Remaking Schools for the Information Age: What Media Centers Can and Must Do


We live in an age ofmiracles. Images of planets are now routinely beamed to us from thefarthest reaches of our solar system. Television receivers in themidst of a jungle provide satellite programming for village farmersabout weather and crop planting. And information from all corners ofthe world can be accessed through the simple touch of a computerbutton.

The Information Ageand the technology that supports it are behind these commonplace"miracles." As each generation builds on what others before them havelearned, the sum total of what we know expands exponentially. The jobof preparing people for making use of information &emdash; separatingwhat is useful from what is useless &emdash; must become a primaryfocus for educators.

In the past, theeducation establishment has served as a repository of information, socontrol of that commodity was relatively easy. As we continue toevolve as an information society, that control has seemingly beenlost. In today's information society, the education establishment nolonger controls that commodity. Its job, therefore, is to look forthe tools and develop the skills needed to educate learners to becareful, efficient, considerate users of the information theyneed.

The library mediacenter in the public school is one place where the tools for thecoming Information Age are being assembled. The way the library mediacenter is organized and its place in the school hierarchy are vitalto the emergence of a curriculum that focuses on helping studentsbecome effective users of relevant information.

Costs andBenefits

Local schooldistricts, state educational policy makers and the federal governmentare all moving toward recognition that technology in the schoolsetting is essential. Money for expansion of technology tools likeLaserDisc players, computers, modems and video cassette recorders isincreasing. The cost of these improvements, however, can be great. Itis always important, then, to look closely at a given technology toensure that it will have lasting applications from an educationstandpoint. Several mature technologies continue to offer teachers aviable, interactive educational tool that will remain current formany years to come.

Anotherconsideration is the training needed for teachers and other supportstaff in order to make any technology really valuable to the learner.Technologies that sit idle will have no impact on learning and can bea drain on limited school budgets. This is one of the reasons Ibecame involved with the Pioneer Mentor program, which provides acurriculum connection integrating LaserDisc and other technologiesinto the classroom. As a Pioneer Mentor, I have the opportunity towork with many educators to help show them how to take technology&emdash; which often exists at a school but is simply not beingutilized &emdash; and apply it in their daily classroominstruction.

Understanding how touse technology is only part of the solution, though. Educators whowant to help move their school into the Information Age can do somethings at the grass roots level to jump-start the process if it hasnot already begun. First and foremost, the school should have aprofessionally trained, full-time librarian because of his/herphilosophical commitment to the central role books play asinformation and entertainment resources. This person provides theunderpinning for the library's expansion into the area of electronic,high-tech information gathering and use.

Next, a technologyadvocate must work with the librarian on a plan to convert thelibrary into a library media center. If possible, the teacher mightconsider becoming a member of the library team by being appointed asa media specialist or media mentor. This is a critical decision pointbecause it gives a focus to the task and designates a person who willcarry out the plan as it develops.

By working together,the librarian and the media specialist bring unique perspectives tothe task of building the library media center. This new direction andresponsibility help begin the process of turning the library mediacenter into the hub of the school for the Information Age.

Sources ofInformation

Ultimately, alibrary media center will offer teachers and students the service ofconnecting the school to the world of information in the form ofonline access as well as other information sources such as LaserDisc,CD-ROM, DVD, videotape and cable TV. These sources provide access tothousands of educational programs. With a LaserDisc player andbarcode reader, for example, teachers can build lesson plans thatincorporate video images of Martin Luther King making a speech, thespace shuttle blasting off or an infinite number of other relevantreal-world experiences.

Keep in mind thatsetting up a library media center is only half the battle. Workingwith other like-minded and supportive staff and teachers, the mediamentor will need to assess the current state of resources at theschool and develop a plan for expanding the technology available tostudents and teachers. Available funding for technology upgrades isalways tight, which is why support from a principal and/or sitecoordinating committee is essential. Technology purchases usuallyneed to be made in steps, and securing an ongoing budget commitment&emdash; even a very modest one &emdash; from the appropriate entityis obviously critical.

Another method forincreasing technology at a school is by applying for grants. Somegrants are relatively simple to obtain while others are verycompetitive. Release time to attend grant writing workshops and forwriting a grant proposal are low-cost items which can pay long-termdividends: money to finance an initial technology investment. It isoften a good strategy to identify a target group that will seeimmediate benefits from the early technology investments.

Words ofAdvice

Thus, by developingan information center, schools can create a useful, interactiveresource for teachers and their students that brings the "miracles"of society straight into the classroom. The goal is to develop alibrary media center that in fact becomes the "information hub" forthe school. The media center should help transform much of the schoolcurriculum activity away from the confinement of the classroom's fourwalls into a bustling, lively world that can be accessed with a touchof a button.

While creating sucha hub typically d'es not happen overnight &emdash; and d'es nothappen without quality in-service education &emdash; dedication andpatience by teachers and administrators can make it all come tofruition. I know from my own experience as a teacher and mediaspecialist that the process can and d'es work.

William Lambeth isthe media specialist at La Mirada High School in Los Angeles, Calif.,and a Pioneer Mentor.

E-mail:[email protected]

Editor's Note: Formore information on the Pioneer Mentor Program, contact Pioneer NewMedia Technologies, P.O. Box 93131, Long Beach, CA 90809.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.