Are School Libraries Obsolete?


(This week’s guest blogger is Catherine Stuart, librarian at Rosemont School of the Holy Child.)

It happened again last week. Someone at a party asked me what I do for a living and when I told him I was a school librarian, he replied, “Aren’t school libraries obsolete?” Of course, I came back with an emphatic, “No!”

I realize my answer may have sounded self-serving, but hear me out. It is a sad state of affairs that, in response to dramatic changes in information technology, many schools have decided to cut back or even eliminate their library programs. According to a recent Independent School Magazine article, these schools have made hasty and irresponsible decisions.

Technology has dramatically changed the way we educate our students. With the explosion of myriad media, our students now require a different skill set than what was taught to previous generations. Last summer, some colleagues and I attended the BLC (Building Learning Communities) Conference in Boston and heard repeatedly just how critical it is that our students become lifelong learners who can create, organize, share, collaborate, and publish.

Our 2012 Strategic Plan is grounded in implementing the 21st century skills of creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and character. Librarians and libraries are crucial components in preparing our students to acquire these skills. Librarians teach students to be global citizens, critical and creative thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers, and ethical users of information. More than 21 state studies have confirmed that schools equipped with libraries and certified librarians build stronger students.

As RSHC’s librarian, I am addressing these mandates with tangible actions:

Library Instruction
Classes for Nursery through 4th grade introduce award-winning literature, including many multicultural titles, where story components, themes, and thought-provoking questions are discussed. Also, fiction and nonfiction titles that reinforce what teachers are covering in their classrooms are shared. Reading and story apps on iPad Minis provide interactive stories and activities for our younger students.  

Research instruction has advanced well beyond the Dewey Decimal System. One of my goals has been to develop a solid research curriculum in information literacy, a set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information. This instruction begins in the 1st grade when students identify and work with informational texts in nonfiction books. Research skills continue to develop with library instruction through the 4th grade where students learn to use our databases, including World Book Online, POWER Library resources, Cobblestone, Country Reports/State Reports, Discovery Education Videos, and other web-based tools.

Information literacy instruction is most successful when done in conjunction  with our classroom teachers. Students learn and retain more when they have authentic projects and inquiries. For this reason, I have worked as an instructional partner with many of our teachers to:

  • Provide ideas and support for using both print and electronic resources for teachers and students.
  • Design and implement with teachers inquiry-based assignments,  such as a 4th grade American video project wholly composed by RSHC students to teach students from India about our holidays.
  • Provide assistance with technology-based projects such as moviemaking, Skype sessions, and creating sound files. For example, 2nd grade students created sound files on their chosen occupations based on research from books and websites. The sound files were embedded in the 2nd grade blog.
  • Locate and provide instruction for new apps, websites, and web-based educational tools.
  • Secure and provide instruction for subscription databases, such as Cobblestone, World Book Online, PowerLibrary for the 7th grade’s National History Day projects

Although our students are very adept with technology, they need to be taught how to find and select quality resources for their purposes, whether it be print, digital, or otherwise. The library instructs students how to access and critically select quality resources. We subscribe to several databases (named above) that provide our students with professionally reviewed, age-appropriate materials written by experts in their fields. The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool holding an immense body of information. Without the appropriate skills, students can easily become overwhelmed, and their work quality suffers. Library instruction includes lessons on website evaluation, and best ethical practices and strategies for searching the Internet.  

Collection Development
As committed as we are to growing our electronic resources, we also maintain our rich print collection. Carefully selected print and electronic assortments give our students the best of both worlds; broad and deep collections in selected areas provide more choices. Does this mean we’re not weeding unnecessary print titles? No. Our reference collection is definitely contracting as more items become available online, but we still purchase nonfiction books to support teachers, students, and curricula. We are proud of our print fiction collection, which has a wide audience among our students. We also have a growing e-book collection in our online catalog that students can access anywhere they have an Internet connection.

Book Clubs
Book clubs are wonderful collaborations for getting students excited about reading. This year 7th and 8th grade students have had the opportunity to join the Rosemont School Book Club. Approximately every six weeks, we enjoy lunch and share thoughts and questions about a selected book, such as Discovering Wes Moore, by former Valley Forge Military Academy cadet Wes Moore; This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer Smith; and Nation by Terry Pratchett. I hope to expand these book clubs through additional grades next year.

Book Talks/Reader’s Advisory
We want our children to become enthusiastic readers and writers, and critical thinkers. As librarian, I read many books and book reviews and carefully select titles for our Rosemont School community. I regularly give book talks to Lower School and Middle School students. I also have recorded book talk sound files that are linked from our website’s library page.

Reading Celebrations
Throughout the year, the library celebrates books and reading with special events such as Teen Read Week, our annual book fair, the Montgomery County Reading Olympics, and Children’s Book Week. This last event will be celebrated in May by the Lower School and Early Childhood divisions with a bookmark contest, an author skype, and other activities.

Our library program will always remain a key element in our students’ success. The library’s look, feel, and functioning may evolve, but its commitment to developing enthusiastic readers and creative, curious, ethical, lifelong learners will never waver.

One thought on “Are School Libraries Obsolete?

  1. What a wonderfully written piece. It was lovely to read a positive piece about school librarians. You demonstrated beautifully the importance of school librarians and how diverse and wide reaching the role can be. All too often we hear that schools no longer have the money for their school library and by employing someone who is not library trained it is easy to also get rid of that person who looks after the library and stamps out the books. It sounds as if you have a fabulous relationship with your school which you have obviously worked very hard to create. Keep up the good work.

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