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School libraries key in teaching information skills

When school media specialists and educators make an effort to become familiar with the social-networking web sites and technologies that today’s students use each day, they can forge important learning connections with their students: That was one of the key messages to come out of the American Association of School Librarians’ annual conference, held Nov. 5-8 in Charlotte, N.C.

The conference theme, "Rev up learning @ your library," focused on how school library media specialists can help students develop valuable multimedia skills as the role of traditional school libraries changes.

"School library media specialists are crucial to the teaching and learning process," said Cassandra Barnett, AASL president. "It’s not enough for kids to know how to read anymore; they must be savvy in a multitude of literacies essential in managing information."

Barnett said today’s school libraries have become interactive media centers with a plethora of learning tools and opportunities.

"Today’s children must be able to use both print and electronic resources if they are to succeed in the next century–and school librarians are there to help them do it," she added.

Danah Boyd, an authority on online social networking sites, delivered the opening keynote address and encouraged librarians not to be afraid of or intimidated by students’ online activities. Instead, she said, educators should keep the door open for conversations and learning opportunities that might arise from these.

Author James Patterson spoke during a special session of the conference and said school libraries are essential in helping young children cultivate an appreciation for reading, even though the task might be challenging. Library media specialists can help parents choose books for children to get them started on the right path to reading, he said.

Patterson created the web site to help teachers and parents encourage kids to read.

Also during the conference, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills released an updated version of its Milestones for Improving Learning and Education (MILE) Guide, a hands-on tool designed to help districts and schools evaluate their integration of 21st-century skills into current and future practice. (See "New 21st-century skills guide available.")
As information technology becomes a more integral part of student learning and achievement, the role of school libraries and librarians is changing to meet increasing student demands while incorporating traditional library functions.

"No longer are school libraries just for books; they have become school media centers with computer resources that enable children to engage meaningfully with a wide variety of information," said an AASL publication. "These centers with trained staff support the use of electronic information resources not just in the center, but help to integrate these resources in classrooms and throughout the curriculum."

Ten years ago, school libraries were being used less and less frequently, said Diane Freeman, the librarian at Wossman High School in Monroe, La.–but thanks to a renewed focus on 21st-century skills, the school library has grown in function and use and has once again become a hub of activity within the school.

"Libraries should have been a hub of activity from the very beginning, because they are where all knowledge is found," Freeman said. "Students need not only textbooks, but books in the libraries to widen the scope of their vocabulary and to increase general knowledge."

Wossman’s library sees students before and after school for research and assignments, as well as during free time throughout the day and lunch. Students use the library and its technology to complete homework assignments, check out books, and take Accelerated Reader tests, which–for some students–have become a very lucrative venture.

Freeman gave away three laptop computers at the end of the past school year to students who read between 7 and 8 million words and scored 90 percent or better on the Accelerated Reader tests.

Increased reading is translating into higher grades in the classroom for many students and improved scores for schools as a whole.

Wossman junior Jesse Flunder, who received a free laptop last year, said his determination and perseverance toward his reading goals are helping him in all of his classes.

"It’s really helped me, especially in my English class," he said. "After reading and passing the tests, I am able to comprehend what I’m reading better."

AASL data indicate there are 77,000 public school library media centers, representing 92 percent of all traditional public schools, in the United States. There are 62,364 state-certified library media specialists in public schools and 3,909 in private schools. On average, there is one school librarian for every 953 students.


American Association of School Librarians

Partnership for 21st Century Skills MILE Guide

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