Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Library as a Digital Learning Space

Highlights from Bridget McCrea's Jan 11, 2012 article: The Library as a Digital Learning Space

A high school in Connecticut is developing and honing a hybrid library that incorporates both traditional books and new digital technologies.

Wanting to develop a media center/library that would go beyond stacks of unused books, dark study corners, and low lighting...Some of the key questions discussed concerned the need for a physical library in the information age, the role that books wouldplay in the new facility, and how media literacy would be taught to students.

A Hybrid Approach

After looking at several options--including one that would eliminate the library's physical space completely--the team decided to use a hybrid concept for the new Simsbury High School library/media center. The 1,500-square-foot facility incorporates both traditional and modern elements. Key features include a spacious entry way, two lounge seating areas, mission-style furnishings, a librarian reference desk that's positioned in a central location on the library floor, twolibrary classroom/computer labs, 30 PCs, and 17,000 physical books.

Maureen Snyder, library media specialist, said books and a physical space almost didn't make it onto the agenda for the new facility. "We toyed with the idea of not having books and developing a more digitized environment," Snyder said. "At one point we even wondered if we needed a physical environment at all for the new library."

The more traditional route won out when the superintendent and staff decided that Simsbury High School's 1,630 students needed somewhere to go to borrow books, load up their e-readers, collaborate on homework assignments, and learn the intricacies of media literacy in today's information-rich world.

Snyder estimated her budget to be $20,000 annually for digital media and $4,000 for print. "I don't allocate a lot towards print because we can get so many books electronically," said Snyder. "Plus, it just doesn't make sense to purchase a lot of high-end reference books when I can access a database that includes those resources." Students retrieve those digital databases on a 24/7 basis at school or at home, according to Snyder, who said most of the library's print content comprises recreational reads, including biographies, fiction, and non-fiction titles.

Snyder said her staff works together with the school's teachers to develop classes that combine educational content with the information literacy component.

"There is so much information out there, but that doesn't mean students know how to use it and evaluate it," said Snyder, who said she sees the marriage of classroom lessons and information literacy as an important asset for today's young learners. "In the past a class would come into the library to learn how to use the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature in isolation," said Snyder. "That's changed. Now we're collaborating with teachers across all subjects on their lesson plans, and we're conducting instruction on research, information, and technology."

Other challenges haven't been so easy to tackle.

With 33 years of experience as a school librarian under her belt, Snyder said getting adults to understand the changing role and "look" of the library is an ongoing battle.
"A lot of people still think of the library as a warehouse where you go to get a book or a magazine," she said. "To deal with it we just strive to be a model for helping people understand that a media center is a lot more than just a place for physical books."

Library Redesign: Lessons Learned

Maureen Snyder offered these five tips to schools looking to overhaul their traditional libraries.

1. Think of the space as a media and learning center as opposed to just a place to house books.
2. Be ready to tweak floor plans, move furniture, and take other steps once the facility is open and in use.
3. Accept the fact that adults will expect the library to look and feel like the one they used in high school and college.
4. Create a space that integrates media and information literacy with classroom lesson plans.
5. Serve as a model for those who may need a little extra "push" when it comes to accepting the new digital role that school
libraries play.

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