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The New Librarian: Implementing a district-wide Library Learning Commons initiative

How the move toward non-traditional library has transformed the Tigard Tualatin School District

A few years ago, while working as a teacher librarian at Templeton Elementary School in Oregon, I had the opportunity to redesign the school’s library website to include digital resources for the students to use as part of a shift to 1:1 iPad learning.

Three years later, I’m replicating this model for the entire district, building a Library Learning Commons where all students have digital access to curated, shared resources in conjunction with full-scale 1:1 learning. The result of our Library Learning Commons initiative will include a seamless integration of shared digital resources that are pre-approved and pushed out every iPad, making it easy for students to read, research, collaborate, and own their learning experience.

As a district librarian media specialist, I work with more than 13,000 K-12 students, and building a digital library that can meet the needs of this many learners can seem intimidating. On top of that, I have to ensure that content is age-appropriate, platforms are vetted, and that the resources are able to be used in inclusive classrooms. I also have to make sure that my students are responding well to any new edtech product, and that the tools I curate are authentically enhancing learning.

Throughout this process, there are several platforms that have been able to meet multiple needs, most notably Epic!, a digital-media platform that provides K-6 students with unlimited access to more than 25,000 high-quality and curated books and video content through partnerships with trusted content partners like Encyclopedia Britannica, HarperCollins, and National Geographic.

While each district’s needs and access to technology can vary, here are four main steps I recommend for effectively implementing a district-wide Library Learning Commons project.

1. Identify the content needs of the district.
Weed out outdated titles and update your district’s Library Learning Commons website with electronic resources and reference materials that cover the topic areas your teachers identify. Survey your teachers to see which research projects they assign throughout the year and familiarize yourself with your school’s curriculum. Include resources that align with these topics and with district wide initiatives such as STEM instruction.

Epic! has been incredibly valuable for this purpose because of its variety of age-appropriate content including, picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, non-fiction titles covering thousands of topics, “read to me” books, learning videos, quizzes, and more.

2. Find resources that work well with existing (and future) technologies and protocols.
A big part of the Library Learning Commons initiative is the integration of edtech as our district moves to 1:1 learning. With more students using devices, it was critical to develop a protocol to ensure that students are using quality apps and technology that is easily aligned with content standards and vetted and supported by technology TOSAs (teachers on special assignment).

Each app request is assessed by a member of our Teaching & Learning department to be sure that our students have access to high-quality educational apps.

3. Find resources that reach learners on different levels who have different needs.
In a district of our size, resources must meet the needs of individual learners and also be used in inclusive classrooms. We also look for tools that can reach students who are still learning English. Epic! offers personalized recommendations based on what the student reads, tailored to reading level and interests. It is also helpful for students who need more support in their reading, using follow-along word highlighting, and read-to-me and audio-only books.

4. Listen to your students and provide opportunities for feedback.
Giving your students the opportunity to weigh in on their learning can have enormous impact in long-term engagement and outcomes. We presented 281 4th- and 5th-grade students with four different nonfiction resources (online databases, Epic!, print books, and eBooks) and 94 percent of the students chose Epic! as the non-fiction resource to pull an article. Having this positive reinforcement from our students makes me even more confident that the Library Learning Commons initiative will have long-term success.

We’re still building out the full-scale Library Learning Commons while taking care to iterate on best practices and collecting input from our teachers and students. Knowing that we have great resources available in our digital toolkit makes me confident that this initiative will be successful for years to come.

With student-centered learning and technology integration on the rise, it is an exciting time to be an educator. I am thankful for the opportunity to provide our students with appealing, engaging tools that enhance their personal learning journey.

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