The School Library as Change Agent

Perhaps the most valuable real estate in a school is it’s library.  Here’s why:

It is my belief that libraries offer a unique two-part invitation to learners.  This invitation is grounded by the opportunity for students to develop the skills associated with being literate, a time-honored purpose that these spaces have always supported.  The library also offers a unique opportunity for learners to shape their own experience and engage in a “learning expedition,” either independently, or with others, and do so on a path of their choosing.

While developing literacy is always an important and critical component of becoming well-educated, the path and expedition of learning is what I find intriguing.  I believe that both concepts are part of the shift that must occur in all aspects of learning at school - a focus on learners and their ability to own, shape and direct their learning experience.  The library is a unique location for that, a unique opportunity in itself, a catalyst if you will, for creating the conditions that enable ownership of learning by students while at school.

To accomplish this, the library must act to promote such a condition - in effect, a library must develop and possess, through the actions of its inhabitants, a set of dispositions, or ways in which the space declares and supports such conditions for learning.  That’s does the space itself act, behave, and promote certain actions by the people that enter?  How do all contribute to the development of the dispositions associated with a library?  And, what is the invitation into experience that a library can declare and offer in support of student-owned learning expeditions?  


To that end, consider the following four provocations as a way to think about creating new expectations for a library (or classroom, or school, etc.) that manifest in a new condition for learning:

How do you create the conditions for the invitation, the path, and experience  That’s done through leadership.

How do you embrace and recognize the need of learners to create their own path and experience?  That’s done by understanding and accepting your students as human beings and by developing an emphatic approach towards them and their needs

How do you enable learners to choose their own path?  That’s done by unlocking agency.

How do you enable learners to own the path?  That’s done through empowerment.

Leadership.  Empathy.  Agency.  Empowerment.

Blending the first two can give rise to the third.  When the third is in place, the fourth is possible.  When the fourth is in place, anything is possible.

Of course, what I am talking about here is developing the conditions for personal learning, and about the willingness of adults to ask the right questions and set the conditions for a new experience and having the initiative, perseverance, and determination to see that through.  

How the library serves as a centralized space to support a shift in perspectives about learning is intriguing and truly represents the purpose and future of the library in schools.
— David Jakes


Loris Malaguzzi talked about space as the third teacher of children, along with adults and peers.  The school library offers a unique opportunity to explore that idea, and provide the freedom, the path, and the opportunity to students to explore learning on their own terms while at the same time serving as a plausible future for what a contemporary learning experience at school can be and mean.