The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) published the report “Leading In and Beyond the Library,” this past January, showing the importance of school and public libraries in both state and district-wide efforts toward digital learning and the effective use of technology in teaching.
“There is a critical role for both school and community librarians in the transition to digital,” says Sara Hall, director of the Center for Digital Learning at the Alliance for Excellent Education based out of Washington, D.C. “Whether they’re librarians or media specialists, they’re often becoming instructional coaches leading the transition.”
Digital materials from e-books to online databases—and tools from tablets to 3-D printers—have quickly found their way into school libraries, classrooms, and public library branches as well. Having a core leader who can help stitch these tools into an educational experience can make the difference between merely a fun moment—and one that incorporates learning.
“Where we are seeing academic achievement and progress [in students], there has been a very strong librarian,” says Hall. “As school districts are making this shift, they have got to take a look at the role of the librarian, and how crucial it is.”
As schools shift to adopting more digital tools and services, libraries spaces are changing to accommodate this transition. In Texas’ Klein Independent School District (KISD), students are using convertible tablet PCs as part of the school’s One-to-One program, according to All4Ed’s report. As a result of the student’s prolific tablet use, students—who primarily frequented the school libraries to use their computers—visited less often. So the school libraries adapted, changing the way the space looked as well as the services offered.
“The library has become a learning commons with flexible seating and shelving and areas for collaborative learning for students,” Ann McMullan, the former executive director for educational technology for KISD, is quoted in the All4Ed report. “Students taking online courses during the day, utilize the library as a place to work, with the support of the school librarian.”
Public libraries are also playing a core role in this transition—adapting new tools and materials to support school environments. For example, students in the Sheridan County School District in Wyoming are given access to the public library’s personalized web-based reading environment, says the report. And Hall also points out Hillsborough County, Florida as another example of collaboration where the school district and public library system consulted one another and pooled their purchases of digital subscriptions to ensure they didn’t double up.
Vital to all these examples of schools and libraries maximizing the digital shift is planning. And All4Ed believes that having some forethought is especially crucial today when integrating digital tools. As a result, the group encourages school districts to think about how they will incorporate new technology before adoption.
As part of the alliance’s Project 24, the organization pushes educators to put a plan in place first—long before they outfit a classroom with new tablets or a school library with laptops. And school librarians can be a valuable resource for input, as schools and districts start to blueprint a new digital curriculum.
“Don’t just buy the device,” says Hall. “You don’t want to buy a laptop, and lay it over a textbook. Think about how to change the environment of the school and how kids are learning. Librarians have a lot to say about that.”