Rethinking the school library and how it serves learning means being bold and thinking in disruptive and innovative directions. Improving libraries by adding new furniture, technology or by updating book collections are first steps and certainly worthy ones. But creating a library that is a portal for the learning opportunities that can fundamentally reshape the concept of school and how students learn means thinking beyond the current traditional experience of library to consider how people learn in a connected, always-on, media-rich world.
As a mainstay in the intellectual life of a school, the library, at its most basic, has served as the gatekeeper of literacy. Through books and other media, the library has offered students the opportunity to see the world in unique ways and to go on expeditions and journeys of their own choosing through the literature that the library possesses. The focus on reading, on writing and research, and being able to craft meaning through personal expression represents the trademark of what the school library fundamentally has contributed to the student learning experience. But with the advent of technology, with the instantaneous access to people, places, ideas and resources, with the ability to not only consume, but to create and contribute through a variety of capacities, how a library serves its school and students must almost certainly evolve to maintain its relevancy and position of importance. The question is: In what direction? And what types of bold and innovative approaches could be considered? Here are four to jumpstart your thinking:
Library as Promoter of Transliteracy
Libraries have always promoted the development of literacy. It is most basic form, being literate means to be able to read, write, communicate and make sense of the world. But given societal and technological changes that have occurred across the world, it is imperative that libraries re-examine their core beliefs about literacy and use those beliefs to develop new directions for the library. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has suggested that there are multiple literacies that must be negotiated and mastered; a search on literacy confirms this position by returning information about multiple representations of literacy, ranging from information literacy to visual literacy, and from digital literacy to invention literacy, among others.
With this in mind, next-generation libraries should explore the concept of transliteracy. Transliteracy is defined as “the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.” Such a focus provides the necessary foundation for providing the diverse services and learning conditions that support how students can make sense of a world constantly in beta. This requires that students be exposed and have access to an array of experiences ranging from traditional analog opportunities to the most challenging and complex digital experiences. Could transliteracy be the concept that unifies the multiple dimensions of what it means to be literate today, and in turn, help shape the identity of the next-generation library?
Library as Provider of Capacity
Libraries have traditionally focused on providing experiences based in understanding how to access, evaluate and use information. A next-generation library supports a shift from being a provider of information experiences to being a provider of the capacity that can support a wide variety of experiences as defined by the needs of user.
Such a focus is currently evident by the development and inclusion of makerspaces in libraries that support creative capability and that promote innovative exploration. But there is a much wider range of capacities that libraries can offer. Currently, public libraries are exploring the concept of providing capacity by offering internet hot spots, power tools, musical instruments, digital camera kits, neckties (called the “tie-brary” and used to support those interviewing for jobs), drones, telescopes and even by lending seeds to its patrons! Additionally, there is an opportunity to extend the provision of capacity to the digital spaces of the library. What digital tools, beyond databases and Google’s G Suite, could libraries offer to students that could encourage creativity, creation and contribution?
Accompanying this shift towards providing capacity is the acceptance that students will shape how they use those capacities. Providing on-demand access to creative capacity should mean granting agency to the student and the ownership of experience-- and being comfortable with that. An intriguing question for K-12 libraries focuses on what this capacity looks like and how it is shaped to empower learning when the potential use is dependent upon student choice. An additional question is how this capacity influences opportunities to support the development of becoming transliterate.
Library as Incubator and Accelerator
Given those two shifts, the next generation school library should become an incubator and accelerator of ideas and of practice. Where do teachers and students take their best ideas? How are they nurtured, grown, implemented and scaled over time? How does the space of the library itself engender a mindset of productivity, creativity, and innovation? There are numerous examples of business incubators yet the concept of an having a space in a school that functions in this capacity is rare. Could the library be the location where a specialized staff familiar with the conditions associated with startup culture assisted in the development and implementation of new ideas? What would happen if the library became the location where ideas were developed into programs and initiatives that fueled school improvement? And, how could such a capacity support students in developing an entrepreneurial/startup/maker disposition that could launch their own careers and businesses?
Library as Storyteller and Creator of Culture
The next generation library can be the platform for telling the stories of learning and of the school it supports. The space itself should be designed as a canvas, with products and evidence of learning portrayed everywhere. The activities that occur in the space, from the creation of student video productions that are hosted by the library’s web site, to the telling of a story on a stool to a live audience, should provide students with the ability to display and share what they know and how they think . Students have stories to tell - how could these stories become equally as important as the stories found on the shelves of the library? How can the library be the place where students not only find meaning but create their own? The next-generation library should be viewed as a platform that captures the stories of each individual child, celebrates the growth and potential of the students it serves, and contributes to a growing culture of learning in the school.