Note: This is the fourth in a series of reflective posts that form part of a university course that I am taking. I hope that you will find something valuable in my reflections as well. You can find the first post here, second post here and the third post here.
Charting the course of libraries throughout history is a fascinating exercise in resilience; at each turn, in the face of seemingly insurmountable threats to their very existence, libraries not only survive but manage to thrive. The library, as S.R. Ranganathan proposed, truly is a growing organism, changing to meet the needs of communities and clientele. School libraries, while somewhat sheltered from the storms, are no stranger to adapting to changing times. Once quiet bastions of story time and research help, school libraries are quickly transforming to meet the needs of 21st century learners. From makerspaces to media literacy, the modern school library learning commons embodies Ranganathan's fifth law; the five examples below make it clear that this isn't the hushed school library you grew up with.
A focus on Collaboration
The school library that I grew up with was always a place for quiet, independent work, often research, occasionally reading (after choosing your books for the week, of course). Not being particularly talented at the quiet or independent piece, I nonetheless loved the library because I loved books. When I think about the fact that school libraries are now being intentionally designed to create a more collaborative atmosphere, where students are encouraged to talk and work together, I'm pretty sure I've found my definition of heaven. Many organizations, including the OECD, have identified the need for students to be able to interact well in diverse groups in order to be successful in our rapidly changing society. Today's school library is helping to meet this need by creating spaces where students can work together to achieve common goals across a wide variety of skill and topic areas. Teacher-Librarians actively work with other school staff to co-plan and co-teach lessons that support the acquisition of these skills, modeling collaboration in real time.
Working for Social Justice & Equity
The library has always been a stronghold of intellectual freedom; when books are being banned and burned, librarians are there dousing the flames, ensuring that people continue to be able to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas" (CFLA-FCAB, 2019) freely. This means that the library has always been an advocate for social justice and equity. The change? Today's TL is more aware than ever of the need to ensure that the library is a safe space for everyone. The focus isn't just on books and media but on people; this includes being intentional about having a collection that reflects a diversity of cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles, supporting students who want to learn about and do something in their community and helping students understand and recognize bias when they see it.
Promoting Inquiry & Design Thinking
At first glance, it may seem incongruous that teacher-librarians are often tasked with teaching coding in their schools. I mean, what does coding have to do with literacy? But, as Mary Moen outlines in this article, coding is a natural extension of literacy; it promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills based on using information effectively, which is absolutely the purview of the TL. Inquiry and design thinking follow equally naturally when looked at from this perspective; teaching kids to identify problems, ask good questions and use research skills to solve those problems make perfect sense for the TL. In most schools, teaching inquiry and design thinking has become a major part of the teacher-librarian's every day.
Teaching Digital & Media Literacy
Kids these days are bombarded with so many different types of media, all the time. From social media, to TV news to Google it is an inescapable reality for us all; naively assuming that kids know how to navigate this multimodal text landscape is akin to ignoring a ticking box - it's going to explode at some point, you just don't know when. Students need to learn the skills for navigating this new landscape and who better to teach them than the school "text expert"? For years, librarians have helped students interpret the written word; now, this is being extended to include the visuals paired with the written word, visuals on their own, video, audio and more. TLs spend a considerable amount of time helping students understand the connections between written text and other forms of media, as well as helping them critically examine and analyze it. Just like Marshall McLuhan once said the medium really is the message...and TLs are here to help kids understand it.
Helping Students Develop a reading identity
Literacy is not just the act of reading but is a person's ways of being in relation to language and text. As we read, we discover what we like and what we don't; what is just right and what is too hard; where and when we like to read, for how long and with whom. Our reading identity is a deep-dive into who we are as a reader and it morphs and changes over time. A good TL is our guide on this journey, making recommendations, listening carefully to our preferences and stretching us in new directions.
With all of the ways that the school library has changed, the one thing that hasn't changed is the focus on high quality reading experiences. Even with the plethora of digital tools available, books still line the shelves of every school library, enticing students to come in and just sit with a book. Librarians still recommend books to reluctant readers, voracious readers and everyone in between. While the job may have changed and expanded in ways that Ranganathan could never have anticipated, his first four rules remain as true as the fifth; there is a book for every reader and a reader for every book, and the teacher-librarian will make sure that the two get matched up. At the outset of this course, I wondered about how relationships build a school library learning commons. The thoughts I've shared above are a quick look at the journey we took as this course unfolded, learning about the various facets and functions of the SLLC. As we've made our way through the course, I've come to realize that, at the heart of it, the TL is a relationship expert; they will match the reader to a book, the presenter to a presentation tool, the researcher to a database. They will help a curious young mind find a spark, a team player to find a team and a classroom teacher to find a partner for teaching creative, inspiring lessons. Teacher librarians truly are the hub of the school.
Barner,K. (2011). The Library is a Growing Organism: Ranganathan's Fifth Law of Library Science and the Academic Library in the Digital Age. LIbrary Philosophy and Practice. Retrieved 04/05/2021.
OECD (2005). The Definition And Selection of Key Competencies. Retrieved 04/05/2021
Canadian Federation of Library Associations. (2019). Statement on Intellectual Freedom & Libraries. Retrieved 04/05/2021
Moen, M. (2016). Computer Coding and Literacy: Librarians Lead the Connection. International Literacy Association. Retrieved 04/05/2021
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!