Over the course of the last few years, as technology has evolved and the landscape of education is constantly changing, many individuals have begun to question the role of school libraries and the school librarian. The traditional view of libraries tends to be a place where books and other physical items are curated and housed. When searching for information, patrons must physically travel to the library and request the assistance of the librarian, the custodian of the resources. With the introduction of digital books and resources, the perception of school libraries is changing. Dancker (2018) perhaps most aptly describes the needed transformation of our school libraries, saying “Today’s learning environments must cultivate student engagement by giving them a space that encourages active learning and collaboration. The days of the traditional library are over as we become more interconnected with technology in our daily lives.”
Some people see the value of the physical library declining, as digital resources make information more easily accessible. I would argue that school libraries are more important than ever. Rather than simply a destination to seek knowledge, school libraries are gradually being transformed into what I like to refer to as “discovery distribution centers.” These areas can be both physical and digital environments that are designed to encourage the investigation, exploration, understanding and expansion of ideas. In my opinion, the following quote by Sidney Sheldon perfectly describes what makes libraries a necessary part of the educational system: “Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life” (Librarianship Studies, 2020). Today’s libraries are more than just places to house books. They can be central learning communities that are the storytellers of the school.
How does one define storytelling? The National Storytelling Network defines it as “The interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination” (NSN, 2021). School libraries can be the entity within a school system that helps to craft the learning narrative for the students they serve, while conveying stories that impact the larger community. Part of this process involves the evolution of the library space. With the introduction of technology resources, libraries have the ability to transform into active learning spaces that foster imagination, exploration and growth among all users.
Many libraries have moved from just offering the traditional print resources to creating spaces where students can actively engage with a wealth of information. In my library, we recently created a Makerspace area where students have the opportunity to explore various creative activities. The library Makerspace area can enrich both the student learning experience, as well as the culture of the school by fostering creativity and important social skills. What this space looks like will be different in various libraries depending upon the resources available, but the idea remains the same. When students come into the library, they have a space designed to encourage the creative exploration of ideas and inspire their imaginations.
Some libraries may have a wealth of technology resources available within their Makerspace areas. From computer programs to coding and robotics, the learning opportunities are only limited by budget and imagination. In my library, we had limited resources available, but we created a space inspired by STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) activities. Our Makerspace area contains things like art supplies, Legos, board games, snap circuits, building materials, giant yard games, cardboard, etc. While our technology tools are limited, I have been able to incorporate a few Ozobots and Sphero robots into the collection so that students have the opportunity to be introduced to the concept of coding. In addition to these types of activities, many libraries are utilizing this space as an area to offer students exposure to various trade skills that they might not otherwise have the ability to further explore. For instance, some school libraries may have tools for students to create videos and practice using editing software or photography. On one campus, they offered materials and instructions for students to learn more about how to sew, knit or crochet. One librarian shared a story about how they used their Makerspace to invite local artisans to share their crafts with the students. The possibilities are extensive.
When attempting to incorporate new ideas and the use of technology within the library space, it is important for librarians to explore creative ways to enhance student learning. Thinking outside of the traditional expectations for a library and consulting with campus teachers to explore ways to effectively expand the school curriculum. It is essential for librarians to always seek opportunities for growth. Whether it is learning new tools, programs or devices, they must be willing to expand their knowledge base in order to create learning spaces that excite and challenge student thinking.
One of my biggest goals in creating this space is to broaden student exposure to ideas, activities and skills outside of the traditional school curriculum, but we also utilize this space to incorporate activities designed to enhance classroom lessons. I attempt to speak with teachers on a regular basis to determine the skills and topics that are being covered within various subjects and then look for ways to provide a library Makerspace lesson that goes along with that information. Finding ways to introduce literary concepts within the activities is also a great way to help expand student knowledge and can provide opportunities to introduce various authors and book genres. In many ways, the Makerspace area is conducive for extending the learning experience outside of the classroom environment, where students can attempt new activities while gaining valuable skills. As the sign in my library states, “What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could not fail?” I find it to be a great place for students to learn the value in failure. Learning to view this action as an opportunity to try again and a stepping stone to future success.
The evolution of the school library is an ongoing process. As the format for searching for information continues to change, so should the library. From virtual storytimes to digital Makerspaces, school libraries are moving beyond the confines of the school walls and finding ways to connect online. Today, students have access to a wealth of resources at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse. Part of the role of the librarian is to assist students in learning to navigate this world, helping all patrons to become good stewards in this digital age. With the recent pivot towards online learning, many librarians found creative ways to provide online resources to their patrons.
The utilization of digital tools is allowing for school libraries to extensively expand the resources that they offer, while also providing opportunities for students to connect to the world around them in ways that could have never been imagined a few years ago. In my library, we were able to offer a basic version of a virtual Makerspace for students during school closures. This allowed me to post various STEAM-related activities for patrons to access through our school’s learning management network. Students were encouraged to work with family members to attempt these activities and share their results online, if they chose to do so. Although this was a small part of what I hope to be able to offer in the future, it expanded the idea of the Makerspace into a digital platform. Many libraries are also utilizing technology tools to connect with people and places outside of their school. From virtual field trips and community book clubs to virtual authors visits, the introduction of technology within the school library environment is helping to expand the resources available to students. This year, my library held a virtual book fair and a few live, online meetings with individuals who were able to share their stories and experiences with the students. In the rural district where I work, many students have a limited knowledge of life outside of their community. Recently, we arranged for a military service member to hold a virtual meeting with third grade students to share information about his job. Several students in this meeting had previously expressed interest in learning more about the military and afterwards, many were inspired to explore a future career in military service. This chance to connect helped them to gain a better understanding of life outside of their small town.
Library spaces can be a uniting element within a school community, when designed and utilized efficiently. By providing access to resources to all students, whether print or digital tools, school libraries play a vital role in educational equity. “An equitable education system helps all students develop the knowledge and skills they need to be engaged and become productive members of society” (The importance and principle of equity in early education, 2018). There are frequently areas of the student population for whom school offers the only access available to various technology tools and learning resources. School libraries are often the stewards of these resources and help students to foster connections.
The ability to connect is a common factor in many areas of the school library. Whether it is connecting patrons with information or resources, helping students to explore and connect ideas or reaching out to the community, school libraries have the potential to greatly influence the narrative of the school. What kind of story does your school’s library space convey?
Dancker. (2018, May 2). dancker. Dancker; dancker. https://www.dancker.com/blog/from-school-library-to-learning-commons-why-this-evolution-is-necessary-for-todays-students/
Librarianship Studies. (2020, November 15). Best Quotes About Libraries Librarians and Library and Information Science. Librarianshipstudies.com; Blogger. https://www.librarianshipstudies.com/2018/05/quotes-libraries-librarians-library-information-science.html
NSN. (2021). What Is Storytelling? – National Storytelling Network. Storynet.org. https://storynet.org/what-is-storytelling/
The importance and principle of equity in early education. (2018, February 17). Waterford.org. https://www.waterford.org/education/equity-early-education-principle/