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Top 10 school library game changers

I'll be giving a banquet talk at the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA) conference this Friday night. The program chair requested: 

Since ISLMA is celebrating their 25 years as an Association, would it be possible to include how school libraries have changed over the past 25 years?
So, I've been thinking a lot about this charge over the past few weeks. In 1988 I was an K-9 librarian in an oil company ARAMCO school in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia with about a dozen years of classroom teaching and library experience under my belt, feeling I had more or less "mastered" my craft and was a little bored. During that school year I decided that I needed to move back to the US if I were to keep up with some of the changes in school libraries that I was reading about - changes due to corporate policies that seemed impossible to make in the company schools. 
Little did I, or any of us know, the kinds of changes in store for us. From about 1989 onward, being a school librarian has been a pretty wild ride. Those who entered the profession out of a love for books and quiet places were in for a world of hurt. But for many of us, this has been a great time to be a librarian.
Here are my top 10 game changers for school libraries from the past 25 years and why I chose them. Feel free to disagree - and add your own. You have until Friday evening to change my mind.
  1. Library automation. Retrospective conversion. Heard that term lately? But it was something many of us were doing in the late 80s and early 90s, digitizing our paper card catalog records. So much per record. The Winnebago stand-alone with the catalog screen showing a digital card with a digital hole at the bottom of it. Automation made us worthy of computers in the library since we had a practical use for them. Following our library terminal(s) came the stand-alone CD-based The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (1992). Libraries entered the digital age.
  2. LM_Net. Not long after e-mail became available (for me through my position as adjunct at the local university), came mailing lists. And LM_Net around 1993 was the granddaddy of these. Suddenly, one had access to thousands of other fellow school librarians who could answer questions, offer opinions, and, above all, empathize. This was the first Personal Learning Network. Sure, blogs, RSS feeds, Nings, and Twitter followed in the coming years, but LM_Net was the first inkling that learning about new library stuff was no longer done just by reading journals or attending conferences. And it may well have been the one thing that widened the gulf between the progressive librarians and the reactionary.
  3. Mosaic and the World Wide Web. For the truly nerdy, Archie and Gopher offered means of searching the line interface Internet . But it wasn't until Mosaic in 1993 and tools like WebCrawler that the Internet came to the masses and librarians saw both a huge resource - and a huge competitor for patron attention. The Web also created a new dynamic of establishing the veracity of information. No longer were only professionally selected items available on the library shelves, but now librarians had a mission to teach patrons how to self-evaluate the quality of the information found. Anyone remember the spoof sites: the Mankato site, the Tree Octopus, or the Failure of the Velcro crop?
  4. The Big6. Eisenberg and Berkowitz's model (1987) gave librarians a unique skill set to teach. Information literacy was a large component of a variety of 21st Century Skill models and the Big6 was an articulation of a process that was understandable. No longer just kiddie book pushers or reference librarians, the Big6 turned librarians in to real teachers. By adding technology to the model (Eisenberg, Johnson, 1996), educational technology's most powerful use became as a research and problem-solving tool - and librarians taught others how to use it.
  5. LANs. As buildings ran networks to every classroom, office, desk and computer lab in the early to mid-90s the need for physical spaces, including libraries, started to be called into question. When a teacher or student could find information through the networks, librarians had to re-envision the purpose of the physical facility, asking "Why do people need to come to my library, when my library will come to them?" This is an ongoing discussion.
  6. NCLB. Empahsis on test scores and accountability presented new challenges to librarians. "How can we demonstrate that the library program is having a positive impact on student achievement?" Books like The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen and studies done by Keith Curry Lance that tied library programs to improved test scores became incredibly important in advocacy efforts for library programs. Unfortunately, librarians started to be replaced by reading specialists and reading software as test scores drove school improvement efforts. And local library accountability that demonstrated impact on test scores remains difficult.
  7. CIPA. The Childhood Internet Protection Act of 2000 mandated filtering for schools that wished to continue to receive federal e-rate funding. And thus began the intellectual freedom battle for student (and often staff) access to an uncensored Internet. The battle over keeping The Power of Lucky on the shelves  seemed less critical that the battle over keeping Wikipedia, Facebook, and YouTube unblocked. Again, a fight that is still going on.
  8. Wikipedia and Web 2.0. Crowd-sourced information turned the determination of the authority of information on its head. Almost overnight the wisdom of the masses became more credible than the college professor with a string of letters after his/her name. TripAdvisor trumped Fodors. What we as librarians learned in library school about selecting authoritative information seemed quaint. And teaching students how to evaluate information became more important, but trickier, than ever. And with Web 2.0, we started to help students consider the impact of their own digital footprint - for good and for ill.
  9. Kindle/iPad. Kindle of 2007 was the first device that people actually used in mass to read e-books. The iPad in 2010 was the first device that demonstrated that books themselves were evolving into creatures that could sing, dance and interact - not just remain static.  How librarians select, promote, maintain, and evaluate e-book collections, especially in the face of a constantly changing e-book market, remains a huge challenge.
  10. BYOD. As an increasing number of schools not only allow, but encourage, student to bring their personal laptops, cell phones, and tablets to school, the library's role again morphs. How do we provide resources that are useable on multiple hardware and operating system platforms? Do we need computer labs in our libraries? Do we need library apps instead of terminals? What kinds of rules and guidelines need to be in place for the productive use of student-owened devices? And again, why do students and staff need to come to the library, when resources are ubiquitous, portable, and instantaneous?

I am going to spare the banquet attendees my predictions for the next 25 years, but I am going to suggest some strategies we as librarians ought to using to remain relevant during this ongoing digital revolution. For if there is one prediction about which I feel confident, it's that we ain't seen nothing yet when it comes to change!

ISLMA was one of the first organizations who asked me to do a keynote presentation in 1995.  And they survived! 


Page from my 1988-89 school year book....


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Reader Comments (10)

Looking forward to hearing you at ISLMA this week!

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnette

Thanks, Annette. I'm looking forward to the conference too.


October 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug, I have to admit, I haven't heard of many of your top ten. I also laughed when I read your yearbook entry describing the fabulous filmstrip opportunity your students had. Do you recall an especially interesting one? I want to thank librarians everywhere for helping students find their love of reading. Thank you to Miss Brieley who used to save the "good books" for me!

October 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

I'm doing some research for an article that I'm doing for the top library oriented blogs out there and ran across yours. You have great content and a clean look and feel - plus you had a great post on your trip to Disney! You've got to love that!

Anyway, just wanted to thank you for providing such solid library oriented content. It's good stuff!

October 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie Cribbs

I enjoyed your talk last night at ISLMA and thought you'd enjoy this: I was taking copious notes on my iPhone and as I was recording your words of wisdom 'Boring always leads to failure,' I saw that my phone changed it to 'Biting always leads to failure' - indeed! Thanks for your thoughtful comments,

October 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterToby Rajput

Hi Katie,

I seem to remember the Curious George filmstrips as enjoyable since the same versions were shown on Captain Kangaroo when I was little. But perhaps this is an anachronistic memory.


Hi Bonnie,

Thanks for the kind words.


Hi Toby,

You were a great group with which to work. Illinois librarians have always been involved and enthusiastic professionals.

Biting always leads to failure is a lesson one of my grandsons has not yet learned!


October 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I remember when I went to melb teachers college in 1975.....I couldn't comprehend the idea of a central cataloging have we come a long way since then! And loving it...

October 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKerrie

Hi Kerrie,

In my first 14 years of teaching/librarianship (1976-1990), it seemed very little changed my schools. Then it all broke loose and the next 20+ years have been crazy with change. Maybe not enough, but then one needs one's sanity too!

Thanks for the note,


October 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Will you be sharing any of those strategies we "ought to be using"? I'm in my first semester of school now and am sucking up whatever tips, plans, methods, etc. I come across. I would love to hear more veteran stories!

October 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Hi Amanda,

I would suggest looking back over my Head for the Edge columns for these strategies.

Or buy the book!


October 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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