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Archive for November, 2022

Regular readers will know that libraries and librarians, both in the school and community are a semi-regular topic here. I am quite fascinated by the transformation I have seen in my lifetime in the spaces and the work. More than a decade ago I wrote My Take on Librarians, a post that still largely holds up today.

I had the chance to speak to teacher-librarians from across the country recently (here is slide deck), and shared, what I see, as having been a remarkable reinvention over the last 40 years.  I really think if in 1982, you explained to people the way information access would be transformed over the next 40 years, many would have thought libraries in schools and the community would disappear.  Like Blockbuster Video, they would have served a useful purpose for a period in time and people would have moved on.  But actually, the opposite has happened.  Libraries have become more central to the work in schools and the community.  They have defined themselves not by the books they move in and out, but by their role as a gathering place. As David Lankes argues, “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.”

And we know the stereotypes of teacher-librarians in popular media – conservative and traditional (probably almost as bad as the stereotypes about school superintendents). I now stand in the room with teacher-librarians and their reinvention is so deep, they talk about “library-learning commons” with ease.  Virtually nobody called what I knew to be the library, “the library”, I felt so dated with some of my references.

From what I have seen from our schools and district and from the other schools and districts I have worked in, the powerful reinvention has had many drivers, but for me the key ones have been:

  • Space
  • Technology
  • Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity and Reconciliation

These have been the areas that have ensured library-learning commons, and the people who lead these spaces, are more relevant than ever.  And the three areas are all connected, with one following the next and building on it.

With space, many will remember the push early this century to make schools more like Starbucks.   This is a bit simplistic, but the idea is that schools should be places that are comfortable, where kids want to hang-out, and informal learning spaces are embraced to compliment the more formal ones.  Libraries helped lead this.  Dated books were often removed, and couches replaced tall shelving.  The spaces were opened up.  More than ever they were places that students wanted to gather.

Then came the technology.  Libraries still embraced the physical space, but they also often supplemented this with digital spaces.  Blockbuster Video doubled-down on being the video people and Netflix crushed them.  Libraries embraced being the connection places for information for everyone and the repository for all to access.  

And now, I see library-learning commons being the hub of what has become our crucial work at this time around equity, diversity, inclusivity, and Reconciliation.  No place connects to all classrooms like library-learning commons, no people connect to more people like teacher-librarians.  There is discomfort with some of this work.  More than anything people don’t want to make a mistake, and having expertise in teacher-librarians (and community librarians) helps to move this work quickly and thoughtfully.

So, here we are.  Companies like Blockbuster Video, Polaroid, Tower Records and Kodak have all gone.  Caught up in our shifting world.  And yet the school and community library stand more important than ever.

And so what is next?  If I was giving advice I would tell libraries to keep looking ahead – tell the stories of the next 20 years.  They should never forget their core purpose of literacy – but continually define this broadly. And they should be the gathering place for people and ideas.  As so much of our world seems to have siloed, we need these common spaces to connect school and community.

 

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