School libraries: A shift to digital

With increased collaboration comes a growing need for expanded resources in libraries

school-librariesThe school library is changing. Instead of a stuffy and silent space filled with books, today’s school libraries are becoming collaboration centers, where teachers and librarians work together to help students develop technology skills and evaluate digital information.

Over the past decade, studies have shown that students in schools with endorsed librarians earn higher scores on standardized reading tests, and those scores are higher regardless of students’ socioeconomic level and despite overall school staffing declines.

A 2012 Institute of Museum and Library Services study that spanned 10 years analyzed library conditions and their impact on learning and literacy development in two Philadelphia neighborhoods. The researchers found that, when comparing a poor community with an affluent community, “children with early access to print and technology continue to build and gain knowledge. Children who don’t have early access enter school far behind and are taught the ‘basics.’”

When computers are readily available to children, those children are able to use technology such as search engines comfortably as they compare information and engage in learning. Children without the same easy computer access are not able to judge the quality of information found online as adequately.

According to the report, public libraries can serve as an extension of school libraries and can support early learning in important ways, including linking new digital technologies to learning and helping children develop “deeper learning” skills through literacy and STEM-based experiences.

A successful working partnership between teachers and librarians is often touted as a sign of 21st-century education, but “evidence suggests that achieving successful collaborative relationships in the field is fraught with challenges,” according to a June 2013 study published in School Library Research, the research journal of the American Association of School Librarians.

(Next page: Digital libraries on the rise)While such collaboration does exist and is successful, it is not as widespread as it could be, the report claims. One roadblock could be that, in some universities, preservice teachers are educated at the undergraduate level, while preservice librarians are educated at the graduate level. Sometimes, teachers resist or take offense to the idea that they “need help from a librarian,” and the education system’s focus on test scores makes it less likely that teachers “will engage in collaboration unless they foresee a tangible reward in the form of improved test scores,” survey participants said.

“Now is a particularly crucial time for teachers and school librarians to be working together to educate students in the skills needed to be successful in the digital age,” according to the report.

A move to digital collections

As the idea of teacher-librarian collaboration is changing, so, too, is the concept of a library’s resources. Today’s students joke about older generations using printed encyclopedias for reference projects, as many schools have added digital collections to augment their offerings. But it’s not just reference materials that are going digital: Entire book collections are as well.

Students and teachers in the Van Meter Community School in Iowa have used the eBook platform MackinVIA for more than a year, and have access to roughly 900 eBook titles in the collection. In addition to eBooks, MackinVIA includes online databases as part of a “one-stop” process and offers access to most titles simultaneously, so multiple students can use the same book at once. Using a “backpack” feature, students can select books they want to read and can store books and resources as part of school projects.

“It’s so simple for the kids to use— even the kindergartners use it without a problem,” said Shannon Miller, the district teacher librarian and technology specialist.

“It hooks them on reading—even things that they might not have read before or outside of the genre they typically pick,” Miller said. Van Meter has a one-to-one computing program in which students bring their own devices, and parents can help their children select books and perform research using their children’s devices and user accounts.

Other services exist to help school libraries develop and expand their digital collections.

Lerner Publishing’s Brain Hive offers an eBook rental option for K-12 libraries. Schools pay $1 each time a digital copy of a book is accessed, and they are able to purchase frequently used eBooks as part of a permanent collection. The service includes more than 3,000 eBook titles.

Jones eGlobal Library offers a free three-step analysis to help educators and librarians understand how their digital libraries are developing and how well they are supporting students.

Capstone Digital’s myON reader is a digital library platform that offers a “personalized literacy environment,” complete with more than 4,700 enhanced digital books for students from birth through 8th grade.

Laura Ascione

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