How the school library is beginning a new chapter

January 22, 2017 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years

When I was in school, many years ago, I spent many hours studying and researching in my school library. The library not only had the greatest variety of informational resources, it gave my friends and me a place to gather and work on projects together. We had to rely upon encyclopedias, newspapers and books as our primary sources of information. There were no other options.

Today, students’ approach to learning is entirely different. Often when I question my children about why they’re on their phones instead of doing their homework, their reply is “I AM doing my homework, Mom.”

As I said, times have changed.

Technology has not only altered the way school age children receive and consume information; it has changed the way they communicate and collaborate. When my children collaborate with their classmates, they do it virtually using FaceTime or other video chat applications. They use Google docs, allowing them to work together remotely; as a result, one-on-one has essentially become a thing of the past.

As I listened to my daughter chatting with her classmate via FaceTime, I wondered what impact this technology has had on the role school libraries play. And what would be most helpful for us parents to know?

I planned a little field trip to the library to find out.

This isn’t the library I remember

I visited the Monroe-Woodbury Middle School library (Monroe, NY), and met with Laura Lerner, the coordinator of library services. Upon walking into the library, I immediately remarked, ‘Wow! My school library did not look like this!’

This room was hopping! Kids were sitting on bright colored couches, speaking in quiet voices, laughing, eating lunches or snacks, all looking comfortable and relaxed. The days of hard backed chairs and silence were obviously a thing of the past.

Students were busily typing away on computers or sitting around a table doing their homework, very much at home in this warm and welcoming environment. This was clearly a great departure from the days of “shhhhhh, no talking.”

Why this shift?

Lerner explained that libraries have had to change along with students’ lifestyles.

“After school hours, students have tons of other responsibilities and activities that they take part in,” said Lerner. “Some students are at practices, or taking care of younger siblings, or working. No matter where they are, it’s important that students have access to information and databases when they need it.

Lerner says the trend is to “try and streamline the technology so whether students are using a phone, iPad, desktop computer or something else, resources are available 24-7 with Internet access.

Many school districts are trending toward a one click, 24-7 database approach, allowing access for students and parents that extends beyond the school. The idea is that all databases are offered in one central location on the district website.”

What do NYS public schools have access to?

All public school districts in New York state have access to NovelNY, the New York Online Electronic Library. According to the engageNY website, a wide variety of resources – books, magazines, newspapers, research and reference sources are available to NYS residents free of charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“This 24-7, one click approach has been very successful in our schools. We have eliminated the need for kids to do multiple logins and remember multiple passwords. It’s much easier. Our students in grades 2-12 now can log in from any computer in the district or from their homes and access everything at once. This is a much more efficient use of these great resources, and the kids are less frustrated,” said Lerner.

“The key is communication between the schools and home. Parents need to know these resources are available to their kids,” she added.

The role of the library – and how students are using it – is changing. With students having more access to mobile devices, it’s important that schools provide them with access to the information they need to succeed.

Perhaps Beth Holland, a blogger for Edutopia, summed it up best:

“Libraries are reinventing themselves as content becomes more accessible online and their role becomes less about housing tomes and more about connecting learners and constructing knowledge.”

Carole Spendley is the mother of four high school/college age children who fondly recalls looking up resource materials in the card catalogue using the Dewey Decimal System in days gone by.

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