Friday, May 15, 2009

A Vision for School Libraries

I followed a conversation this week about libraries.  Two people who really have me thinking about literacy these days and about libraries. In a post this week, Doug Johnson shared his thinking on the roles of libraries with the changes in the ways we get information. In his post, he says:

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.

As a school librarian, this is an uncomfortable question. But it is one worth thinking about.  What is the new vision for libraries with things changing so quickly.  And he didn't give us an answer--instead he asked for others' thoughts.

In response to Doug Johnson's question about libraries, David Warlick responded on his blog.  Such a smart answer.  Warlick gives us a lot to think about.  But the one part I keep coming back to is his ending:

...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 “Kinko's for kids,” if you will), then it may remain not only viable, but an essential institution.

In my classroom, I always tried for a coffee-shop feel. I believed that the feel of people gathering to chat about books with people they liked, to have smart discussions and to learn with friends was what I was going for.  It helped me create the environment that I wanted.  I have a similar vision for the library. But now, I have this new vision of a "Kinko's for Kids" to add to my coffee shop vision. I love Kinko's--like a playground of fun tools to help you create what you have in mind.   And I love the idea of it even more than a coffee shop vision by itself.  Can you imagine a Kinko's and a coffee shop coming together? A coffee-shop feel. But with all the tools you need right at your fingertips. A great place to get together with friends to think, talk, learn and create.  I guess I always had creation in my vision but this "Kinko's for kids" idea gives me a better vision for what it is we might be trying to create.


  1. With all the busieness in our lives, I think many kids like the idea of the library as a quiet place to sneak off to, a sanctuary. I don't think they always want that from a library and I suppose it depends on where the library is (school, public, within another institution), but I know in the space I created, we are a place that is not loud, crowded, overwhelmed with activity. This environment suits many of my visitors because the rest of their day is full of structure, activity and demands.

  2. Susan,
    I agree completely. For some, the library should always offer a quiet place to sneak off to. When I think about my ideal coffee shop, there are options. Places to think quietly by myself and places to chat and think with others. I think for libraries to work for everyone, I want to create lots of different spaces that serve individual's different purposes and needs.

  3. We are debating in our district the role of a teacher-librarian and the library and this conversation and Doug's questions fit perfectly. Our district administrators thought we should be media integrators, which make sense because we want to provide teachers and students with lots of ways to find information and create new methods of accomplishment. It is a choice of keeping up-dated. If we only had laptops/Internet for information we would leave out my favorite part of my job; teaching students to be life-long readers and learners!

  4. I agree--books will (hopefully) always be the anchor of our libraries. I am trying to figure out how, as libraries, we can be all of these things...

  5. I love the blog, very interesting.

  6. As you continue to ponder this question, you might also want to read David Loertscher's latest book, "New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win". Some ideas are very out of the box thinking, but it has me rethinking my space (physically and philosophically).

  7. The other important thing about libraries is that the librarian is an information specialist. That means we are trained in the specific processes of defining the research question, developing the right queries, choosing the right database/places to search, searching, refining the search, evaluating results, analyzing available resources and information, and processing the information to fit the needs. There is nowhere else kids or adults get that professional help but the library. Teachers need it, administration needs it, parents need it.... and most of all kids need to learn those skills to go on successfully.

    The world is bursting with raw data. Information streams into our faces and ears. Learning to manage it requires the skills librarians have developed to an extreme.

    The books and the spaces are delightful and I love being there. But that is not the most unique strength that we have in the library.

    I haven't been to kinkos much in the past ten years so I don't know how this information specialist fits in to the kinkos model. Is there such a trained, professional, personal research assistant/teacher at the kinkos down the street?

  8. HI Susan,

    Thanks for the mention! Be sure to go back and read ALL the comments. Some great stuff there.

    All the best,



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