I’m more convinced than ever about the power of libraries; school libraries in my case, IF, they are allowed to be nurtured like a garden. Like a vegetable garden, the produce needs a dedicated farmer, great soil, and a staff of field workers. It needs nutrients, tending, and lucky weather conditions. A school library needs all these elements too. In fact, I believe a great classroom has the same dynamic but a cross-curricular, openly public place like a library has some unique horticultural challenges.
It’s been a vacation break and another rotation of students has enrolled in our school since I’ve blogged about a school ‘ learning commons’ here or on the BCTLA NING. I’ve not just thought about the topics( I never stop thinking about our blessed library (I’m getting therapy honest ) but I’ve also experienced some changes in this short time. Our students and staff evolve. The body politic changes. The leadership and curricula changes. New initiatives and new people pop into our realm. Some bad, sad and some exciting and fresh. This current class of kids at Kelowna Secondary School is blowing my mind. Just this Friday at 4:30! A young lady was challenging me to find a new book for the weekend- her last read was Ann Rand, the Fountainhead! Quite the brief chat we had. Despite some very sad news ( my beloved TL partner Sharon is off fighting cancer ) the kids are pushing me into service points I’ve only dreamed of for years. Just when you think you hit a wall, something blooms.
Students are demanding to know more about authors like Sherman Alexi, Atwood, Marquez! I think it is a combination of things, including some great new teaching but there is an appetite for intellectual content and not just fluff. Smart kids are tired of pop BS. They are inquisitive more than ever and they are seeing their library as a destination and opportunity. That is unbelievable for this old goat who was getting a tad cynical. They are also overwhelming asking for books and not ebooks. They are however increasing keen to learn how to reach our resources via their devices. Seniors ( and their parents even) are now responding to our message about databases and citation tools and empowering inquiry. I’m in shock really. The transition has not been gradual but feels abrupt. I’m sure our constant grinding away has some role but there now is ripe ground for a learning commons model that preaches rigour with creativity. Don’t get bogged down about furniture or coffee or labels. Assess what your influential message is. How do your staff and students see you?
I’ve tried to make a few changes that could strengthen our model of delivery? Not sure, but here is a few. I acquired some new furniture. Why? to add serice. A cafe tablke and stolls in the hall outside the library. Kids loving it so far. I’ve renamed and labelled our working areas by Canadian authors. I was sick of teaching people where north was- so enter Margaret Atwood, Farley Mowat, Joseph Boyden, Richard Wagamese, Marshall McLuhan, W.O. Mitchell. Maybe next year, I”l change names? Don’t know? So far so good. It’s created some eyes brows but conversations, if nothing else. I’ve added stools around a round table with desktop computers and removed my OPAC computers to increase more student workstation space. I’ve added more desks and chairs( as study carrels ) on the end of my stacks. I’ve added two round tables behind two new teacher desk in each commons area to squish four more free seats for working students even if a class is booked in. We have eliminated (weeded and reintegrated ) our REF section to make more shelf space for displays. Many are now digital anyway. I’ve added 2 new book displays rather than a list. My own picks- fiction and non-fiction because students now ask me about the titles and it generates discussions and a visual target. I’ve added a couple small white boards for kids to write on- book recommendations… I’ve started to email and TXT new book covers to my blog and teachers directly as they arrive with a brief abstract or note.
On that note I don’t care if we have a learning commons or a library or a resource centre or just ROOM 255: I’m relevant for now anyway. Hang tough. Work hard. Follow your passions and your skills. Have a great year fellow teacher-librarians- you all deserve more credit than you get. Your role is in BC education is huge. You plant the seed of universal access to lifelong learning through free and open access to content. Libraries are more than just a room in a school. They have been a cornerstone of a democratic ideal and tradition since Alexandria. Hang in there. I say this because I believe you need to build a program and a place that is specific to your culture and gifts not just follow the popular norms of the education winds. Assess your needs. Build a delivery model. Develop friends. Do your best.
The bottom line note here is that all the furniture, and nice shelving and display space if fabulous. I exploit it because I believe one’s visual environment is critical to learning but … it is the ever changing dynamic of adults and students that make things hum. We need constantly be re-assessing the human landscape not just the chairs because a learning commons is only as rich as its people.
- Al Smith
music attribution. Prine, John, McLauglin, Pat. Crazy As a Loon
. Four Square, 2005. CD.