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« Libraries and commitment | Main | Jet lagged but H1N1-free »
Wednesday
May132009

The essential question?

Form follows function.
- Louis Sullivan

ISB student "using" the library, May 13, 2009

The question our team was to help answer was supposed to be: How can the MS/HS library program and facilities be improved to support student learning and achieve the ISB Vision for Learning?

But somehow it changed in a meeting with school officials this afternoon to: Does a school need a library when information can be accessed from the classroom using Internet connected laptops?

The new question is uncomfortable, messy, and incredibly important and not restricted by any means to one particular school. It is one to which all library people need a clear and compelling answer.

I've been addressing this question in articles since, well, for a long time, including:

Do you have a good response? What part does a facility play in a ubiquitous information environment? How does the librarian's role change? How do we assess our impact if physical visits become less frequent?

Your answers?

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Reader Comments (51)

Until the internet-connected laptops can replicate the experience of a good ol' fashioned book, you still need a library. That doesn't mean that the library will change the way that it is designed or set up, but it does mean that it will still be there for quite a while.

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJethro Jones

ABSOLUTELY! Libraries are more than just book shelves - just like my room is more than just a computer lab. Student need places to hang out and/or work that are not classrooms. The picture you placed at the top of this post is a perfect example of what does not happen in a "normal" classroom. I personally have a couch in the back of my room (donated by a parent) that is sat on every day...sometimes every period.

And guess what just happened (literally) - agroup of a dozen students just walked into my room, because the library was full! Don't tell me we don't need a library...

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Doug,

I think that this is one of the most interesting questions in education today, "Why do we need libraries when virtually all of the information we need on a daily basis is only a mouse-click away?"

I ask the question a lot, and the answers often seem to fall into two categories. The first is about books and the need to keep them. Why? The answers frequently seem to be personal (I like the feel and smell). The second reason is about librarians. We need librarians to teach students how to be critical users of information.

Frankly, I do not believe that either reason will fly in the face of budget cuts and an increasingly ubiquitous information landscape.

That said, I also do not believe that there has ever been a more exciting time to be a librarian. Reinvention thrills me.

The traditional vision of the library portrays a place, where you go to consume content, to find information, read information, and sometimes to check it out. Certainly many, if not most, library have extended beyond this limited function. Yet the vision continues to be the same.

As you know, I talk about literacy a lot, and try to tie it to the old and recognized structure of the 3Rs. I think it's a good place to start, because it is about accessing, working, and expressing information (reading, arithmetic, & writing). It seems that if the library could come to be seen as a place for all three...

* Find, access, understand, critically evaluate the appropriate information for your goal
* Add value to the information by utilizing tools of analysis, translation, and manipulation of information
* And compelling express ideas through text, sound, images, video, animation

...if the library might come to be seen more as a workshop where information isn't so much a product, as it is a raw material (a Kinkos for kids, if you will), then it may remain not only become viable, but an essential institution.

That's my 2¢ Worth.

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Warlick

They have been saying this since I was in library school. Your question assumes the library as just a passive space - a depository - not a teaching place. It also assumes that everything that is "a click away" is peer-reviewed, authoritative, and would meet the demands of the (print) publishing process, if it was published. As we all know -- on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. I groom my high school students to be lifelong learners. To understand the nature of information and to enjoy the process of research. I see them struggle to find authoritative materials and to integrate more than one source at a time - and that source NOT be Wikipedia. I am forward looking in my programming. I visit local university research libraries and librarians and learn from them in order to better prepare my high school students for them. Ask the universities.... they are requiring PRINT materials. First-year experience programs across this country require students to use campus catalogs and databases and have much higher requirements for sources than our high school does - and we have high standards. One thing school librarians must do is as Dr. Loerstcher and Dr. Farmer say: We must tie our instruction into curriculum and utilize assessment to prove that learning took place. We must continue to advocate for credit-bearing units. We must participate in grading, works cited and syllabus reviews. We will always sell our services as our services change. My library is not a passive depository of space. It is the heart of our campus, and I am a teacher librarian technologist.

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeanne Swedo

So, to extend that... If the Internet has everything we need to learn, why do we need teachers?
If your library is only a place where the information is stored, you might as well go home.

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Fox

If a Library isn't needed, why am I sooooooo busy everyday with people wanting and needing me, the services and the resources to get their job done?

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDianne McKenzie

A wonderful image to illustrate the central plea from ISB students about what they'd like...more technology.

Today's hurried students need time and place to INDIVIDUALLY and freely; read - do homework - browse the web - connect with friends online - engage in "experience-extending" interactive behaviors - align their own worldview with what they experience online - construct new personal meanings in and purposes for their busy lives.

In short supply or even missing in a typical current school library environment? Bandwidth, quiet personal space, bandwidth, comfortable seating, bandwidth, AUPs which enable rather than restrict, bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth...

The image, though, shows only a small slice of life in a modern kid-focussed library. Students also hanker for a warm, comfortable social space to COLLABORATIVELY; share media experiences - meet friends face-to-face to decpmstruct and analyze events in thier lives - collaborate on assigned work and personal learning challenges - explore the "virtual" world they know parallels the here and now - "invent" the world they are getting set to step into.

In short supply or even missing in a typical school library environment? Bandwidth, discrete collaborative spaces, bandwidth, appropriate seating, bandwidth, enabline AUP's, bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth...

Do we need a library today and in the future? You bet we do; a library with the 'Missing" above replaced by "Rich in"

May 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRob Rubis

Like Doug, I have written extensively on this topic. Whenever anyone says this kind of nonsense, say the following: There is NO evidence that the mere act of hooking kids up and turning the Internet on makes any difference in academic achievement. Then ask the person, Why do you think that makes sense?

May 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Loertscher

If the library in your school is a crypt full of rarely used books where students and staff only speak in hushed voices then the case can be made that the end is near. Currently in my library there are two classes. One is engaged in a reading assignment. Another is conducting mock interviews with volunteer guest employers. There are a dozen students working on individual assignments on the computers. At the game table there is a hotly contested chess game going on with three or four kibitzers. Six students are enjoying the cool breeze in the courtyard with books in their hands although I suspect one or two might be snoozing. And from the sounds of it there are at least a dozen kids visiting our coffee shop to enjoy a mid morning cup of joe. Gotta go - looks like the chess game might turn violent. Love this library. Love this profession.

May 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeo. Wilson

It was just posted last night on a state listserv about a librarian who was upset that she would not be employed for summer school because the school was going to employ a reading specialist instead. I didn't reply because my question would have been, "what about the way the library and librarian interact with the students could so easily be replaced by someone else?"

I keep coming back to the point that if your job can be done by an aide (or in this case a reading specialist) it will be.

May 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

I was reading Wikinomics last night and ran over a passage that resonated with your questions. I want to blog about this further, but thought I'd share the passage, because it speaks to what we as librarians should consider:

Tapscott and Williams recommend taking stock, as you are here. They ask:
"What do your customers need today? What will they need in the future? How can we complement or add value to our existing products and services? What new market opportunities present the greatest opportunities for growth? As we develop new ideas, what can we deliver internally? What should we source externally? Are there exciting new clusters of innovation happening that we can tap into? Where can we work closely with partners to create even more value?"

Many good questions for teacher-librarians to consider here.

One thing which was mentioned above, and I do think is an important function of libraries is the way we function as one of the only "campfire" spaces in the school--where students can interact with people and information in many different ways--individually, in groups, casually, formally, with adults, without adults, with technology, without technology, etc.

May 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

Librarians (Media Specialists, Library Teachers, etc.) need to be a lot more aggressive with their staff and students regarding what they can do and what the library can - and does - provide. Informing, coaxing, maybe even demanding that staff design activities to use the library collection (through partnerships with staff) has to happen. A big issue is that our fellow teachers do not always know the best methods or sources for information retrieval. We need to work with them so they see all of the possibilities and can transfer that to the assignments they require of students.

Teaching formal classes in Information Literacy, rather than doing quick lessons with a group of students faced with a project, helps train students to look for a wide range of resources. They might even WANT to come to the library when they realize how much it can assist them. I know the mantra is 'don't teach in isolation' but I disagree. There is simply too much to convey about the vast resources we have than can be presented in random teaching opportunities. We need to be part of the required curriculum so students and staff view us as accessible and knowledgeable. They can only learn that stuff from the librarian and in the library. At the same time, I think "the library" can take many forms. Books on a cart, the OPAC available everywhere in the building and at home, the librarian teaming with teachers to prepare, teach, and evaluate a project ... there are so many more ways to interact. The library is NOT just a room but a service. It should be anywhere and everywhere to support students and staff.

A more aggressive approach and integration into the curriculum, plus the obvious, demonstrated expertise of the librarian may STILL not protect libraries from the cuts made by ignorant administration ... but it can't hurt and may open some eyes and minds to our value.

May 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL. Hardin

The library is like a kitchen, but you still need someone there to teach you how to mix up the ingredients and cook. You need a stocked pantry and a place to experiment, but also someone to guide you and teach you how not to get cut or burned.

Anyway, the idea of plugging someone into a laptop and saying, "There, you're good to go. You can find out anything now," is patently absurd. Find what? Where Iraq is on a map? The average rainfall in the Amazon basin? Why do you want to know? You have to learn how to ask the questions before you can even begin to search for the answers and make connections.

Thanks for stoking the conversation, as usual!

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

What about working to instill a love of reading in students? Sure the reference section is outdated - any reference book is probably outdated before it hits the bookstore shelves - but fiction isn't going anywhere, is it? (e.g. Kindle, audio books). Despite the encroachment of technology on reading for pleasure - there is nothing like finishing a good book. I'm not a librarian, but I work with three (PK-4, 5-6, 7-12) - and the "busiest" one of the bunch is the 7-12 grade librarian. I walked in there yesterday and there were 3 students sitting on the couches reading silently - they within 5 feet of each other and they weren't talking, playing games, or anything else - they were reading, reading fiction.

May 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Brown

I have read the comments here with great interest. I have been a school librarian for over 20 years and what I was taught (way back in the dark ages in the 1970's!) is that the library fundamentally is not a room, or a collection, it is a service...an information service! So the real argument here is not about whether what we provide is books, or the internet, a welcoming room or an icon on the desktop of every workstation in school...it is about providing what information our users need in the format they require. So that may mean that the cosy room valued by most of us may no longer be required in our schools, but the persoanlised information service by someone who knows the users and their needs can never be replaced by a search engine. The role of the school librarian also incorporates helping the user to develop the skills to become independent learners as well so that hopefully by the time they leave our schools they have a whole host of serach information strategies in place which go way beyond just typing a vague term into Google.

If they close the library room I would of course be upset, but as long as I had a workstation on the school network, and a trolley to deliver books etc, i would keep my information service going. (It would just be a little more of a challenge!) It is the information specialist who knows their users' needs that is essential! The key to me is to always keep in my mind that what we support is the core business of our schools: teaching and learning. I plan my library's development according to the school's targets. I have always made sure that I was part of as many school initiatives, providing information, ideas, support wherever and whenever I could. That has led me into some very non-traditional library paths, but my library has remained at the centre of the school's development. In fact we are in the process of building a second library specifically for our post 16 year old students, but it is to be called the e-learning centre and will focus on online resources. The purpose will be the same as the traditional library but with a focus on how to prepare our students for working in the digital environment more effectively.

We need to ask ourselves is why we do what we do....is it because we think it is 'the right thing to do' or is it because it is what is needed and valued by our users? Uncomfortable but necessary question I think.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne-Marie Tarter

Sorry...just found 2 utubes that just sum up what I am trying to say. One is profound (go to utube and search <A library provides an opportunity> and one is very funny (go to utube and search <Introducing le book>. Hope you find them useful.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnne-Marie Tarter

My middle school media center is a buss of activity, a place where print and non-print sources are used in research, where projects increasingly integrate web 2.0 collaborative tools and other technology, where students hone information literacy skills. This would not be happening if there was no library media specialist making sure this happened and no library. Perhaps we should change the name of libraries to library lab. I think it would be a better describe of what takes place in a good 21st century library.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBeverley Rannow

I have wrestled with this question from time to time too. I received my "pink slip" this past week and have had to assess the decision of the school district. The library will become a computer lab and a library aide will oversee students, crowd control if you will. If a school district can remove librarians when the budget is threatened and put library aides in the space, what is the underlying message and value associated with the librarian's position? Is this action justified? Are the internet and the teachers all that is necessary for a school to function? Can the district get by with this model, and if they can, what skills are missing from not having a librarian? Is a school librarian a necessity or a luxury? What does the librarian bring to the table that would require a district to maintain this position? Is the return on investment (ROI) of the librarian worth the expense? The Emperor and His New Clothes story keeps coming to my mind. Have I been one of the tailors telling the Community how wonderful their clothes are when in effect those clothes are nothing more than ordinary items?
The school librarian may be numerous in name and number, but the work delivered or the ROI is a mixed bag. There are so many types of school librarians and as many different types of job expectations that one librarian, and the service provided, may be quite different from school to school. Being a librarian at an elementary or middle school is quite different from working in a high school setting. Sure, teaching skills in stages according to an increasing level of mastery may happen, but if an elementary class visits the library once a week as a prep period for say 20 minutes of instruction, can one seriously consider this time effective teaching and learning time? A district might decide that an aide can just as easily take over the position and have the aide read to the students for 20 minutes followed by book check out. The librarian appears to possess a soft set of skills and can easily be replaced with someone cheaper. The students would get to hear a story and isn't enjoying books and literature everyone's domain?
Often at the middle level, there is no consistency of a regular schedule with the librarian or teacher collaboration, which would expose students to the expertise of a librarian. It seems that a majority of classes circumvent the librarian, as it is an optional activity. Librarians, in turn, spend enormous energy persuading and coaxing teachers to use the library and the librarian. Often the librarian and their teaching skills languish and is often the case, provide services, regardless of how expertly trained the librarian might be, to point of service contact. If a librarian does not teach regularly and have established classes administration equates the role of the librarian as possessing a soft set of skills that a library aide could perform.
It is at the high school level that I believe the librarian has the strongest stake. This is the place where scholarly argument and research routinely takes place. It is at high school that students should be beginning the transition to university mentality and the librarian should be at the center of this process. However, even at the high school level the role of the librarian depends on the individual district's philosophy and actualizing of their mission. If the research process is not the domain of the librarian than the work of being a librarian is an uphill battle. There has to be an intellectual respect for the scholarly role that the librarian plays in the school culture. Everyone who has a stake in the education process must champion the role of the librarian and the librarian must give the district a return on his or her investment.

May 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMary Jane Waite

I have not yet seen mentioned the ability of a teacher-librarian to help integrate learning experiences of students. Teacher librarians have a unique opportunity to see how student curricular tasks relate to one another, and to make connections between these for staff and students. Our knowledge of fiction and ability to see where reading can support and enrich other curricular work is one powerful example.

May 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy Foster

Yes, I echo the comment that we are very busy here at the school Library.
Everything is more complicated than it looks you know!
What I have learned in my life is that people (in particular young people) need to be shown the tools of research before they can use them - no matter how smart they are. Putting a computer in front of someone does not instantly alert them to the "invisible web" and smart search strategies. Also, they miss out on the incredible value of researched and edited books written by experts ifield in a thoughtful, intelligent manner.
Z. Proudlock

May 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZ. Proudlock

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