November 30, 2022

The Library as Genius Bar


In Mercy High’s iPad program, librarian Linda Behen offers tech support and more

When the class of 2016 enters Mother of Mercy High School this fall, each of the 135 freshmen will receive a new iPad. That’s part of the school’s mission: to help students access the technology best suited to their needs, according to Linda Behen, the school’s library media specialist.

At Mercy, an all-girls Catholic school in Cincinnati, OH, they call this “tech-agility,” says Behen (pictured). She helped support a spring 2012 pilot in which 20 current freshmen received iPads. But there are no plans for the school to go one-to-one across the board.

All Mercy students are encouraged to bring in their own devices, whether they be tablets or smartphones, to facilitate classroom learning. “Students can bring in any device they own and get on our network. With the iPad, this will be more like a three-to-one program,” says Behen.

Principal Diane Laake sees the iPads as offering freshmen a consistent platform for curating information as well as creating their own work. “Our philosophy has been more about looking at tech as a means to an end,” she says.

Schools nationwide are considering tablet adoption, not just to keep pace with the latest in hardware, but also to enable access to etextbooks, educational apps, and other digital content specifically designed for the tablet platform. Then there’s deciding which device to buy. Given reported bugs in the new iPad, Laake is considering going with the iPad 2. She plans to make a decision this month, along with the flashcard, note-taking, and scheduling apps the school will preload onto each device.

Mercy will pay for the iPads, but will begin charging parents a $100 program fee per student to help cover some of the costs. While students will be expected to maintain the iPads—even over the summer—the library will provide a Genius Bar, akin to the tech-support kiosks found in Apple Stores. There the school’s Tech Doctors, a small group of 8 to 10 honor students, will offer troubleshooting help under Behen’s supervision.

Putting her media specialist skills into high gear, Behen views the iPad program as a real opportunity. For starters, she’s creating pathfinders to help students more easily find links to pre-vetted research sites. She’s also identifying textbooks that link to digital content, which Behen plans to share with teachers. The librarian also intends to instruct teachers and students in multimedia, using Animoto, Knovio, and other apps to enliven assignments.

Imagining the kind of presentations she hopes to see coming out of Mercy classrooms, Behen says, “We’re trying to help them kick it up a notch.”

Behen’s Twitter friends have also lent a hand, sharing ideas about new apps and sites to use with students. Behen sees this all as part of an expanding role—reimagining the library as not just as a place for information and research, but where students and teachers can find new ways to work with and create content using iPads—and any future device that comes along.

“It keeps me looking for newer and better ways for students to pool their knowledge for doing projects together,” she says. “Students aren’t just reading and assimilating, they’re pulling information for their own use, and curating that information. It just broadens our scope as librarians, which is great, because it makes libraries more valuable in this age.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at