Looking @ 5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 2 – Content Literacy

Looking @ 5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 2-Content/Disciplinary Literacy - In our modern world students need to understand and be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies, and School Librarians need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit. In Part 2 we look at Library Lessons that help build the Content/Disciplinary Literacy that students need to be successful with current and future coursework.In our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write. Students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies that are important in our global society:

  • Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  • Content/Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
  • Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
  • Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
  • Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

As School Librarians we need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, so I’m addressing each of these literacies in a separate blog post to offer examples/suggestions about how we might do that. The Part 1 blog post covered reading, so this post looks at Content/Disciplinary Literacy.

We need to take this literacy beyond structurally analyzing text to read better in different subject classrooms. Disciplinary Literacy means students can think like a scientist, or a mathematician, or an historian, or a musician, or an artist! School Librarians are in a unique position to construct such lessons that infuse reading, writing, thinking, and communication skills specific to each discipline’s vocabulary, concepts, and methods.

Integrating Content/Disciplinary Literacy

When I simplified my Library Orientations with ELA classes to focus solely on reading, I actually created opportunities for other subject-area Library Lessons so students would learn library skills in context and be more likely to remember and apply what they learn. When subject-area teachers see value in a Library Lesson, they provide time for more lessons as the year progresses, and they share the positive experience with others, who are motivated to collaborate with us.

Dewey Decimal Numbers with Math Classes

If my listservs are any indication, School Librarians often struggle with how to present Dewey Classification in a meaningful way. We rarely have a reason to invite Math classes to the library, and Dewey Numbers give them a curricular reason to visit, especially with a hands-on activity that practices identifying and using numbers & decimals. Students wonder why they’ve come to the library with their Math class—it’s new and different so they’re excited! Math teachers like a fun, non-graded review where they can see which students are having trouble with decimals, and, in my school, they come to me to ask when they can bring their classes in!

My middle school Dewey Lessons activate prior knowledge of decimals in order to prepare students for their Math decimal unit, while also teaching how decimals are used in the library. They perform Dewey Number location activities, because that is what is most important about DDC—teaching students how to USE it, not remember it.

  • My 6g Dewey Lesson reviews recognizing decimal number place values and sequencing decimals, to prepare students for learning to add and subtract decimals. I tell students that when we get a new book in the library, we ask, “What is this book about?” and the answer determines the Dewey number we assign to the book. We review how each place of a decimal number has a certain value—hundreds, tens, ones, tenths, hundredths, thousandths.Place value slide for a Math Dewey Lesson Likewise in the library, each place has a value: a subject or topic of knowledge. As we move from left to right, each number denotes a more specific sub-topic of the one before it.
  • My 7g Dewey Lesson reviews adding and subtracting decimals to prepare students for learning to multiply and divide decimals. This lesson does take some preparation, but it’s worth it to see students scurrying around the library to locate particular Dewey-number books and having a wonderful time—in a Math class!
  • Even elementary students who have not learned decimals can put numbers in order:
    • Create a set of picture cards that match those on Dewey shelf signs and put a corresponding Dewey number on the back, especially those that are only 3 digits. Distribute them on tables and have students pick a favorite Subject from their table, then use the number on the back to find a book on the shelf with that number.
    • To help students understand that there are two parts to a Dewey number, create one color of cards with 3 numbers and another dolor of cards with a big dot & 1 or 2 numbers to the right of the dot. They can learn that each part is in separate numerical order, and that’s how you find the numbers. Students pair the cards, then find the Dewey Number on the shelf.

Because my simplified Dewey Lessons focus only on locating Dewey numbers, students grasp that Dewey numbers listed next to search results in the online catalog tell them exactly where to locate the book on the shelf. I incorporate Subject searching the online catalog into Content-area lessons where it is more pertinent and better remembered.

Dewey Subject Organization with Content-area Classes

Incorporating Dewey Subjects (and their numbers) with Content-area classes is so much better than a standalone Dewey lesson because the information is relevant and better remembered. For example, when Science classes study the organization and classification of living organisms, my Library Lesson shows how Dewey numbers follow that same disciplinary structure. Students are able to make visible associations between the Science content and the Dewey bookshelf organization which reinforces their learning in the discipline’s content and of Library Skills. I wrote about this lesson in an earlier blog post, and also about how Geography and Dewey organization of the 900s countries is another subject lesson opportunity.

Online Databases with Social Studies/Science Classes

My listservs also have repeated lesson requests for teaching online subscription database services. Such lessons only have value when they are integrated into classroom subject activities. Early in the school year I use WebQuests with Science and Social Studies classes to introduce an online encyclopedia and 2 other databases that have the specific resources students need to complete their projects. During later lessons students learn additional features and new databases relevant to their immediate needs.

Year-long project for Social Studies World Cultures Classes

Click to enlarge

I developed an ongoing lesson with World Cultures classes to help students think like economic analysts. I introduce a particular online service from which students choose demographic statistics of 3-5 countries related to their unit and record them on a digital spreadsheet. Students then learn to create a graph from the spreadsheet comparing one demographic across countries. For each new unit students add new countries & statistics to the spreadsheets and I teach them a new kind of graph. (This is also great technology integration for spreadsheets.) By spacing these lessons throughout the school year students are developing content literacy in Social Studies.

The culmination of this long-term lesson is an authentic activity: students act as “members” of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (www.un.org/ecosoc/), whose goal is to “conduct cutting-edge analysis, agree on global norms, and advocate for…solutions” to advance sustainable development. During the library visit, students analyze their spreadsheets and create new graphs for a presentation on why their country should be chosen as most in need of development by the U.N. At the end of presentations, student “members” vote on which country the organization will support. This culminating activity further develops disciplinary thinking along with critical thinking and cooperative learning skills.

I developed a similar lesson with Science classes who visit our Outdoor Learning Center to conduct various science analyses, and during the library visit they participate in a “Science Symposium” to analyze the environmental impact of building a factory on empty land adjoining the OLC property. Both of these Library Lessons help build the Disciplinary Literacy that students need to be successful with current and future coursework.

Disciplinary Literacy and Research Projects

We revised a dull Immigration research/slide presentation and the typical ELA personal narrative into an authentic interdisciplinary project so students could learn the history of themselves the same way they learn the history of our State. “My Texas Heritage—How & Why I’m in Texas” gives students a sense of identity (important for middle schoolers) and provides a personal understanding of conceptual factors that have brought people into the state.

As the School Librarian I teach research skills with a variety of primary and secondary sources, both in print and online—biographies, speeches, letters, diaries, songs, and artwork. In ELA they learn how to interview family members in person and through written requests. In Social Studies they learn to discern similarities and differences between historical events and the lives of their own family.

Texas Visual History clippingConcise, well-written student webpages share information with family members, especially those out-of-state, forcing students to thoroughly think through and edit responses to their research questions. Students with common events in their background group together for mock newscasts of “eyewitness” accounts, and discern that historical “truths” often depend on one’s point of view—a valuable lesson for studying history. This project develops multiple disciplinary literacies as students learn to think like historians, journalists and authors, and newscasters.

Know the Curriculum!

It is apparent to me that the only way we School Librarians can integrate Content/Disciplinary Literacy into our Library Lessons is to become very familiar with the curriculum taught by our teachers. When we take to them a lesson plan that fully incorporates what they are doing in their classroom, they will be more willing to collaborate with us, knowing that the library visit is not only essential for learning the Subject-area’s content, but also for helping students learn to think according to that Discipline.

This is the second entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

Looking Back @ 2 Library Lessons for Your Weeded Fiction Books

Looking Back @ 2 Library Lessons for Your Weeded Fiction Books - Every year I weed a hundred or so low-circulation books from my Fiction area, but I'm never really sure they deserve to be discarded. Even books that have deteriorated or are damaged scream "Save me!" Does the School Librarian in you cringe at the idea of throwing away books? Then here's 2 Library Lessons that involve students in meaningful and authentic activities while giving new life to those "trash" books.I often weed deteriorated or damaged books throughout the library as I shelve returned books, and once a year I weed our Fiction area for outdated or low circulation books. By February or March I’ve accumulated quite a few weeded books. The reader in me hesitates to simply trash these books, so I have a couple of Library Lessons that use weeded Fiction books for a meaningful student activity before discarding them.

Read It or Reject It / Keep It or Trash It

I want to give my students another chance to examine non-circulating Fiction books to see if they just need a bit of “promotion” for students to check them out, so I created this 2-visit Library Lesson for 7th grade Language Arts classes. The scenario is that students become Literary Agents to give them an insight into the world of literary book publishing…and to help me decide about those weeded books!

Read It or Reject It - A NoSweat Library Lesson for Weeded BooksThe first visit is called “Read It or Reject It.” I explain that Literary Agents use abbreviated book proposals to decide if they want an author to submit a manuscript to be read for publication as a book. Students act as Literary Agents by using the criteria on a worksheet to discuss 4 different books at their table. After 5-7 minutes, students rotate to a different table and repeat the process. The worksheet allows for students to visit 2 different tables to review 8 different books. (My tables seat 4 students each, so I use 4 books. If your tables seat more, you can add more books.)

At the end of the activity, my student Literary Agents choose one book ‘manuscript’ from a table to check out and read—it can be one they discussed or a different one. (They can also choose a book from the regular Fiction shelves instead.) The worksheet is turned in to the teacher for a daily grade and students receive a “Book Response” bookmark at checkout to take notes during reading. Seventh graders especially enjoy moving around, talking, and deciding if a book is “good enough to read.” By the end of a full day of class visits, I know that any weeded books left on tables are completely uninspiring and certainly need to be discarded.

Two weeks later, students return for “Loved It or Loathed It – Keep It or Trash It.” First I check in all the books, but give them back to students and have them return to their tables. I explain that students who “loved” their book and believe it’s a “keeper” will use their “Book Response” bookmark to “sell” their book to a publisher. They choose one of 3 options that will encourage other students to read the book:

  1. Write an inviting book “blurb” on ¼ piece of letter-size color paper I’ve cut for the activity, tape it on the front of the book, then put the book on a display rack in its proper bookshelf location in the Fiction area.
  2. Create a ‘magazine’ book review with illustration on letter-sized paper to display on the library bulletin board.
  3. Create a new illustrated book cover on legal-sized paper using color pencils or markers. I show them how they can remove the old book cover and put the new one inside a mylar protector and attach it to the book.

Students who chose a regularly circulating book instead of a weeded one can choose option 1 or 2, but not 3.

For students who “loathed” their weeded books and decide they are “trashers”, I have them tear out the inside page with the barcode, then show them how to remove the book’s paper and mylar covers and place the book in a Discard box I’ve provided. These students also do the same wtih all the weeded books that weren’t chosen during the first library visit, which saves me from having to spend time doing that. It seems 7th graders are quite gleeful about helping to discard “yucky” books, and since I was getting rid of weeded books, it doesn’t matter how many they trash or how many they want to keep. At the next opportunity I scan the removed barcode pages as “Discards” in the library circulation system.

If you would like to try this activity with your middle school students, you can find my “Read It or Reject It – No Sweat Weeded Books Library Lesson” in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

Blackout Poetry

Blue on black by Jeremy Atkinson on Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/cloppy/17184820970

Blue on black by Jeremy Atkinson on Flickr

I learned about Blackout Poetry through my library listservs, and it’s a perfect activity for using deteriorated/damaged books or weeded books slated for deletion/discard. Students only need 1 or 2 pages to create their “blackout” poem, so tearing apart a book that’s damaged or will be trashed turns a negative into a positive—recycling at its best! I make sure students understand at the start that we’re only using books that are already damaged or that will be thrown away, so they don’t get the idea that we can just remove pages from any book we want to!

I find that Blackout Poetry works best with 8th grade students. Typically, 6th graders are still developing an understanding of poetry and need significant scaffolding & guidance for their work products; 7th graders, too, need more exposure to different forms of poetry, and they still have trouble creating a whole from disparate parts in that genre. 8th graders are not only more experienced with the poetry genre, but they also have a greater capacity to envision a poetic “story” from a page of text and are especially adept at evoking the emotional power that a poem can convey. Yes, I know teachers and librarians have done blackout poetry with as young as 2nd grade…I’m just saying that in my experience the students who have gotten the most out of this activity are students with enough wherewithal to make it a truly rewarding experience.

So, what is Blackout Poetry? Here’s the simplest explanation from Sue Olsen, whose beautiful Blackout Poetry appears on her website SuZen Art:

Find an old book, choose a page, select words from the page that reflect your feelings, ideas and thoughts. Blackout all the other words on the page. Use your imagination to find new and exciting ways to blackout the other words.

Here are Blackout Poetry Lesson webpages that will inspire your lessons:

Final Thoughts

I must admit I heard of one more use for weeded books from an elementary librarian—she cuts the pages into strips to use as bookmarks. Her students love them and it saves her spending a lot of money on commercial bookmarks! Not sure how that would work with the mostly-text pages of middle school fiction books, but maybe it could be a really fun and challenging lesson to have students create blackout poetry with a 2″ strip cut from a page!

Looking @ 5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 1 – Reading

Looking @ 5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 1 - Reading - In our modern world students need to understand and be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies, and School Librarians need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit. In Part 1 we'll look at incorporating Reading--the original literacy--into library visits.I believe our only purpose as a school librarian is to educate our youth. We succeed when we put student needs first, and, as I’ve mentioned before, what students need and deserve from us is short, simple lessons that support classroom learning and inculcate the multiple literacies that are so important in our global society.

Literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write, so for every class visit to the library we need to integrate at least one Library Literacy component with the classroom topic of study. In our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, students need to understand and be proficient in these Five Essential Literacies:

  • Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  • Disciplinary/Content-area Literacy (thinking specific to a discipline)
  • Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
  • Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
  • Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

I want to address each of these literacies in a separate blog post and offer examples/suggestions about how School Librarians might incorporate each one into lessons. With this post I begin with what is still considered the most important literacy in our modern world: reading with the associated ability to write.

Reading Literacy

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in ~70 countries. In their Program for International Student Assessment Report of 2003 they state:

The single most important predictor of academic success is the amount of time students spent reading, and this is a more accurate indicator than economic or social status. Time spent reading was highly correlated to success in math and science. The keys to success lie in teaching students how to read and then have them read as much as they can.

Their 2009 PISA report refines this by stating:

Having a deep understanding of reading strategies, and using those strategies, are even stronger predictors of reading performance than whether students read widely for pleasure.

Clearly the ability to read with discernment is the key to success in school, as well as the key to all other literacies. How might we, as librarians, make reading a key objective in our library program? From kindergarten through high school, teachers bring their students to our libraries to check out books. Those visits need to be more than just a quick in-and-out bustle of grabbing a book, checking it out, and returning to the classroom. We need to help students develop a true appreciation for the value of reading.

Notice I said “appreciation for the value of reading,” not ‘a love of reading’. To ‘love reading’ is a hobby, just like stamp collecting or building model planes, and we can no more teach a love of reading than we can a love of any other hobby. What we can do is expose students to a wide variety of books on many topics so some will come to love reading, and some who love crafts or sports or whatever will choose books on those topics so they can learn more, and that is the true goal—helping students see that reading can bring them the information they need to build the knowledge and understanding they need!

Integrating Reading Literacy

Our goal as a School Librarian must be to give students the time they need to find something they want to read and then give them more time to actually begin reading and make sure it’s what they want to read. My 4th year as a School Librarian I convinced my English/Language Arts teachers to begin the year with a Library Orientation focused entirely on reading, gave students plenty of time to find a book, and then had silent sustained reading time till the end of the period (we called it DEAR: Drop Everything And Read).

Allowing students plenty of time to choose a book and then giving them the time to begin reading their book allows them to become immersed in the story—they stick with it, they finish it faster, and they want to begin another book. My ELA teachers decided to schedule library visits every other week for the entire school year, with the same procedure: short lesson→long book browse→longer silent reading. We continued this each year thereafter. The biggest benefit to recurring free reading time was that our yearly State Reading Test scores moved steadily upward and remained above state averages, including sub-populations!

Interestingly, one year we followed a district directive for ELA classes to have 5-10 minutes of daily reading (a gross misinterpretation of Donalyn Miller’s Book Whisperer). Our library visits deteriorated because students became restless during long-term reading. At the end of the year our State Reading Test scores plummeted. The ELA teachers and I knew the reason for this, and the next year we went right back to DEAR time for the whole period—every other week at the library visit and in class on the off week. Not surprisingly, our scores once again rose. This convinced us of the importance of allowing students to have prolonged sustained silent reading.  (Every week for elementary, every other week for middle school, and every 3 weeks for high school seems to work best)

3 Practices to Promote Reading

it is for me appDuring Book Browse in our middle school students use my “IT IS FOR ME” mnemonic checklist—introduced during the Library Orientation visit—to find a book. The 6g ELA teachers require it as an exit ticket for each library visit (even use it for browsing their classroom libraries). The 7g teachers use it at the start of the year, then intermittently as students begin using the procedure automatically. By 8th grade, returning students are proficient, so teachers focus on establishing the process with newly enrolled students, who quickly adopt it.

During silent reading I follow a quiet checkout procedure: I begin on one side of the library and invite students at 2 or 3 tables, depending on numbers, to check out. They line up single file at the circulation desk, continue to read as the line moves up, and after I check out their book they return to their seat. When each group is done, I quietly go over and invite 2 or 3 more tables for checkout. It’s an orderly process with only 8-10 students checking out at a time, and it takes maybe 10 minutes for an entire class, less than 20 minutes for a double class. (If students talk while in line, I send them back to their tables to check out after everyone else; they rarely do it again.)

My 3rd year as School Librarian I made the decision to eliminate overdue fines. I wrote about this in an earlier blog post, but basically my reasoning is that fines discourage or even prevent students from reading, and we must never refuse to let a child read! In addition, collecting fines is time-consuming work for us with little benefit, and we can’t continue to use overdue fines as an excuse to “raise money for the library”—there are more positive ways to do that.

I’ve already written about other ways to promote Reading Literacy, and I encourage you to check these out if you haven’t seen them before:

Looking Back @ Organizing Fiction by Subjects

Looking Back @ Supporting Reading in Social Studies

Looking Back @ a ‘Love’ for Reading

Looking Back @ Books: Read Alouds & Free Reading

This is the first entry in my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

Looking Forward: Does a 21st-Century School Need a Library?

Looking Forward: Does a 21st Century School Need a Library? - Certainly a high-tech modern school doesn't need the kind of library that has been the norm for the past 50 years because the world we live in now has much different needs for educating our students. But a School Library with a certified School Librarian is critical for meeting the needs of today's youth. Ten years ago the controversy about high-tech schools not needing a library became the hot education issue. If recent LM_NET posts are any indication, the debate continues, along with assorted arguments about size, configurations, furniture, and print vs. digital collections. To my mind, the key issue has not changed—What do the students in this school need? That should be the primary consideration, whether elementary, middle school, or high school. Reflecting on my years as the surrogate librarian (while teaching in an at-risk alternative high school) through my years as a certified Middle School Librarian, brings to mind conflicts about what would be best for students and their School Library.

School as Library

My first battle was in the alternative school: I wanted to disperse the several-hundred books housed in the very small, never-used “library” to the classrooms where students could finally use them. Concerns about how to keep track of where the books were and how to check them out were met with my response that students would only use books in the classroom, and the computerized library circulation system had a field for location of small collections. I followed through on my plan; the teachers and students were thrilled, and the books were used constantly. We called it “School As Library.” Alas, two years after I left to become a middle school librarian, the library director had all the books put back in the “library”—to the chagrin of faculty and kids—and they once again faded into obscurity.

Wisdom is about asking the right questions.Interestingly, it seems School as Library may become the next “hot” topic. In a recent LM_NET discussion, an elementary School Librarian, on a committee to plan for new and renovated libraries, wrote ” We are being told that the future of libraries is to reduce the space of the actual library and have books in mini satellite stations around the school. We are also being told that book cases should all be on wheels so the collection is more portable.” She asked for input, and among the responses were:

  • Satellite stations of books cuts off access to students. The library of the future is the Learning Commons which doesn’t involve reducing library space or moving books outside of the library.
  • Mobile book shelves create spaces within the library for different reasons. Mobile tables and chairs serve the same purpose. Have satellite/collaboration stations within certain areas of the campus, but not have shelving for check outs.

The post prompted contributions about problems with new library design:

  • A brand new building was not given enough book shelves, so they’ve been forced to use portable round wire racks.
  • In a new high school building the shelves are too short. There are huge display cabinets with glass shelves, but shelves for books would have been much more useful.
  • Architects ignored the need for a certain amount of linear feet of shelving and that library shelving comes in three-foot-wide sections. They drew less furniture “so it looks open and spacious” ignoring the need to accommodate certain class sizes in different seating areas.
  • The architect couldn’t grasp that a section of the checkout area needed to be lower for patrons in wheelchairs.
  • Electrical outlets were mounted at floor level instead of high enough to be useful for charging stations.

Barbara Braxton, a retired School Librarian in Australia (and one of my gurus) had this to say:

School Library Design: If we are not invited to contribute, we have to speak up anyway. If we want the best for our students, being silent is not an option.Certainly the concept of libraries as having more flexible spaces is a driving force in design and the tale of architects not consulting those who use them is common. Don’t assume that administrators, let alone architects, have any idea about best practice in 21st century libraries—we are the experts and we need to tell them. (edited for brevity)

The consensus was to campaign for an architect/designer who has experience designing libraries; identify the essentials and why, particularly for work safety, work flow, and user access; measure and do a floor plan; and keep standing your ground – it pays off in the end.

I am bewildered by elementary libraries with 7-foot high shelving and high school libraries with 3-foot high shelving. I’ve suggested to elementary librarians complaining about lack of shelf space, to put teacher materials on the top shelves above the associated Dewey numbers of student books (to have all topical materials together) and thus open up more lower shelves for the itty-bitties to access. And while some high school librarians like their shorter mobile shelves (which are extremely heavy when loaded with books), for those who don’t I suggest they remove wheels from some of the bookcases and stack one atop another in a permanent location, attaching flat brackets to secure them together.

I had plenty of 5-foot high bookcases in my middle school and it was the perfect height for my students. I didn’t load the bottom shelves with books, but rather added extra slanted shelves to display new arrivals or thematic reads. This drew students attention down so they would also notice books on the shelf below waist height.Slanted shelves added to bottom shelf of bookcases to display new arrivals or thematic books.

Print vs. Digital, Physical vs. Online

My first squabble as a middle school librarian was about purchasing online subscription reference databases. At the time, the 2-yr-old middle school was a prototype high-tech school with a 1-to-3 computer-to-student ratio. With a small beginning-print collection, it was hard to meet student research needs so the advantage for online access should have been a consideration, but because I hadn’t reached the state-recommended books-per-student ratio, I was told I could purchase only print books with district library funds. Fortunately my principal had been involved in the design of the school as a model of technology, and he saw the absurdity of using old-school standards for a modern, high-tech school, so he provided extra funds for online services that would support our curriculum.

I remember the “What will they do when they get to college?” argument to justify print resources, but even then most colleges and universities were online-resource rich—I did nearly all of my graduate work online. Online resources are simply faster and cheaper to update. (Back in 2007 a major encyclopedia publisher ceased its print version in favor of online-only.) Of course we still try to convince students that ‘not everything is on the Internet’, but as the number and variety of online subscription database services has multiplied, the argument of “It’s faster to find information in a good reference book than on the Internet.” has vanished and students now need to be more proficient at choosing & using online services than print resources.

As an avid Star Trekkie, I don’t remember seeing a print reference resource on any TV shows or movies. There were incidents where books were read and appreciated, but for reference they always used “Computer.” In the original’s “Court Martial” episode, the law books Cogley piled up in Kirk’s quarters seemed to glorify books over computers, but it was the dilution & homogenization of information put on the computer that was criticized—much as we lament the poor quality of information on the Internet/WWW. And at the end of that episode, it’s still the skillful use of the computer as a reference resource—not Cogley’s books—that finds the real culprit. (I wonder: if Lexis-Nexis had been digitized back then, would Spock have convinced Cogley that it was far easier to search L-N for information than to wade through his hundreds of books?)

Most School Librarians have drastically reduced their print reference materials in favor of online subscription resources. The struggle now is training teachers to accept and assign our online subscription services and topical e-books instead of print. A corporate boss isn’t likely to say, “Joe, we need you to compile some information for the annual report, and we want you to use an encyclopedia, a book, and a newspaper, but only one website,” yet teachers persist in giving these kinds of directions for assignments, or in the supreme case of laxity, just let students search for and submit information from any site on the Internet.

As students go from elementary to middle school to high school, leisure reading declines due to increased academic demands, so the Fiction section of a high-tech secondary School Library might be smaller. Purchasing lower-cost paperbacks can keep it current and inviting. Using e-readers, tablets, or smartphones for reading is now a popular strategy for many secondary schools, although some students say they prefer ‘a real book.’ That tired old refrain about the difficulty of “curling up with a good computer” persists.

To Have or Not to Have … a School Library

In a podcast many years ago, David Warlick said students need a place to go in order to find, synthesize, and produce information, and the School Library is the logical place for an Information Production Center. He admonishes that students must have the opportunity to develop as effective communicators in print, video, audio, and digital formats, or their “voices” will simply not be heard. Now THAT is a powerful argument for having a School Library—to have no such place in a school would be irresponsible.

I continue to believe that curriculum needs and student demographics ought to determine a School Library’s resources. We need to make strong assertions about providing students with information from a variety of high-quality resources, about needing to teach Information Literacy Skills for any kind of assignment, and about the one person in the school who can bring curriculum, technology, and communication together: a certified Teacher-Librarian.

Does a 21st-century high-tech school need a library? Certainly a modern school doesn’t need the kind of library that has been the norm for the past 50 years because the world we live in now has much different needs for educating our students. But a School Library with a certified School Librarian is critical for meeting the needs of today’s youth.