The library should be the most vibrant space in a school. This should come as no surprise. Being a half-time librarian, I spend half of my day in the library. Unfortunately, I have also been putting in about half as much effort as I should be into the library. I’m trying to change that.Our library is small. There are about eight tables, each seating four, in the middle of a triangular room walled with glass. There are books along the walls, disorganized and crudely shelved. We have a class set of Chromebooks locked away in the library office that only come out during class. There is one printer, but only teachers can send files to it. We also have a SMART Board, but we can’t use the interactive features because of a few technical issues.
It’d be easy to continue to list the ways in which our library is lacking. It’s much harder to see all of the potential that can be unleashed in that fish bowl.
In September, we, my partner-librarian and I, put in a request to get 20 more Chromebooks, which brought us up to the current full-class set. What this has allowed us to do is teach media using computers. The students don’t have to share a computer to get their work done. They can now collaborate with each other through G Suite apps.
Having students use computers regularly has exposed gaps in their digital literacy. As we work through various assignments, it becomes clearer that the students are still learning how to use computers properly. Even typing is a skill that most of them have yet to develop. More importantly, they don’t yet have the necessary experience to use an effective workflow. Many of the students expect the computer to inform them about what they need to do next, like a game or an app. Making students active creators of content, rather than passive users, is something we need to work on.
This January, we’ve attempted to make the library a better used space. We’ve put up a sign up schedule for teachers who could use the library during periods when it is empty. While only a few have done so, the library is busier throughout the day. We’ve also kept the library open for an hour after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Staying after school for an hour doesn’t really change how long our days are. We are usually there for at least that long after school, anyway. What’s changed is that we now have a chance to interact with and support students in a more casual environment. In the last few weeks we’ve seen students shelve books, socialize, make and display posters about the library hours, complete homework, have a dance party, and, perhaps most surprisingly, open and clean the printer.
What the students are really doing is owning the library as their space. Us teachers are really only there to supervise and provide students with the opportunity and materials to complete a task that they have self-selected. There are no requirements during those hours; the students are free to do what they like, coming and going as they please.
As the year progresses, my hope is that the library will continue to be better utilized. We will have to assess the effectiveness and value of the attempts we’ve made, while also taking risks with new ideas. Having a small library doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot of potential. What it means is that we have a lot of room for growth.