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EdTech Update




« Information deformation | Main | Reflections on Rubrics for Administrators »

What does a good library tell you about a school?

 Your library is your portrait. - Holbrook Jackson

... children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilze ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe. - Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities.

Had I any say in the decision, my grandsons would never attend a school that did not have a good library program.* You can tell a lot about a school's philosophy of education - in practice, not just in lip service - by what sort of library it supports.

A school with a good library:

  1. Believes that education is about teaching kids how to ask and answer questions, not just know the "right" answers.
  2. Believes that asking questions is a sign of intelligence, not stupidity.
  3. Believes that kids should have access to a diversity of topics and points-of-view and be taught the skills to make informed opinions of their own.
  4. Believes that kids' personal interests are legitimate areas of investigation.
  5. Believes that it is as important to create kids who want to read as to simply create kids who can read.
  6. Believes that access to good fiction collections helps kids meet developmental tasks and reading fiction can foster empathy.
  7. Believes that kids should be content creators and content sharers as well as content consumers.
  8. Believes that it is important to have more research skills than simply being able to Google a topic - and that it is important to have a professional who helps kids master those skills.
  9. Believes that edited, quality commercial sources of information should be available to all kids regardless of economic level.
  10. Believes that technology use in education is about creativity, problem-solving and communications.
  11. Believes that the classroom is not the only place learning occurs.
  12. Believes that kids, like adults, sometimes need a "third place" where they feel welcome, comfortable and productive.

It's in times of budget cuts that a school's true values come starkly into focus. Libraries are a visible sign that a school is educating governors, not the governed.

Which kind of school do you want your grandchildren to attend? With what kind of school do you wish to be affiliated as an educator?

* Good = professional and support staff, adequate materials, articulated curriculum, pleasant physical plant, up-to-date technology.


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Reader Comments (17)


Could you speak more to: "Believes that edited, quality commercial sources of information should be available to all kids regardless of economic level."



January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Dyer

I want my K-5 library to become a "third place" for so many of our kids who really have very little to do after school. Right now, I do not have a plan, but I am starting to dream. I am going to search and pick brains to get ideas for creating this for our students. Thanks for this post and the link to the February post about the "third place".

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob Follmuth

Thanks for this twitter post. I am a teacher librarian in a public high school, and I worry about the impact of libraries in many communities shutting down and school libraries begging for "new book" money. There is proof that good school libraries increase academic achievement ( Not only do school libraries check in and out books, but they teach information literacy, research skills, website evaluation, critical thinking, and lifelong learning. I am proud to be a teacher librarian and I hope I can find a job!

January 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa Lynn

Thanks so much Doug, for your leadership in our field and for your eloquent post today.
One point that strikes home with me:
#6. Believes that access to good fiction collections help kids meet developmental tasks and reading fiction can foster empathy.

Fiction reading has so taken a back seat to nonfiction in our state (TX) in the elementary grades, as high-stakes state testing has become more and more the focus. It seems that, in recent years, administrators and curriculum professionals have "discovered" nonfiction and decided that it is the only type of "legitimate" reading for our classrooms. What a misguided concept that is. If we are not helping our young people to grow into empathetic citizens, how will they ever develop skills to help solve the problems that they will face in their (and our) future. Good literature is a crucial tool in that development.

Thanks for pulling so many critical points together into this one post! I'm going to share it widely!

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjamie

I was going to compliment you on just numbers 11 and 12...I only meet with my freshman technology classes four periods per cycle, and my room has become a third place here at Oaks...

But then I read the entire list again and even decided to print it - sorry about that (ie. - a previous post of yours).

Thank you once again for convincing me to stay the course with my ideas and decisions -

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Well said, Doug. I need to copy your post and put it on one of my walls!

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Lemmons

"Savage Inequalities" should be required reading for EVERY teacher and politician in this country. Once people see the HUGE divide between the social classes, they can no longer say "I didn't know".

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

May I copy this post in in the Media Center's column of our school's bulletin?

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJuliana Anglada

Hi Juliana,

Of course. Everything in my blog is licensed under CreativeCommons. Just cite the source.

All the best,

January 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi John,

To me, libraries are a statement that a school recognizes that there are still economic inequities in society. The "digital divide" has gotten a lot of attention, but a general information and book access divide also exists. A library can help make sure that all kids regardless of household income have good books, good technology and good information skills available to them.

Make sense?

All the best,


Hi Bob,

Any time a student comes to the library voluntarily - before, during or after school - I think it is already serving as a 'third place." To me it is all about making kids feel welcome and comfortable.

All the best,


Hi Teresa,

Thanks for the link and good luck in your job hunt!


Thanks for the kind words, Jamie.

I've always seen fiction reading as another kind of "information gathering," especially for children and young adults who are trying to figure out emotional and ethical issues - becoming human. Don't all stories about the experiences of others teach us something?

All the best,


Thanks, Kenn. It's comments like yours that keep me writing - for better or worse!


Hi Karen,

Nice to know I made the "wall!"

Hope you are having a great school year!


Hi GS Mr. Feet,

The cynics (realists?) among us would argue that schools are meant to maintain the social class structure rather than break it down. Public schools are a political tool of the powered class.

I am reading Seth Godin's Brainwashed which is sort of related. Give it a try. <> Only 14 pages and free!

All the best,


January 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

May I cut and past this post to my website?

January 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Dear librarians
I am a librarian in Larestan nursing college from Iran. I want to learn more about your library, what system is used for cataloging? Have you just used digital library and electronic book in your library? Can you send for me part of your library picture? What equipments are used for users to search in your library program? Is there any printing book there? How many librarians have been working in your county? What’s the degree of librarian in your country? We either have used printing book or digital library. We do not have any electronic book. We are 3 librarians there, we enjoy our work. We want to improve our library? We want to know about your equipments, material and every thing useful about your library, we want to use your experiments in our library, and we would appreciate if you grant our request and sent every thing about your experiments in the library.

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermoohebat

Dear Doug,
Your post including the 12 point list hit the nail on the head. Thank you! #12 especially resonated with me as daily I see students who don't always "fit in" with the rest of their peers or who are struggling with family issues but who have found the library to be a safe haven.

Teacher Librarian

January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice L. York

Hi Mary,

Of course you can put this on your website (with attribution). All my blog stuff is under CreativeCommons license.


Hi Moohebat,

I think you want to know more than I can respond in this format. Please visit my website at where I have posted many articles and columns about libraries (mostly school libraries).

All the best to you,


Thanks, Alice. I have found the same thing that the library is a refuge for many students who are not comfortable in other places.

All the best,


January 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug,
I'm an italian teacher, I found your post very interesting for our school library too. With a colleague I translated your text and published it on our school library blog (
Thanks a lot!

roberto marcolin

February 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterroberto marcolin

Thanks, Roberto. Very interesting. Nice to know I am corrupting people's thinking in multiple languages!


February 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thank you for your blog post, Doug. You reinforced the value of many of the things that I do as a teacher librarian, and you also reminded me of some of the things that I should be doing. Great food for thought. I, too, will print your list to keep in front of me!

February 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBev Gustafson

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