Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What They Didn't Teach in Library School: Adapt or Perish

'What They Didn't Teach In Library School' is a series of guest-authored posts, written by YA Librarians from around the country, highlighting situations or skills that were never addressed in formal Library School, but that are integral to librarianship.

Adapt or Perish: Culture of a Library for 21st Century Learning
by Naomi Bates
School libraries today are enjoying a time of changing boundaries and imagination-fueled innovation. No longer are we bound by bound pages, four walls, or even a physical campus.  Outreach to students, parents, and administrators can be found on a wide variety of devices and the Library’s presence can spread via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, websites, and apps in mere seconds.  While being able to share information at lightning speeds is a wonderful, to truly be a 21st Century Library, a librarian has to look beyond the platform, beyond the devices and dig into the meat of serving students in the 21st Century.

Students today have grown up in a world where technology is constantly shifting and changing the way we work and play.  Today's students are assimilated to this ever-changing tide of social and educational output and are often far ahead of their instructors when it comes to the newest technology trend. With school work focusing more on collaborative learning, libraries must adapt their traditional roles to the 21st Century to ensure they align with the attitudes and expectation of their patrons. It’s about culture more than anything else.  Culture is a chimera, an amalgamation of disseperate parts that creates a unique and ever-changing whole.  The resources and services offered by a library must also be ever growing or face a bleak future.

What do you think of when you hear the word "library"?  Chances are you imagine a quiet place with little or no peer interaction or engagement. It’s a place used mainly to check out books or study quietly at a desk. The librarian is the 'Keeper of All Knowledge' and you must be worthy to be trusted with his/her precious tomes. 

This "traditional" style of library creates an autonomous space rather than an open space for all classes and students. Table and chairs are dominant; structure and regiment are rampant.  The staff likely believes that the best work comes from behind a desk  (wouldn't want to get too friendly with those students). In this library there is little to no collaboration; the majority of decisions about the library come from the Head Librarian who is resistant to change.  Minimal effort is put into learning new concepts or  tools, and the changing roles of libraries and librarians is discussed with dismay. There is little virtual presence promoting the library or programs and the library webpage has basic links.  In fact, this library is rather far behind in the technology department - desktop computers and perhaps a scanner are this library's most cutting edge tools. New devices, including e-books and learning apps are not readily accessible and the staff has little knowledge of new technologies.  These librarians cannot facilitate a lesson or discussion about Twitter, Tumblr, Pheed or other current technologies.

What do I think when I hear the word "library"? I imagine a vibrant place where collaboration on multiple levels is not just allowed, but encouraged. It’s not a quiet place but resonates with the hum that builds when of all types of students are engaged in learning. My library encourages all types of learners by creating different spaces to accommodate their individual needs; such as an open learning commons, a quiet space for independent learners, and smaller spaces for classrooms to use as a teaching area. Comfortable seating in groups are found throughout for students to lounge on while reading a book of their choosing. The staff is open to collaboration and can be seen outside of the library working with peers and classrooms. This level of collaboration is permeable within the library as well, with purchases coming from requests of both students and teachers. (Patrons have direct influence on the collection and equipment.) The librarians continue to work on learning and leadership as well as honing new technology skills. In this modern library, new technologies are explored and librarians seek out new learning technologies to bring into the classrooms and support the curriculum. The librarian is also more than proficient on many different webtools and devices and builds a strong virtual presence. The recognition of the shift in the relationship between student reading, research and technology is accommodated and promoted.  Students see the staff as approachable and knowledgeable and patrons feel welcome because the staff has created a positive culture built on relationships and openness.

A 21st century library is not just a catchphrase but a live entity; an organism that is in a constant state of adaptation. It’s a shift in attitude, a change in direction, and a chance to redefine the meaning of "library" for an entire generation. For libraries to continue to be essential in this ever-changing environment of technology and collaboration, librarians must be part of this culture. We must embrace our shifting roles and be on the cutting edge of education and technology if we are to stay relevant. Information is nolonger bound by the covers of a book, or the walls of a library.  The physical media containing information is no longer a librarian's purview, but rather the media necessary for people to access information.

Change can be scary but without adaptation, conformity, stagnation and eventual extinction will occure. Let's not be dinosaurs.

About Naomi
Naomi Bates has been a school librarian for the last thirteen years and is currently the high school librarian for Northwest High School in Justin, TX. Her first passions are her husband and daughter, and her second passion became her profession, which gets her up every morning wanting to go to work. She actively blogs about books, technology and other library related items on her blog, YA Books and More. You can find her via Twitter @yabooksandmore.

Want more posts on issues not covered in Library School?
Check out Teen Librarian Toolbox's series Behind the Scenes @ the Library.