School Libraries

Building a Library in the Clouds

Doug Johnson, director of media and technology for the Mankato Area Public Schools, recently spoke at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference on the subject of "School Libraries and Cloud Computing: Roles and Possibilities." He spoke to T.H.E. Journal shortly thereafter.

Doug Johnson is the director of media and technology for the Mankato Area Public Schools (MN). He is also the author of six books, a columnist for Library Media Connection, a blogger whose Blue Skunk Blog receives more than 50,000 visits a month, a former teacher, and an advocate for school librarians.

In his most recent book, "School Libraries Head for the Edge: Rants, Recommendations, and Reflections," he points out that school librarians are in a position to lead their colleagues throughout education into a new world. "We can model a shift to a paperless, social, ubiquitous learning environment where doing stuff takes precedence over learning how to do stuff," Johnson said. "If we don't, who will?"

Johnson recently spoke at the American Association of School Librarians National Conference on the subject of "School Libraries and Cloud Computing: Roles and Possibilities." Shortly after, he spoke to T.H.E. Journal about cloud computing's potential for the school library and beyond.

T.H.E. Journal Executive Editor Michael Hart: You recently spoke about cloud computing in the school library for the American Association of School Librarians. Is cloud computing a fairly new topic for a lot of school librarians?

Doug Johnson: I think the term is more new than the concept. One activity at library presentations I do is to ask everyone to stand. I then list a variety of cloud-based tools--GoogleDocs, online e-mail services, Flickr,, etc.--asking people to sit if they've used them. No one is ever left standing. What is relatively new and unfamiliar may be thinking of library circ/cat systems as cloud-based or library e-book collections.
Hart: Once you're done with your presentations for librarians, what kind of response do you usually get?

Johnson: Well, no sharp objects are thrown. I always urge librarians to take a lead role when implementing cloud-based applications in their schools. I mostly hear that librarians would like to do more with externally hosted tools, but technology directors are reluctant to give up control. I don't hear any downside expressed.
Hart: How can cloud computing make life easier for the school librarian and improve the library experience for students?
Johnson: We have found that having a hosted library system ensures more timely and accurate updates for the software. Librarians have also been taking major advantages of GoogleApps for Education and other cloud-based productivity tools. It's convenient when the only tool that needs to be working on a library computer is a web browser. Students are happier because they can more easily work on assignments without worrying about having the right software at home or getting it back and forth from school.

One emerging "cloud" application that libraries are using is the web-hosted e-book or e-book collection. Either free, like Project Gutenberg and the International Children's Digital Library, or paid, like TumbleBooks or Overdrive, the library collection is becoming cloud-based, adding resources to what is available locally.

Hart: Budgets and cost-cutting are things everyone in K-12 education has to worry about. How can cloud computing help the school librarian in that area?

Johnson: This question goes more to general cost savings in technology infrastructure than specifically to the library. Libraries that use a consortium for hosting their circ/cat systems can save on local hardware and maintenance/support costs and can often get a better price for software purchase and support through consortium purchasing.

Hart: What can a librarian who is just learning about cloud computing do to get started?
Johnson: Read my Blue Skunk blog. Try Dropbox, web-based e-mail, and other cloud-based applications and storage sites personally to learn how empowering they can be.

Hart: As you know, for better or worse, many schools have policies that limit the use of student-owned devices. Is that a deal breaker when it comes to the implementation of cloud computing in the library?

Johnson: Computer access--whether on a school lab machine or a student's smart phone--is needed whether an application is hosted locally or in the cloud. What may be a bigger deal breaker is the adequacy and reliability of the school's connection to the Internet since, without that, cloud-based services can either not be accessed or are frustratingly slow.

Still, were a library to make a major investment in providing digital books, a BYOD project done right would certainly help make those titles accessible to more students.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.