Sunday, February 10, 2013

It's More than a Place to Borrow Books

Yesterday, I was able to attend the annual conference for the Hawaii Association of School Librarians, an organization committed to improving teaching and learning in our schools.  This volunteer organization  shares resources, provides professional development opportunities for educators, and are involved in the community as well by hosting events for students such as The Nene Award.

As schools explore ways to save money, many are choosing to eliminate the librarian position and to focus on technology rather than purchasing books.  A prevailing thought is that libraries are outdated and that purchasing books is a waste of money when it is so easy to get information via the Internet.  I disagree; schools need libraries and librarians.

Our library is a vibrant place, filled with eager students who love to choose a "just right" book to borrow.  But our library is more than just a place to listen to stories and learn  how to find a book.  Our library is a media resource center where students learn to access information about topics of interest, to use different technology and Web 2.0 tools to collaborate with their classmates, to communicate and share information with students at other schools, and to nurture a love of books and literacy.

I have had numerous discussions about how school librarians need to change the way they provide services to teachers and students if they want to survive.  This can be a challenging process.  When we hired our librarian eight years ago, she and I had lengthy discussions about our vision for the library.  We wanted teachers to be present for the lesson so they could follow-up in their classroom.  The librarian needed to be a collaborator with the grade level teachers as they planned instruction based on big ideas and essential questions.  We needed a vast collection of books - both fiction and non-fiction - and we wanted the books to be borrowed, not sitting on the shelf.  Rather than having a set library time each week, we wanted classes to sign up depending on the purpose for the visit.  Because researching requires more time, classes could sign up more than once a week if necessary.  As technology and Web 2.0 tools became more available, the librarian would model the use of these tools in instruction so students and teachers could access and share information virtually as well as through traditional projects.  It was challenging to change the mindset of teachers regarding the role of the library and the librarian, but today, our librarian is seen as an essential resource at our school.

There are those who claim that students can get whatever information they want electronically so libraries and print material are no longer necessary. I disagree. Just because information is readily available electronically does not mean that students know how to choose the right resource, how to skim and scan to find answers, how to take notes and organize them in a meaningful way, and how to summarize and share that information with others.  That is why the librarian is an important resource in the school.  Additionally, every child needs to experience sharing a book with a special adult.  I remember those moments with my own sons, reading some of our favorite books together, laughing, crying, or just sharing that special time together.  As a teacher, that was one of my students' favorite time of the day -- storytime.  I believe that being exposed to all kinds of books -- fiction and nonfiction -- nurtures a love for reading which translates to greater success in school and in life.

Very shortly, we will be breaking ground to upgrade our school facilities.  One of our new buildings will be a "Media Resource Center" which is a more appropriate and descriptive name than "library."  Much discussion and thought went into planning and designing this new building, and our goal is to create a place that can grow and change to meet the literacy and information needs of our students and teachers now and in the future.

It would be a shame if school librarians suffered the same fate as businesses like Borders or Blockbuster which did not realize the need to change to meet the challenges of a changing world until it was too late. Let's work to make sure that does not happen with school librarians.


  1. I agree. Students need to learn to obtain primary and secondary resources and information in multiple ways - via printed material, digitally, on-line. An important factor is the human connection to teach/learn how to obtain information, how to judge the validity and integrity of the information, how to research and report, and how to work collaboratively. I like how the library schedule here is flexible.

  2. Thank you for your comment; we do need a variety of resources for students to access information. I believe a flexible schedule lends itself to utilizing the librarian most effectively so the lessons are tied in with what students are studying in the classroom.

  3. Hi Jan:

    It was a distinct pleasure to have you honored by AASL with the distinguished service award. It is so richly deserved. Thanks to your super librarian Michelle Colte for nominating you! Reading your blog made me realize how critical it is to have administrators who "get it" that libraries can be vital hubs of learning for everyone in the school community and that librarians are indispensable "gate openers" and not "gate keepers."

    Is there some way that we can share your beautifully written blog with a larger audience?

    Vi Harada

  4. Vi, I love your statement that "librarians are indispensable 'gate openers' and not 'gate keepers." I need to remember that in the future. I know that Michelle is definitely a gate opener for both the students and staff here at Hale Kula.

    HASL shared the blog on their web page, and I know there were a few others who shared it. I'm a newbie to blogging -- I'm getting more comfortable, but I don't have a wide circle of contacts yet.

    Thank you for your kind comments!