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Do We Need A Library?

In a change of focus from my regular posts, I’ve decided to share with everyone the current situation at my school Boort Secondary College. The school is about to undergo a major transformation, in the form of a brand spanking new building and the merger of both existing primary and secondary schools.  This basically means that the existing secondary college will be demolished and a new school will be built, that ultimately, will need to accommodate both the primary (5-12 yr old) and secondary (13-18 yr old) students.

At this point we have been given a draft of the basic master plan that highlights the buildings we are entitled to based upon the number of students we currently have. Anyway to get to the point the buildings we have been given are all 21st century classrooms with an emphasis on open learning spaces and break out rooms.  Now this is all very exciting and I look forward to teaching in flexible rooms that aim to inspire learning, however as you would expect there are a number of people who don’t feel as comfortable with the designs as I do. This is to be expected in a change as big as what our school is about to undergo. The main problem is around the fact that the new buildings do not include a dedicated library area. The new designs call for a more flexible approach to a library that would be spread around the school. Ideally we would have the library in one room, however the problem with this is that any single room isn’t going to be big enough for the merger of two libraries. As you can imagine this is causing quite a lot of concern amongst members of both schools.

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One thing I also need to mention is that the new school has been planned to last at least 50 years. This made me think about how the role of the library may be different in the future. It would be reasonable to think that the abundance of books that exist in libraries of today, would be replaced with online versions. Now I hope we never get to the point where we completely remove all printed texts, however we certainly need to recognise the shift in our reading habits. My reading has moved completely online thanks to my google reader account and RSS, which automatically brings me my new reading material from the sites I’m interested in when new content is updated. This shift is also highlighted in the Michael Wesch video ‘A vision of students today’ where one of his students mentions that they “will read 8 books a year, but over 2300 webpages”. With this being a reality for our students in the year 2009,  how much will it differ it year 2029? Let alone year 2050 when the new building will still be in operation.

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So this leads to the point of all my rambling, how important will a physical library be in the future? Will it need to be as large as those of the current day? Or could we get away with a small selection of the most important physical books with most of our reading being completed in an online form? This is made all the more possible by tools such as Google Books  and Wikipedia which make acess to information free and accessible from anywhere on the earth. Add to this mobile devices and we now have the ability to read and find out anything…….. at any time.  Quite amazing when you think about it. Now I’m certain that there are quite a lot of teachers around the world who will mention how “they” prefer to read from printed texts (I also enjoy this).  Now this is well and good, but can we honestly say that student’s of the future will prefer this way of reading?  I’m not so sure …

So what should Boort Secondary College do?  Should we waste space by filling a large room with dusty books that rarely get read or borrowed? Or utilise some of the smaller spaces for a smaller more efficient library?  If we did this would this free up the larger spaces for other things and finally do you feel that students will read differently in the future?

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11 Responses

  1. Hello Mr. Robbo,

    I saw your tweet and thought I would add my two cents. I am technologist which spends a lot of time educating kids on new technology (CyberNetKids.com). One thing I would recommend with the library is to have a student teaching lab in it if possible. This would be a separate room so that a group of students can be taught how to use the internet properly, how to do research, how to build new media, etc. and not disturb others that go to the library. Although kids are on the web it is just like anything else. By having a structured approach to understanding a subject you get to more fully utilize or take advantage of the area of study. Just two cents from a fellow tech person.

    - Robert (DrTechTalk.com)

  2. Hi Jarrod,
    There has been a really interesting discussion on the oz-teachers email list over the past couple of days in relation to the need for libraries and books that you might like to have a look at. The link to the September archives is at http://lists.rite.ed.qut.edu.au/pipermail/oz-teachers/2009-September/subject.html#start and you go down the list to the messages that start with school library discards books. Check out the differing perspectives each contributor has especially Barb Braxton who has been a school librarian.

  3. What a conundrum! As a lover of printed media, I would feel troubled at the thought of not having a library in a school. But I look at my own school library and see the books (mainly reference) that rarely get touched, let alone borrowed. Classes rarely use the library for traditional research with books, with the computers or AV rooms in greater demand. Another indicator of the changing times is that the photocopier in our library rarely gets used, except for teacher admin purposes. Gone, it seems, are the days when encyclopaedia entries were copied for research purposes.
    There needs to be a book collection, and if I were to make one observation about a library, it would be that it needs to be a “smart” collection – literature that engage and will be used – fiction, reading boosters, magazines and the like.

  4. giday Mr R
    Good questions but at first look you do seem to have a very narrow conception of what a library is and can do for your school/s.
    Libraries are not simply about amassing a beautiful collection of books that you store in the hope someone uses them or even takes them home to read! Libraries can be SOOO much more if well thought out and run.
    We have a library that is the hub of our school; the centre of what we do to encourage creativity, learning and development in our children (http;//allencentre.wikispaces.com). You can see that the Allen Centre is a creative learning space that is about extending the passions and enthusiasms of children as much as simply about books. It is the embodiment of our vision of learning for our children.
    Check out blogs from Doug Johnson, Kim Cofino and others; http://schoollearningcommons.pbworks.com/ is the wiki for a course in the US on creating a library that is a Learning Commons and if you contact the writers they will give you a mass of information.
    NOT trying to be at all critical but I believe strongly that we need to reconceptualise the library as much as any other part of a 21st Century school and not simply move it around a bit. Things like computer labs or ‘no talking’ signs need to go …. bring in something more like a ‘learning cafe’. Not simply plug them in, make them different and re-purpose them. Place them in a different place in the learning in the school.
    Happy to share our experiences if you want to contact me!!
    cheers
    Greg

    • Greg

      Great post, I agree with all that you have said as our library is indeed an important part of the school. Our problem is based on the fact that the majority of our staff want to fill a large room with books and im questioning whether or not this is the right approach. Im suggesting that the role of the library will be a lot different in the near future let alone in 30 years time.

      The question of whether we have a library or not is irrelevant, we can choose to call it what ever we like but I think the focus in our planning needs to be on creating something more in line with what you have mentioned as opposed to a ‘traditional’ library. With the extra room we would gain from removing wasted space i.e Books, we would be able to fill it with feaures that make it more along the lines of a ‘learning cafe’.

      However I fear the school is going to go and jam as much as they can into the biggest room we have…

      • Hey Robbo!

        Wow what an interesting situation this is … I just wanted to add a student’s perspective :-)

        I was actually thinking just the other day how rarely I borrow books from the library! I have my three textbooks that have been prescribed from lecturers to use as references for our lecture content, which I do use every day. But whenever I need further assistance, the first thing I do is google! Wikipedia is brilliant, and remarkably VERY VERY accurate and reliable. I have even googled complicated biochemical pathways and disorders etc – all available! If not through Wikipedia, there are always published journals or other websites available to use. Not to mention YouTube!!! And chat to a lot of students nowadays, already they are utilizing all of these sources before they resort to the library (in many cases, there is no need to!)

        But even though all of these sources of information are available on the net, that still doesn’t stop me from chatting to the lecturer or my tutor after class about clarifying a concept … so there is never going to be the risk of losing that face-face interaction.

        So yes, excellent point. Instead of cramming as many books as possible into a ‘traditional’ library, where all of the info is available, or can potentially be available, to students on the internet (and will progressively increase over time) go for a learning cafe` and studying areas ;-)

  5. Hi mrrobbo,
    Sounds like you haven’t been in a dynamic school library lately. Many are not just repositories of books, but vibrant teaching spaces where ICT and books are both used to best effect. Reading for pleasure is usually part of the English program but many students will voluntarily use such a facility at lunchtime. The other issue of course is having a teacher-librarian or passionate teacher who manages the space and teaches students how to access information from the best source for their purpose. A qualified TL also works with teachers to cooperatively plan and teach their material for research tasks.

    • I agree there are certainly lots of dynamic libraries, however im almost certain ours will be a very traditional version, which begs the question, do we need a library like this. My answer…NO. We need one like your talking about

  6. Hi Jarrod
    One thought that I had was whether it would be worth doing a survey on how, why and when the current library is used and then to ask how, when and where students access ideas, resources, media out of school hours. Is it possible then to create a space that recognises and ways that that so many students learn out of school. I love Greg’s idea of creating a hub of learning and communication that is so much more than the traditional sense of a library.

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