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Everything school libraries should be.

Innovative ideas for school libraries


Everything a school library should be--and how to get your school library there

Key points:

What makes an effective school library?

School libraries have evolved from strict, quiet, hush-hush rooms to more interactive spaces with flexible seating, readily-available edtech tools, and educators on hand to help with research, critical resource evaluation, makerspaces.

It’s in school libraries where students often discover and hone their love of coding and programming, create amazing projects via makerspaces, and where they develop important 21st-century skills.

What are the new trends in libraries?

As times have changed, technology has advanced, and student needs have evolved—so, too, has the role of the librarian.

Who is the modern librarian?

As librarians, our job is to not only give students and teachers access to resources they need to succeed, but to be their guide when choosing these resources. We work with teachers and administrators to create life-long learning patterns in students, whether that’s by curating resources for classroom research projects or by coming into the classroom to teach a lesson on how to do research themselves.

What does a modern library look like?

Library innovations in the 21st century include building a space that students actually want to inhabi, whicht is imperative to facilitating their learning and curiosity when it comes to reading. In some cases, that means out with the stuffy, shush-filled library, and in with the coffee shop vibes. Because as long as a student simply enters the space – even if it’s just to hang out – that gives us the opportunity to make a connection with them.

When it comes to reading for pleasure, students have so many other competing interests available to them – movies, games, social media, and TV shows – that we need to aim to make it an attractive, conscious choice. As librarians, we can do this by offering a range of genres and formats for students to choose from: novels, comics, magazines, audiobooks, print, or digital.

The modern library can also transcend the physical space, existing in a virtual realm without walls – one where students have the option to check out books anytime, anywhere. During the 2021-2022 school year, the Reading School District saw over 13,000 ebooks and audiobooks checked out through the Sora K-12 reading app. This was more than the number of print books borrowed. Furthermore, Weber School District students read over 96,000 hours in the Sora app during the last school year. Digital books give students the autonomy to choose what they want to read based on what they’re interested in, and that sense of freedom in turn inspires a love for reading.

Some digital resources for school libraries are a virtual reality field trip. A lesson on how to create a podcast. A tutorial on how to create a paper circuit board that uses LED lights. For a new generation of educators, these pursuits have something in common: They’re all appropriate learning exercises that can take place in the school library. Makerspaces, or library media centers that encourage collaboration and support student invention, are on the rise across the United States.

This has always been the case, but in a prevailing learning culture that promotes outside-the-box problem solving, these activities are growing more common in the 21st-century school library. At the intersection of analog and digital learning opportunities, the value of school libraries has increased at all levels of education. And at the helm of these spaces, school librarians must negotiate how best to support students with library resources, adapt to new technological advancements in education and pass on the fundamental tenets of digital and information literacy to students.

What are the emerging technologies in a library?

School librarians can leverage library tools and equipment to engage with students, support teachers, and make their school libraries dynamic and welcoming learning spaces

With time-saving technology strategies, school librarians can find ways to connect with their school’s teachers and students on a deeper level, forming relationships and helping with research and skill development.

During an ISTELive session, Kristina A. Holzweiss, a high school educational technology enrichment specialist librarian, shared her tips to help school librarians engage with students, support teachers, and make their school libraries dynamic and welcoming learning spaces.

1. Choice Boards“Student voice, student choice,” Holzweiss said.

Why: Help foster independence, encourage student choice and decision-making, and offer differentiated instruction.
How: Google Slides, PPT, Buncee, Thinglink, Genially, Canva

School librarians can create choice boards aligned with different ability levels, and students can choose according to how they feel comfortable.

2. Newsletters

Why: Advocacy, community connections, sharing resources, showcasing student work
How: Wakelet, Padlet, Smore, Google Slides, PPT

“A newsletter is a wonderful way of advocating [for your library], Holzweiss said. “Work smarter, not harder.”

Using Wakelet, school librarians can work with librarians in their district–or even across the state or country–to draw attention to important resources in the library, offer research tips, and motivate students. Translation technologies can be included for students and parents whose native language is not English.

3. Handbook
Why
: Creating a digital library presence, using a multimedia format to expand accessibility features, sharing resources, showcasing student work
How: Book Creator, websites, Google Slides, Mote, PowerPoint

School librarians can embed a link to a library handbook and put it in Google Classroom or Canvas, for instance. Handbooks can summarize library services, events calendars, and important updates. They’re also useful when students keep digital reading journals for summer reading projects.

4. Virtual help desk
Why: Creating a digital library presence, allowing for a multimedia format and responses rather than only text responses, building relationships through SEL
How: Flipgrid, Padlet, Google Forms

A virtual help desk can be instrumental in ensuring anyone who needs help is able to ask for it–but make sure you moderate and have notifications on, Holzweiss said–if you aren’t checking it, you might miss something important.

5. Audio bytes
Why: Creating a digital library presence, offering multimedia and accessibility features, sharing resources, and building relationships through SEL
How: Mote with Google Forms, Share through Google Drive, share through Onedrive

“Wouldn’t it be cool to have a Mote book request form where students can record their requests and responses?” Holzweiss asked. Letting students record and embed their voice responses directly into information fields in online forms does wonders for ELLs, younger students who can’t read yet, special education students, and students who have difficulty reading. Teachers can create multimedia assessments and activities for their students, who record and embed their responses.

6. Virtual book club
Why
: Extends reading beyond the library, creates a community of readers, connects students across classes, grade levels, and schools
How: Flipgrid, Padlet, Wakelet, Jamboard

A digital reading journal is a great way to sustain a virtual book club. Students can find a video, photo, song, podcast, meme, or gif that illustrates a theme in their book. As they keep this digital reading journal, they’re creating a digital portfolio of your digital interactions with this book.

Holzweiss said she avoids outdated book report questions and formats. Instead, she includes prompts such as, “If you threw a dinner party, which character in this book would you invite?”

With tools such as Wakelet, ELL students can write in their native language and teachers can translate on their own.

Keywords:  innovative ideas for school library, , school library technology trends

The future of school libraries is all about providing equitable access for all students

Schools in urban districts like Denver Public Schools often struggle to fund library programs, which only exacerbates already existing equity gaps for students of color. And while it is painfully true that tight school budgets often result in unstaffed or understaffed school libraries, I am hopeful. I sense a revolution in how we serve our students — a revolution in how we walk the talk of equity.

Prioritizing equitable library access for students

As school libraries evolve and best practices shift accordingly, there is one constant to solve for: equity. All students deserve access to a school library. Libraries support students’ literacy and lifelong learning, help develop their empathy, build their critical thinking skills, and empower them with skills to navigate their world.

In other words, school libraries provide the tools students will need to solve the complex world problems of their futures.

Our students are wonderfully, beautifully diverse in every way – race, culture, sexual orientation, brain wiring, physical ability and lived experiences. Yet the publishing industry, our library collections, our library spaces, and our library staff are just now starting to catch up to the needs of the students we serve.

Innovative ideas for your school library :  7 tips for future-proofing the school library

If we want students to engage with the library, we must create a library experience that honors every student’s humanity. Additionally, we must also ensure they have regular access to its materials, and the expertise of a librarian who can connect them to those materials. What is the road map for reinvigorating and future-proofing our library programs?

1. Conscientious library staff. School leaders should recruit librarians who understand culturally responsive practice, ensure the library is an emotionally safe space, collaborate with teachers and families beyond the library walls, and advocate for all students and their lives as readers.

2. Safe, comfortable space. It is important to create a welcoming, student-friendly space by adding soft seating, collaborative workspaces, and book displays that encourage browsing and reflect students’ interests and identities.

3. Update materials. Librarians should weed outdated and damaged materials out of the collection and promote the use of online research databases, i.e. PebbleGo, Britannica School and Gale databases.

4. Reflect voice, choice, identity. A key strategy is to curate print and digital library collections that reflect student voice, choice, and identity. Librarians should promote “Own Voices” books that provide authentic perspectives of diverse identities, books in students’ first languages, and books students are excited to read.

5. Go digital with eBooks and audiobooks. It is critical to ensure 24/7 access throughout the academic year and summer months by curating a robust collection of eBooks and audiobooks that students can access on any device through platforms like the Sora student reading app.

6. Support your educators. Librarians should provide professional development on how to use eBooks and audiobooks to support students’ special needs. These lessons should target all school leaders and teachers, especially special education teachers and teachers of English language learners.

7. Evolve your programming. Librarians should plan programming and provide tools that encourage creativity, collaboration and communication, i.e. STEAM and makerspace activities like code.org courses and digital citizenship curricula like Common Sense Education.

An achievable roadmap for success

This road map is very achievable. I see evidence of progress every day—progress in culturally responsive teaching practices, progress in richly diverse authorial voices that are finally reaching an audience, and progress reflecting on our own biases. There is also progress in creating inclusive and engaging print and digital library collections to meet a growing demand for equitable access to school libraries.

Every child deserves a library. Let’s make it happen.

How do you modernize a school library?

With new technological advancements and the onset of digital media centers, students and teachers have realized the value of school libraries.

A virtual reality field trip. A lesson on how to create a podcast. A tutorial on how to create a paper circuit board that uses LED lights. For a new generation of educators, these pursuits have something in common: They’re all appropriate learning exercises that can take place in the school library. Makerspaces, or library media centers that encourage collaboration and support student invention, are on the rise across the United States.

This has always been the case, but in a prevailing learning culture that promotes outside-the-box problem solving, these activities are growing more common in the 21st-century school library. At the intersection of analog and digital learning opportunities, the value of school libraries has increased at all levels of education. And at the helm of these spaces, school librarians must negotiate how best to support students with library resources, adapt to new technological advancements in education and pass on the fundamental tenets of digital and information literacy to students.

As the U.S. public education system has evolved throughout its history, school libraries have also developed with a consistent central goal: to give students the best opportunity to succeed academically.

The Evolution of the School Library

Before school libraries would begin to morph into multimedia digital information centers, they supported student literacy-building practices by providing access to their on-site book collections. From the first plans for a school library in the United States drafted in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, school district libraries would continue to sprout across the nation during the next two centuries. By the mid-1950s, schools would adopt localized, attached libraries in which librarians are considered qualified teachers, educating both students and instructors.

The face of public education has fundamentally changed since then, through the nationwide integration of schools, the rapid progress of education technology and the academic opportunities offered to students, to name a few. Because of these dramatic changes to the world of education, the expectations and  responsibilities of school library faculty have understandably seen a dramatic shift as well.

Today, school librarians are not only responsible for administering and collating their collections. Instead, librarians promote creativity and discovery in student learning by offering multimedia resources. With school libraries beginning to function as digital media centers, these tools enable students to explore new modes of thought and include:

  • Planning, drafting and executing podcasts or audio essays
  • Access to audiobooks and online tutorials
  • Online or in-person tutorials on how to use video-, audio- or photo-editing software
  • Workshops on internet and information literacy

Modern Librarian Roles and Responsibilities

With these new responsibilities, librarians now occupy a multitude of additional roles, too. The Association of College and Research Libraries, which is an organization of college educators and librarians and a division of the American Library Association, lays out the seven roles of librarians in school systems today. The goal with highlighting these different titles librarians must take on is “to conceptualize and describe the broad nature and variety of the work that teaching librarians undertake as well as the related characteristics which enable librarians to thrive within those roles.”

While these roles were drafted to appeal specifically to university and college librarians, they are universal enough to be relevant to school librarians working in primary and secondary school media centers, too.

  • Advocate – As advocates, library teachers are responsible for encouraging and outwardly supporting the advancement of student learning and information and digital literacy in education. Moreover, school library faculty must partner with administrators and teachers to ensure students adopt effective critical thinking and research skills.
  • Coordinator – In order for a library to run smoothly and enable students to engage with different literacies, school librarians must facilitate an inclusive and supportive learning environment. This means that coordinators need to make a point to stay on the same page as teachers, administrators and parents to serve students best.
  • Instructional Designer – Library materials often carry the unfair stigma of being boring. And it makes sense – the image of the uptight librarian has persisted through the past century. In the current technological landscape, though, librarians are positioned to provide students engaging, dynamic library resources as instructional designers. As instructional designers, librarians collaborate with teachers to develop learning materials to reach students best.
  • Lifelong Learner – Librarians as lifelong learners lead by example. Lifelong learning librarians can motivate students through an unrelenting pursuit of knowledge, which can inspire students to engage in independent research curiosities.
  • Leader – School librarians must lead not only in their library spaces but, additionally, across an array of contexts. As leaders, librarians are prepared to guide students through reading and research processes at the same time that they offer necessary support to teachers.
  • Teacher-Librarian – As teachers, librarians evaluate the best kind of learning practices for students, faculty and administrators. In other words, school librarians should be trained educators charged with providing information literacy opportunities to learners across an array of contexts. For example, while librarians help students understand how to navigate databases to collect research, they also provide support to teachers to educate their students on the best informational and digital literacy practices.
  • Teaching Partner – To highlight the importance of collaboration, librarians should work as teaching partners with other educators in the school to build engaging learning materials for students. This collaboration can take place in the form of guiding a class discussion, creating assignments and responding to student work.

To this end, there are several capacities in which librarians excel in teaching. Because libraries are often the physical sites of research, reading, exploration and discovery, librarians occupy different positions to help facilitate the learning process. Students can’t take advantage of the library without a basic understanding of the ways libraries function, and the academic article “Librarians, Libraries, and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” highlights how librarians intervene to help the learning process. By partnering with discipline-specific educators in school settings, school librarians can develop focused materials to help guide student research projects.

The article states that while “the library can be at the center of connections among all of the university’s academic units, it is well placed to create and support initiatives that develop cross‐disciplinary pedagogical excellence.” In other words, as librarians work with faculty representing different subjects and age ranges, both students and teachers will engage with unfamiliar perspectives.

Design-Focused Teaching

There’s a prevailing misconception about how the path of the librarian is not a design-focused one. Instead, librarians follow deliberate, creative processes when planning lessons. And when librarians approach their lesson planning as an element of design, students ultimately become more engaged. While any instruction planning is a form of design, librarians for elementary school audiences, for example, must diligently design engaging storytime lessons to help prompt students to develop listening and literacy skills.

In the scholarly article “Learning by Design: Creating Knowledge through Library Storytime Production,” researchers state that librarians must “plan, deliver and reflect on storytimes in implicit ways that seem to align with design principles.” As a result, this new model of design focuses on two primary exchanges that influence each other significantly: from storytime planning to storytime delivery and from peer mentoring to self-reflection. Further, school librarians must plan for future library storytime sessions as they reflect on both the successes and drawbacks of past presentations. The researchers conclude by calling for greater attention to how storytime planning and execution are design-focused processes.

How Librarians Serve Students

Another common misconception is that librarians are laser-focused on promoting reading – primarily of fiction. But this simply isn’t true in the modern educational climate. In addition to their focus on reading,  library teachers are responsible for promoting information and digital literacies, which help democratize academic standards and provide students access to learning resources otherwise unavailable.

Overcoming Barriers through Information Literacy Instruction

School library faculty don many hats to promote student learning, and modern librarians have demonstrated a firm commitment to centering diversity in libraries. According to an article in the academic journal American Society for Information Science and Technology, improved technological instruction on assignments through librarian intervention can help students with learning disabilities and barriers. Specifically, school librarians have found novel ways to connect with students of diverse achievement levels. In the article, researchers monitored the ways that 11th-grade students in a remedial education program navigated a major research project for an American Literature course. The goal of the study was to observe and offer solutions to areas that these students found challenging or inaccessible.

Notably, the researchers discovered that “technological and instructional mediation would motivate the students’ interest in their information seeking and use.” In other words, as libraries continue to modernize and offer information literacy resources in technologically inviting ways, students will be able to navigate research databases and library systems in totally digital capacities. These resources include digital archives, national library databases & collections, online databases of text, still images and audio, video and digital documents. As a result, they will be significantly better prepared to conduct independent research and think critically while they prepare to enter the next stage of their academic and professional lives.

As these technological innovations have begun to take hold in academic settings, libraries have played a monumentally important role in inviting college students to hone their information literacy. As an academic article published in the scholarly journal Health Information and Libraries Journal notes, librarians play a unique role in preparing students to grapple with scholarship across an array of disciplines. While researchers focus on the benefits and drawbacks of the ways librarians teach information literacy practices, they also unequivocally highlight that “library‐based information literacy teaching is perhaps even more relevant and useful to graduates and practicing professionals than it was in the days where the focus was on the use of a particular bibliographic tool or index.”

Prior to the advent of the internet as a research tool, librarians in university settings and some high schools focused heavily on citation methods and formats. In today’s technological landscape, though, school librarians play a much more critical role in helping students to understand the validity and legitimacy of sources. Researchers argued in this article that some of the information literacy skills taught in universities have little real-world application. At the same time, though, they showcase the importance of critical thinking that school library faculty facilitate in their information literacy instruction.

Margaret K. Merga, a scholar featured in the academic journal Literacy, highlights that the value of school libraries can be seen in how their “most expected contribution relates to the fostering of literacy and literature learning through wide reading and reading engagement in students.” At the same time, there are some different learning barriers that school librarians help students overcome based on Merga’s study of 30 schools:

  • Time management and task prioritization
  • Packed and overwhelming curriculum
  • Difficulty engaging students
  • Demotivation
  • Budgeting limitations

Merga concludes that “attention needs to be given to these barriers to support the important role that school [libraries] and their librarians can play in fostering the learning of contemporary students.” With this logic, it’s clear that library teachers today help with so much more than just issuing books or introducing students to navigating the shelves.

Language Learning in the Modern Library

Outside of basic literacy adoption practices, the value of school libraries can also be seen in the ways librarians help students learn new languages. An article recently published in The Modern Language Journal applies a linguistic, ethnographic approach to understand better how information assistants and librarians engage in  “translanguaging.” Translanguaging is a novel concept that helps language learners understand better the “communicative practices in which people engage as they bring into contact different biographies, histories and linguistic backgrounds.”

While the researchers for this study focused on the benefits of the public library on language adoption, school librarians can also intervene in the learning process. As arbiters of information, librarians can help students locate reading materials and online resources that will ultimately give students a greater understanding and a deeper context of the language. Moreover, students will have access to these reading materials and digital resources – including talk-to-translate, virtual reality language learning, language learning apps and language learning software – offered in libraries that could otherwise be unavailable at home.

Why Are School Libraries Important in the Information Age?

Libraries across the country are modernizing in unexpected ways. As technology continues to advance, it becomes more accessible. Librarians have adapted, and outside of the digital archiving and expanded information literacy focuses they have taken on, they have also begun exploring other forms of media to offer educational support to students. For example, as the New York Times reported in April 2020, the Library of Congress has created a new digital tool to help aspiring DJs. The tool is called Citizen DJ:

“Users can access a pool of free-to-use sounds from the library’s audio and moving-image collections, including recordings from vaudeville acts, interviews with entertainers, speeches and rights-free music. They can select a sound to remix or download sounds in bulk, all while being encouraged to engage with the original source material.”

This specific process of introducing new technologies has become important for librarians, as it aligns with an overall ethos that focuses on discovery, exploration, understanding and appreciation to fuel a creative process. Technological progress is ultimately helping school library faculty become more versatile in the way they serve students.

Our technological climate has fundamentally changed how school library faculty help both students and fellow teachers. As a result, there’s beginning to be more room for collaboration between technology specialists and librarians, which could be the next breakthrough in school libraries, according to Lois D. Wine in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science.  

Wine stated that as technological advancements have made educational resources more accessible, more positions for digital media librarians have been added to schools. These new librarians:

  • Offer support to teachers as they introduce technology into their lesson plans
  • Train teachers and students on how to use new technology
  • Suggest new media technologies for schools to buy
  • Recommend policy and process procedures regarding technology

School library faculty have begun to administer dynamic and new initiatives to get teachers and students on the same page with information literacy.

The Modernized Learning Process in the Library

Outside of the ways that librarians can help prepare students for different technological landscapes, libraries themselves can incorporate different technologies to help with learning process. Alison Marcotte of American Libraries wrote about the ways that some libraries are employing virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) to build engaging learning materials. These features give students a unique opportunity to dive into “immersive virtual field trips, such as a walk through the solar system… or a walk around a refugee camp,” allowing students  to grapple with natural phenomena or better empathize with marginalized perspectives in substantive ways. Additionally, this level of immersion will build truly memorable experiences for students, and as the technology becomes more accessible and widely used, school librarians will be able to create resonant, innovative lessons.

This interactive measure isn’t exclusive to VR, AR or MR measures, though. As technology has progressed and become more accessible, libraries are uniquely poised to act as makerspaces, as physical areas where collaboration among students is encouraged. For example, according to an academic article titled “Library as Collaboratory,” Miami University’s Business, Engineering, Science and Technology Library features a 3D printer that has “developed into a high demand service that promotes learning for a broad range of users.” The 3D printing opportunity has caused a swell of interdisciplinary interest among students at the university, and as a result, more students have begun to engage in “printing tasks, gaining technical skills and enabling the library to expand its services.”

This is a significant step for a number of reasons. For one, because this library has elected to progress technologically by hosting a 3D printer, students will gain real-world experience in fields they have already demonstrated an interest in joining. Second, the school library as a makerspace firmly and outwardly marks itself as a place that invites innovation. Students will be more inclined to try new designs, calculate new prints and even fail in their independent projects as they learn the capabilities of the machine. As a result, students will be much better prepared to engage with emerging technologies and pursue STEM careers later in life.

The Value of School Libraries on the Web

At the same time that some school libraries promote educational technologies, others have begun to tap into another trend of the 21st century: social media. Social media practices between public and school libraries have historically served as barriers for getting students interested in digital, informational and technological literacy adoption.

An article titled “Social Media Practices and Support in U.S. Public Libraries and School Library Media Centers” proposes that as libraries “harness the power of social networking tools,” they will experience a greater engagement with students, and specifically with teens. In a qualitative survey of 750 public libraries and 750 school libraries, the researchers discovered that public school policies often act as barriers to the ability for school libraries to engage with students on social media. Overwhelmingly, public school library policy would prohibit students from posting while at school.

Further, researchers found that after eliminating these obstacles and promoting responsible social media sharing, libraries are uniquely poised to use social media channels and interactions as learning moments. By sharing new information with students and faculty or by promoting a higher level of visibility in the library, library educators have a unique chance to introduce students to novel library resources. As a result, libraries may have an opportunity to provide teenage students a roadmap for appropriate internet etiquette, particularly through social media channels.

The Continued Importance of School Libraries

Schools resoundingly feature libraries and digital media centers. As the National Center for Education Statistics stated, as recently as 2016, “95% of elementary schools and 82% of secondary schools had a library or media center.” These facilities will continue to need administrators trained to serve students’ literacy needs and adapt to new technologies.

The value of school libraries is vital for lifelong development of students. School librarians help reinforce critical thinking, independent research and information literacy skills. According to School Library Journal, the number of traditional school librarians has decreased during the past 20 years, but these positions haven’t disappeared. Instead, their roles and responsibilities have evolved —  the number of library instructional coordinators has more than doubled.

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