EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.
|Dr. Matthew Lynch|
This week, reader Michelle R. asks:
I am a public-school librarian in New York City. Lately, I have been thinking about the state of school libraries and what we can do to remain relevant. Any thoughts on the matter?
Great question, Michelle. Public-school libraries have always served an admirable purpose in education. In an indirect way, K-12 libraries have given students support in learning endeavors and been a go-to source for information.
With that being said, as the first Internet generation rises through the public-school ranks, libraries need big changes to remain relevant. It is not enough to simply “be there;” school libraries need to reach out to students and pull them in with helpful resources that combine traditional and contemporary theories in literacy.
Many school libraries are already making strides to capture and maintain the interest of students, while others seem to be trailing just a few steps behind. Programs such as the YOUmedia initiative housed at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library incorporate student-led publishing, music as a form of literacy and encouragement in academic pursuits to keep K-12 kids interested in what the library can do for them. Though YOUmedia does not take place in a public school, the open access to urban students and push toward literacy through technology are applicable to school settings.
For public-school libraries to keep up with student need and grab the ever-divided attention of youth, they need to use a blend of traditional and contemporary philosophy. The most vital components include:
Libraries of the Future
Experts agree that a blend of foundational values and access through technology are paramount to school library success. Library expert Doug Johnson says that all libraries have three primary responsibilities in the coming decade: providing “high touch environments in a high tech world;” offering virtual services; and standing ground as uber information hubs.
Rolf Erikson, author of Designing a School Library Media Center for the Future, says he is very “wary” of tradition because he feels it has kept administrators and library faculty from embracing innovation in the past. He believes that especially at the elementary-school level, future libraries need to look beyond mere text materials to provide a learning space, not simply a “warehouse space.”
The Associate University Librarian for Research and Instruction at Temple University, Steven J. Bell has written extensively on libraries of the future in higher education and K-12 institutions. He predicts that libraries of the future will have highly automated and mobile reference sections, as well as on-demand collections and entrepreneurial librarians who are unafraid to learn new technology and implement cutting-edge ideas. Like Johnson and Erikson, Bell is optimistic for the role school libraries will play in K-12 education if decision-makers are willing to break out of the traditional rut.
For school libraries to remain strong in the digital age, librarians and media faculty need to view tradition and technology as interrelated. There is really no reason why school libraries should fear competing sources of information. With the right adjustments, K-12 libraries can work alongside the rest of the data students access on a daily basis. Remaining relevant is simply a matter of carrying foundational ideals forward and adapting to an ever-changing information culture.
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