How School Libraries Are Staying Relevant

By Laura Hill on April 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm EST
New Jersey's Atlantic City High School has become a favorite spot for students.

Forget the Shhhhhhh. School libraries are making noise these days, inspiring lifelong learning with innovative programs, high technology – and fun. In the process, they are re-establishing themselves as vital centers for schools and communities.

At Atlantic City High School in New Jersey, on many days 100 kids line up to spend their lunch hour hanging out in the library, where they can share book recommendations electronically, learn HTML playing a video game, research on the Internet or just enjoy a stress-free haven.

“The library is a place for students to create, to share, to think and to grow,” says Jennifer Jamison, Atlantic City High’s librarian and winner of a 2013 I Love My Librarian award from the American Library Association. “Our role is to help the kids become better thinkers, to learn how to share their information, to grow and expand their knowledge.”

Today’s school librarians employ a variety of tools beyond books to educate kids. They use technology to engage students living in a tech-heavy world. They collaborate with teachers to support curriculum. They create “maker” spaces where students can work on arts and crafts projects. They maintain a flexible schedule, so kids can drop in when they wish. And they create a welcoming atmosphere that kids crave.

“This is the third place, the safe space to expand their knowledge,” Jamison says. “It’s free, it’s accessible, it’s comfortable. You can find friends here, kind of like Cheers – everybody knows your name.”

Technology Teaches

Technology is a major part of the library, but not for its own sake. IPads, Nooks, e-readers, smart boards, flat screens, even some video games have their place, helping students enrich their reading, thinking and research skills, as well as providing forums for sharing.

“I use technology to engage the kids,” Jamison says. “I meet them where they are, and that’s where they are. It’s a way to expand and extend our programs into their lives.”

Collaboration Is Key

Her previous school, Pennsylvania Avenue School in Atlantic City, was one of the ALA-named top school libraries in the country in 2013. And part of what made that happen was teacher and administrative support. “I had an advisory group and teachers were begging to be on this committee,” Jamison says.

At New Augusta Public Academy South elementary school in Indianapolis, librarian Lauren Kniola presides over another 2013 ALA award-winning library, which has been called the hub of her 531-student school.

“Our library is connected to everything that is going on in this school,” Kniola says. “One of my big things is collaborating with teachers so we can do inquiry together with the students, then help kids understand how to apply their research to their lives.”

Kniola’s library, like Jamison’s, keeps a flexible schedule and incorporates technology into its programs, teaching kids how to use PowerPoint, for example, and how to do reliable online research. The library is investigating software that will allow kids to make their own videos and has purchased 30 iPads.

“The bottom line is that kids can no longer learn everything they need to learn,” Kniola says. “We have to teach them how to find information, categorize it, sift through and find what’s important, and share it.”

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