Recently, I have been asked to comment on my vision for a successful 21st Century school library. It has been great to sit down and think about the values that I have come across in my studies and the priorities as I see them. What does a successful 21st century school library look like to me?
I came up with five guiding principles. I believe a modern school library should be:
- A Leader
The most important principle for school libraries is to develop a relationship with their users – students, teachers, parents/caregivers and even the wider community. A school library provides a supportive space, academically, but also socially and emotionally for students and staff. The library is an inclusive social hub and ‘safe space’ for students and staff, providing an important third space. In order to reap the greatest rewards, I believe it is important for library staff to be friendly and supportive of students, often providing an important ‘other’ adult for students to interact with who are not their parent or teacher.
The second principle I identified for a successful library is leadership. I believe the library should take a lead role in the promotion of information literacy within the school. This could involve assisting with assignments, referencing, taking and making notes, effective search strategies, evaluating web sites (and other critical thinking skills as appropriate), copyright, creative commons, or curation tools among many others. The promotion of literature and reading should also play a key role. Building a reading culture requires a multi-faceted approach involving collaboration, being responsive to student and staff needs and specific practices adopted at a school-wide level. The library must play a key role in the discussions.
For me, collaboration is an essential component of a school library. Ideally, all school staff see the library as an essential partner in curriculum planning, resourcing, curation and assessment. This may involve discussing the unit and assessment requirements, and also team teaching or co-teaching opportunities throughout the learning phase. Importantly, feedback should be sought at the conclusion of each unit, from both teachers and students, on the strengths and areas for improvement for the resources, curation and teaching from the library staff.
Reflection and evaluation of practice is important to ensure that the teaching aims are received as expected, but also to determine areas of improvement or ongoing gaps in student knowledge. Evaluation can occur via informal conversations, anecdotal responses or through library services surveys. Evidence-based analysis of student and staff reflections and subsequent goal setting allows for further modifications to library services and resources to ensure that the needs of library users are adequately met from year to year.
“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflection on experience” – John Dewey –
Teachers often do not know how the library can help them. Successful school libraries must make the invisible work of the library, visible to staff. Advocacy is essential! For me, this would include advertising library services in a number of ways:
- School-wide promotion of library activities and tutorials
- Engaging library displays to promote reading and resources linked to curriculum
- A well-presented, up-to-date library web page with relevant resources to support student and staff learning
- Promotion of library programs and services at staff and departmental meetings
- Offering staff professional learning opportunities
- Informal lunch time conversations with staff and students
- Promotion of library services and initiatives in the school newsletter
- Blogging about library activities and opportunities to engage with information literacy
- Library services ‘menu’ in staff pigeon holes
- Creation of regular library reports, which summarise library accomplishments. By sharing the reports with the school leadership team, this increases awareness of library programs and services.
There is a strong inter-connection between the five principles that I have identified for a successful 21st century school library. Essentially though, underpinning the principles is a strong sense of social connection. A library cannot operate in isolation. It requires relationships with users whether it is a welcoming library atmosphere, taking a lead role in information literacy and reading promotion, working collaboratively with students and staff or evaluating programs and services. Successful school libraries, to me, are innovative and proactive and have a strong sense of the value of promoting what they have to offer to the school community.