High school principal Sue Skinner may have removed nearly all of the physical books from Minnesota’s Benilde-St. Margaret’s school library in 2011, but the Moore Library remains a vital educational space where students still research, investigate and—above all—learn, she says. Today, students from both the junior and high school grades convene there with their laptops, get help from math and literacy coaches, or read quietly (sometimes even from books.)
“We used to think of a library as a building with stacks of books,” says Skinner, who has served as high school principal of the St. Louis Park, MN, Catholic preparatory school since 2007. “Now we should think of it as a space where people come together to share ideas, be creative, access information, and even read. Instead of thinking of it so literally, we should think of it as a more active space and evolving.”
The expansive use of digital tools at Benilde-St. Margaret’s plays a major role in the success of the “no books” library, Skinner says. Since 2010, the entire school is 1:1, with each student receiving a MacBook plus user access to various online databases including Gale and ProQuest.
Another key to the library’s success? A robust community of neighboring branch and university libraries in the surrounding area. There are 50 public libraries alone in a 15-mile radius of the school, Skinner points out. “We weren’t saying no to hard copy books,” she says. “But let’s not duplicate what public and other libraries have.” The school’s librarian as well as teachers help students to complete requests online for the books they need and want from all of these local branches.
Before distributing the library’s print stacks to local centers and donation sites in Africa, says Skinner, she had teachers comb through the physical books and pull anything they wanted for their curriculums into classrooms. Then she allocated additional funding towards purchasing new and used fiction books in physical form, since her students, Skinner says, actually prefer to read this genre on the printed page like many adults do. These titles, too, went into classrooms.
Today, the library is nearly devoid of books save for a few reference titles and any books that students bring in themselves, Skinner says. She notes, however, that the library still is a work in progress. While it contains some tables and chairs where students can work alone or in groups, Skinner hopes for even more resources. On her wish list? An interactive white board, a big monitor where students “can throw up things on a screen” as they work collaboratively, and even more power stations—although she’s “not convinced” yet that a coffee shop, a popular request from students, is needed.
At the top of the wish list, though, is a new school librarian; filling this role soon is crucial because Moore’s current librarian is retiring after 20 years spent at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Skinner explains. As Skinner combs through the candidates, she is looking for someone who shares her vision that student learning isn’t based solely on digital or physical resources, but a hybrid of both, she says.
“I think I want to be picky,” she adds. “I want someone who understands the role of a librarian as an instructional partner, an information specialist, a program administrator, and a school leader. I think the role and importance of a librarian and a media specialist is highly underrated. I am excited to get someone with a strong vision.”