free to adjust the mixture of media and technologies they serve to suit the needs of their particular patrons.

  6. CNET this week has a bunch of articles on modern libraries:

    Around the globe, libraries are repositioning themselves to meet the needs of a world where almost everything on the shelves can be found online. Many see themselves as centers of digital culture offering classes in the latest tech, such as 3D printing and digital video editing. Key to that mission is helping patrons who can’t afford internet service, like Marx’s young friend, find a way to get online.

    As of Sunday, libraries across the US began celebrating their evolving mission as part of National Library Week. Melinda Gates serves as the honorary chairwoman of the annual event, which American Library Association started in 1958.

    Worth a look.

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