Monday, July 5, 2010

Four Traits of Great School Libraries

I'm doing some hard-thinking/reading about libraries as I start thinking about my program for the school in Mongolia, much of that related to the program I developed at my current school, what works and what needs changing.

More as a way of grounding my thoughts than in providing anything new (to quote Doug Johnson, I'm not a deep thinker, but I'm practical), here are my thoughts so far on what a truly forward-thinking library looks like. Please feel free to suggest additions for anything I missed!

A Great School Library Is:

SOCIAL: I don't just mean that students work in collaborative groups, sharing documents and information, obliterating that sepulchral hush that libraries used to be--though that's definitely part of it. But that the library program itself is social and interactive, whether it be through student blogging or book reviews on the library website, shared bookmarking through or Evernote or pathfinders, etc. More importantly, program content stems from student/faculty input and feedback. Do you talk to students about what they want and need?  Do you have a library suggestion box?  Do you use Google Forms to take occasional user polls/surveys?  Ask students for ideas on ways to add to or improve your program. Better yet, ensure that thoughtful students are on your library advisory committee AND LISTEN TO THEM.

CREATIVE: I mean this literally: we need to be creating content (or getting students to create content), not just archiving it. One thing I admire about Free Tech 4 Teachers Richard Byrne, is the sheer plethora of useful handouts he has available. I swear, it seems like he puts these things together overnight. It guilted me into preparing the SearchSmart handout for my students--the ones who keep claiming they don't need lessons on searching--and I almost literally can't keep them "in stock." It convinced me I need to do a better job of writing quick handouts on a variety of topics for students, faculty and parents.

We also need to be creative in its more imaginative sense (and this is harder, of course). Whether its pedagogy, technology use, or just looking for new ways to serve our clientele,  we must think outside the box in coming up with new ways to inspire our users.  Nor do I mean big, program-changing creativity, though that's great. Just the small things can make a meaningful difference:  I'd been putting pathfinders together for over two years before it occurred to me to create a Google Book Shelf for each one. A small thing, but students and teachers loved it, and it broadened the scope of the collection.

MEDIA NEUTRAL:  OK, I know this is an odd one. I had multimedia as the term, but the English teacher in me rebelled against the non-parallel structure, and the librarian in me said, "So what? We've been doing that for ages."  Yes, libraries go far beyond books these days: databases, Kindles, audiobooks, etc.  But come on, don't we secretly kind of privilege books?  How many of your teachers, when detailing the resource requirements, tell students at least two of them have to be books?  I've been guilty of that myself.  I've even told students to stop digging online and go check the shelves.

But I was wrong. At least, I was doing it for the wrong reasons. If books are more specific to what a student is researching, great.  We shouldn't require physical books just to require books, however.  First, we need to meet students in their comfort zone, not ours, and that means online. Second,  privileging books implies a value judgment, and students sense that. There are students who will never crack a book, for whatever reason, and I don't want them thinking I'm going to judge them for that, especially if that means they avoid coming to me as a result. Finally, with everything available to us in multiple formats these days, I'm just not that sure books are actually better any more. 

UBIQUITOUS:  Along with all of the above, we must provide multiple access points for library resources..  We need to get ourselves out of the library and make our presence felt. My first year,  I insisted teachers bring their classes to the library, but I was trying to change the culture of the school away from library-as-lounge.  Now, I not only teach in the library, I go to classes in teachers' classrooms, in the auditorium, in hallways, in the faculty lounge.

Move off your website. Create a library Facebook page, and a Flickr page.  I know, I know, it's blocked at school.  Kids don't need it at school; they need it when they're home. Take on that fight and make your case. Put a Twitter widget on your library page and update it with new events. Students don't use it much, but their parents do. What a great way to let them know about ongoing research projects their student is (or should be!) working on.

I have had a long-term goal--that I ABSOLUTELY VOW to finally complete this year!--of putting all my lessons onto vodcasts students can download onto their ipods or watch on the library website.

Those are my ill-formed thoughts, so far.  The one thing I really need to tackle is a reading program. I have done nothing with that so far, and it's long past due. I'm sure I'll post on it soon.


  1. Hi Jeri,

    These are terrific. I would add one more: great school libraries are integral to the overall school program. In order for the school and the teachers to meet their goals, the library must be an interdependent player.

    Too often we separate successful libraries from successful schools. A successful library doesn't stand alone.

    Does this make any sense?


  2. Hi, Doug:

    Makes perfect sense! And you're absolutely, right, of course!

  3. I'm in "super sponge it all up mode" this summer as I prepare to return to the Library this Fall after teaching tech classes the last 10 yrs. Love your blog and love this post - I promise to take it to heart. Thanks!

  4. Colette:
    Thank you so much! Obviously, I always love hearing a)that someone's actually reading this and b) that what I write connects with people.

    Have fun returning to the library. I've only been doing it three years, but should have made the switch AGES ago. It's a great job!


  5. It makes absolute sense! I wish I could find such a position...but, I know I'm dreaming.

  6. With certain caveats,depending on school policies, I don't think you "find" positions like these, you make them as you go.

  7. I agree-positions like these aren't "found". they're created. It takes vision and sweat equity. Thanks for inspiration and reinvigorating mine! Every new year opens up new possibilities!