What I Didn’t Know About School Libraries….

school spaces“I won’t be behind a desk all day, checking books, will I?”

This was my response in accepting a professional fellowship as a teacher librarian in an international school. This statement underscores my original lack of understanding of the potential of school libraries. This opportunity has been a great gift. Having no formal library credentials or direct experience in library programming, this fellowship was an uphill journey. And unbelievably rewarding.

Unfortunately, being from a big system with tight budget demands, the librarian role is often at the forefront for cuts. In my past professional experience, often the librarian is a part time employee that purchases and manages the resources.  I strained to remember if the role was even mentioned in my MA program (Educational Leadership and Administration).

So armed with a love of reading, and a love of all things learning – where to begin?

I started by researching, connecting to, and learning from key organizations and players of the library profession. Librarian organizations and library experts from all over the world. I sought out and followed via twitter; subscribed to librarian blogs, related Paper.li editions and Pinterest boards. I took note of who they follow or mentioned, and dug deeper. I connected with fabulous international teacher librarians at PD opportunities that took me to various schools around the world.  Soon, I had developed a great repository of international and notable librarians. I had a wonderful and gifted PLN that gave the teacher librarian role shape, vision, and voice.

And WOW, I learned a lot!

I soon learned that school libraries are not immune to educational reformation – they too are dynamically reforming to support the 21st Century learner. So what does a modern school library look like? How do they support student learning?

Modern School Libraries Facilitate Knowledge Creation

Modern school libraries facilitate knowledge creation in their school community. They nurture students’ inquiry skills and habits of mind of different disciplines. They are no longer a warehouse of books, but are dynamic, energetic spaces to open minds to wonder, research, and construct new understandings. School libraries place an emphasis on “how we come to know.” They support students to research, negotiate, and construct their own understandings. They provide technology and connections to knowledge of the outside world, different communities, and experts. Teacher librarians support student conversations and knowledge creation by embracing Inquiry Based Learning; student choice and ownership of their learning. Teacher librarians work collaboratively with teachers and students throughout the inquiry and learning process.  They curate a plethora of resources; e-books, multimedia, periodicals, and informational databases.  Modern school libraries actively support teachers and students with informational literacy and digital fluency skills. They support teachers and students to gather, create and use information ethically.

Modern School Libraries Embrace a Participatory Culture

Modern school libraries are not stand-alone places. Modern school libraries share, participate and grow with their school and affiliated communities. They are  relationship based communities based in content and exploration. School libraries connect with the needs and aspirations of students, parents and their local and global communities. Modern school libraries promote social learning connections in the school and the larger community. They provide students connection to information; novices and experts. They value, facilitate and share student contribution.  They support trans-literacy skills; to develop and facilitate knowledge creation and engagement of students in their communities. They provide spaces of artistic expression for civic engagement (The Unquiet Librarian, 2012). The modern school library actively seeks out how to support students, and their communities to reach their dreams and potential.

Modern School Libraries are Maker Spaces

Modern school libraries are active, creative, and productive spaces. They encourage meaningful play and experimentation. Libraries as maker spaces are community spaces where members can meet and engage in hands on, mentor led activities. These spaces offer active learning and play that is reflective of the communities they serve. Maker spaces facilitate exploration, invention and problem solving development. Examples of hands on maker spaces’ activities in modern school libraries include digital media production, 3D printing, K’NEX  kits and lego robot programming.  Modern school libraries provide a unique space for students and community members to come together, to support learning and community initiatives.  Modern libraries are ‘doing’ spaces that facilitate student and community engagement to strengthen students’ local and global communities.

Having this experience truly opened my eyes to the power and potential of modern school libraries! My hope is that more administrators, policy makers, and educational reformers keep learning too; regarding the impact that school libraries (and librarians) have on student learning and their communities.

photo credit: Genista via photopin cc

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