Today’s School Library; from rows of books to a multi-faceted space.
by Kathryn Justus
Director of Library Services
In today’s rapidly changing world, technology has changed the way we consume information. While the fundamental mission of school libraries, to empower students to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners and readers, remains largely the same, school libraries are quickly evolving to adapt to these changes. As connected learning hubs, where collaboration and hands-on learning are encouraged, students learn to access, evaluate, utilize, and ultimately become creators of information.
To adapt to these changes, many libraries are transforming using the model of a learning commons. As opposed to treating the library solely as a storehouse for books and materials, a learning commons is a dynamic, student-centric space designed to accommodate the evolving needs of today’s learners. Several qualities, including flexible spaces, digital resources, student ownership, and an emphasis on teaching new literacies, distinguish these spaces as active centers of student learning.
Over the past several years, the Renbrook School Library has made several essential changes to promote learning, sharing, and exploring through adapting a learning commons model. Exploring the transformation of the space, curriculum, and overall mentality of the library at Renbrook serves to highlight the developments across school libraries as a whole. Libraries serve as a vital support as students develop into lifelong readers, critical thinkers, and independent learners, and these shifts help further this objective.
Creating Flexible Spaces
Within a learning commons, dynamic spaces that accommodate different learning groups are essential to serving the needs of students. At Renbrook, several changes to the physical space have been made as part of the transformation into a learning commons.
The former work room has been reconfigured into the Lightbulb Lab, a hands-on learning space with tools for digital creations, such as tripods, microphones, and a green screen, as well as other creative options like duct tape and origami paper. A collaboration pod was recently set up within the library which allows students to share their screen to a monitor, is ideal for group projects and collaborative tasks. Recently, third grade students created green screen videos using the Lightbulb Lab equipment based around researching the Oregon Trail.
In the Renbrook Library, cafe-style work spaces, tables on wheels, and soft furniture have been added for maximum flexibility and comfort. Meanwhile, the story corner continues to delight our youngest learners and serves as a space for them to explore and enjoy literature. These areas are designed to allow all learners, regardless of age, to utilize the space, often at the same time.
Leveraging Digital Resources
Through digital resources, students have 24/7 access to the library. Access to databases with high-quality, vetted articles play an important role in the research process. These range from PebbleGo, which features short articles with pictures and videos for kindergarten through second grade students, to Gale Student Resources in Context, which gives middle school students access to reference materials, primary source, and news articles on a topic. Meanwhile, eBooks allow students to access books at home, and often have text-to-speech and read aloud capabilities to be enjoyed by all readers.
Along with using online resources and technology, students must gain the new literacies to safely and responsibly use them. The curriculum has shifted to emphasize new literacies such as information, media and digital literacy. Information literacy, or the ability to locate, analyze, use, and share information, takes the forefront during lessons on website evaluation and using search engines. Media literacy, which entails identifying different forms of media and decoding the messages they are sending, is explored through analyzing advertisements and news articles. Digital literacy, or the ability to use online platforms and tools to find and create products to share ideas, is explored through hands-on technology-based projects. At Renbrook, these new literacies are taught both during library classes and as parts of collaborative projects.
Students are the Librarians
A final shift in transforming a library into a learning commons is giving students ownership over the space. At Renbrook, students have an active voice and stake in the collection development process throughout the school year and are able to recommend books through a Google Form. Currently, the 5th grade L.I.T. (Librarians in Training) club is leading a project to create a series section in the library, something that is needed due to the high interest in series books by our younger students. The recommendations and tastes of second and third grade students will help decide what books should go into that section, and whether new series should be added. Giving students ownership over the collection ensures they are consistently finding books that speak to them as readers.
Student recommendations are also essential to promoting books that their peers will enjoy. Video book trailers,created entirely by students that feature images, music, and narration, are used to share books across grade levels. The 6th grade independent reading program, which takes place monthly in the library, utilizes student-led book talks to create a community of readers.
Ultimately, it is exciting to see how these changes will help the Renbrook Library promote creativity, exploration, collaboration, and critical thinking in our school community.