Technology Trends

Library 2.0: Enter the Teacher Librarian Enthusiast

What will the new school library look like? In this first installment of our two-part library tech series, we explore the evolution of the school library--and the school librarian--and look to the opportunities that await once some basic challenges are overcome.

This is an exciting time to be a K-12 school librarian. Five years have passed since the Library 2.0 concept was coined in a blog, but only in the last couple years have school libraries fully started to embrace social networking and other 2.0 tools. For the advocates--many of whom are connected by learning networks--the enthusiasm for incorporating new technologies is palpable.

"This is the beginning of a tide that changes everything we know about teaching and learning," said Joyce Valenza, librarian at Springfield Township High School Library in Erdenheim, PA. "If school librarians are information specialists then they have to be users and producers of information in our time."

Changing Libraries
Technology is changing the role of libraries--and the responsibilities of librarians--at schools internationally. Libraries are now expected to provide "information literacy" and a "24/7 digital workspace." The 2009 School Library Journal Summit was called "Librarians as Leaders of 21st Century Learning," and experts in the field talk about the need to move from literacy to "transliteracy," the capability to read, write, and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media.

The American Library Association (ALA) describes the evolving role of the school library media specialist (often referred to as teacher librarians or TLs) as working with both students and teachers to facilitate access to information in a variety of formats. With the help of TLs, students should become "effective users of ideas and information."

Doug Johnson, director of media and technology for Mankato Area Public Schools in Minnesota, said that libraries are now serving a "post-literate" clientele, which he described as a place that provides materials in non-print formats as much--or more--than print materials.

Johnson said that students often prefer getting their information and recreation from non-print sources and that school libraries need to acknowledge this development without bias. From his perspective, the shift away from print material can be viewed positively--as a return to storytelling, debate, and dramatization.

The idea that technological innovation harkens back--in a way--to traditional types of communication may be reassuring to many. It could also be encouraging to librarians (and others) who have a lingering nostalgia for books and the library of just a few years ago.

"There is a brilliant future for libraries," Johnson said. "We are talking about the information age, and this is the realm of libraries and librarians. We need people who can help others use information well."

What Do These Libraries Look Like?
There are several ways to visualize these "new" school libraries. In a virtual sense, a lot of the activity and appeal is online, with resources and activities on Web sites. The focus is on extending physical offerings to the online world and engaging students.

The Core newsletter gives links to impressive school library Web sites, noting links to audio reviews of books on order, YouTube presentations, use of LibraryThing, and design to create interest and welcome students. Even with very different designs, the sites have some key similarities--they are kept current and offer clear features to quickly engage students.

Valenza has put an extensive amount of information and resources on the Springfield Township High School Library Web site, which is designed to look modern and teen friendly. Students can read Valenza's current events page (Pageflakes), suggest new material (Google Spreadsheets), review databases (many options available), look at online lessons from teachers, view library photos (Flickr), and visit other Wiki pages about 2.0 tools, avatars, and more.

"Librarians are a place to get stuff and also to make stuff," Valenza said. "What's important is how we get information to create knowledge."

In the physical sense, the idea of "Learning Commons" has been catching on in the last couple years. These are public spaces at schools where no one is expected to whisper. In a frequently cited example, the Chelmsford High School Learning Commons in Chelmsford, MA, students describe a Barnes & Noble-like atmosphere. With the Learning Commons approach, students are considered the client, and discussion centers around how best to serve them.

Learning commons turn everything client-side both in the physical and virtual, said David Loertscher, a professor of library and information science at San Jose State University in San Jose, CA, and an author of the book The New Learning Commons Where Learners Win! Reinventing School Libraries and Computer Labs.

"It is a place where everyone is building, constructing, creating, thinking, and working together," he said. "It is not an 'if we build it, they will come'; rather, it is a place where 'if they build it, they will use it.'"

As enthusiastic as technology-savvy TLs may be, there are still significant challenges for many librarians who want to incorporate social media and other new technologies in their school libraries or to transform the physical environment.

Although focus on technology in schools has increased, including the recent release of the draft National Educational Technology Plan, school library budgets have been cut, and staff size has been decreasing. More than 90 percent of United States public schools have libraries, according to federal statistics cited in the New York Times, but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians.

The American Association of School Librarians reported that the role of school libraries is growing only modestly. In a 2009 survey of school library media programs, the group found that a majority of schools received less funding for information resources in 2009, compared to 2008. In addition, investment into networked computers with library access had slowed.

Also, it is not uncommon for school districts to block Web sites, particularly social networking sites that might also be used for library or classroom activity. In some cases, it's an all-or-nothing approach--and teachers and librarians cannot get exemptions.

In Valenza's opinion, there are ways around all of these challenges. First, librarians should reconsider priorities. "You can drop some of the things you think are more traditional--you don't have to do inventory every year, you don't have to make sure books are straight," she said. "That's not impactful."

If the school or district blocks Web sites, librarians can protest. "If someone took a book from the shelf, that librarian would put up a fight," she said. "This is an intellectual freedom issue."

Show school administrators the value of using the sites, Valenza said, and do not take no for an answer.

It does not help schools or librarians that social networking sites are referred to as such, said Doug Johnson. He proposed "educational networking" as a more accurate way to describe legitimate use of these tools in schools and libraries.

Positive Development
Although improved budgets would help, the passage of time and mainstreaming of new technologies also will make jobs easier for many TLs.

The increasing incorporation of technology throughout schools is helping many librarians, said Beverley Crane, author of Using Web 2.0 Tools in the K-12 Classroom. A few years ago, the library was the only place to use computers and technology unless there was a computer lab. Librarians were the people who had to learn the technology--and quickly.

"They went to the conferences, listened to presentations and gained new ideas," Crane said. "Then they would come back to their jobs with little or no time to implement a lot of these things."

Now, in 2010, TLs can find increasing numbers of partners to help implement new technologies and incorporate new types of research into classroom activities. Library 2.0 is increasingly focusing on collaboration with teachers rather than advocacy and attempts to find extra hours in the day.

Part 2 in this series will focus on Library 2.0 tips from TL enthusiasts and advocates.