After attending Treasure Mountain at the University of Alberta several years ago, I began to work with our school administrators, staff and parents to move us toward the library learning commons model suggested at that time.
What is that model?
At École Ricard Secord School, it’s all about literacy and learning! We are large elementary school with 3 different programs. There are no flexible common learning spaces besides the gymnasium or library commons. Following is how we are working together to build a library learning commons (LLC) over the past four years. It is a work in progress, as all LLCs should be….evolving to meet the needs of its school community.
We strive to provide students access to resources, both physically and virtually, in a timely manner.
How we do that:
Students, staff and community members share common spaces to access information and meet for collaborative learning and/or to provide best functionality of users’ needs. E.g. when a classroom needed more space, a section of the LLC became a guided reading/writing center for student. Or the teacher-librarian provides guided reading instruction to meet flexible grouping of students based on literacy needs. The virtual common spaces are facilitated by our school district, which provides StaffZone for teachers and SchoolZone for student work spaces and parent information.
How we do that:
We have moved to a flexible scheduling of facilitates and technology to foster integration of technology/learning between students and among teachers. This schedule encourages collaboration between the teacher-librarian/teacher and teacher-to-teacher collaboration.
How we do that:
It is easy to forget that the core of a school library commons is about programming and services above all else. (It is like eating a hamburger bun without the meat in it.) People are our greatest primary resources. They ensure that the LLC is not simply a resource repository but a place where everyone can come to learn for a variety of purposes. Each school must look at its own population needs to develop their LLC program plan. The school library commons plan should be developed to support the school wide plan and evolve/be updated on at least a yearly basis.
How we do that:
Leadership is the catalyst to bring change to a library learning commons. The school administrators and teacher-librarian provide leadership in guiding the development of a school library commons program with teachers, support staff, parents and students.
How we do that:
In the end, a LLC should be the place everyone wants to be. Some guiding questions you might ask yourself and your school are:
Each school library commons will have these five common elements; Access, Common Spaces, Flexibility, Programming & Services and Leadership. The reason it is hard to define a LLC is because is constantly changing with each of these variables being modified to meet your students’ learning needs. We have begun to use Google Form to survey grade 4-6 students about our Library Learning Commons each year. This provides us with valuable information about what we are doing well or not doing well and how we can improve upon our Library Learning Commons. A school survey of parents also informs us of the priorities of school families. Attending school council meetings and establishing a working partnership with parents helps to build a shared library commons a reality. Fostering a relationship between the (school administrator, district consultants, teacher-librarian, library-technician, teachers, students, support staff and parents) ensures that the school library commons development becomes a focus in your school, as it has in ours. In the end, it feels like the LLC is a living, breathing organism that it is continually adapting and changing to meet the needs of its host (school). Choosing to prioritize the school library commons will help to improve the literacy and learning of your entire school community. We continue the journey…
École Richard Secord School
I was at a session on initiatives our school district is embarking on earlier this week and it was not surprised to see that moving school libraries to a library Learning Commons model is at the top of the list. This is good! When I think of the library Learning Commons being the hub of the school where learning can be flexible, just in time and personalized in a community of learners, I am all for shifting to the idea of the library as a Learning Commons.
However, when I hear people quote that the “hallmark of a school library in the 21st century is not its collections, its systems, its technology, its staffing, its buildings, BUT its actions and evidences that show that it makes a real difference to student learning, that it contributes in tangible and significant ways to the development of … meaning making and constructing knowledge.”(Todd 2001, p. 4), and listen to them hone in on the part stating the library learning commons isn’t about staff and resources I am concerned. I worry that decision makers are only reading the first part of Todd’s statement and think...oh great, a way to save money in these tight economic times. Let’s cut the library staff and resources. After all, isn't it all available online anyway?
How can you have actions and evidence of student learning without a qualified instructor, whether it is in the classroom or the Learning Commons? A teacher librarian is there to lead and collaborate with staff and students to use the Learning Commons resources in guided inquiry to achieve student learning. How can a library that only has a library technician function as a learning hub of the school? Who leads the learning and designs the programs? Who leads the staff learning on emerging technologies? Who teaches students about digital citizenship, allowing teachers to focus on core curriculum? Who builds a community of learners by creating programs that bridge across the core curriculum? How can a teacher librarian focus on teaching and collaborating with all staff and students without the support of a trained library technician whose focus is ordering, cataloging, making resources available to staff and students, checking out mobile devices and books, and assisting the teacher librarian as he/she organizing the programming?
Valerie Diggs’ excellent Slideshare; From Library to Learning Commons states that a key idea is that as we move to a new model we need to build our program first. As I read this, I reflected on how our school’s library moved from a space designed primarily for quiet, independent work and finding information where the teacher-librarian was in charge and the resources were only accessible during school hours to the lively learning space it is now. A space that is flexible and shared, resources are “just in time” not “just in case”, accessible both online and in house, with a teacher-librarian who is a learning coach who is embedded into the work of the classrooms and staff professional development rather than hiding behind a desk dictating the library space. It has become a space that encourages participation and community.
It sounds like it was simple, but ...it is an evolution that continues. It began five years ago when I moved to high school with my current principal. We had a shared vision of the library as the learning hub of the school and we set up a committee to look at what students and staff wanted from the library Learning Commons. This involved surveying students and staff, involving both in the committee and investing money and time into developing the space. And yes, comfy furniture and flexible space that allows for a variety of activities was included, but so was a virtual library, letting students showcase and create knowledge, having resources chosen by students as well as teachers, letting students work in groups, and having a space where staff could go for professional development. The goal was to build a program that supports learning and meaning making school wide.
This involved weeding out old outdated resources, investing in a virtual library that has resources (fiction and nonfiction), and is a space for students to create, collaborate, connect and communicate both face to face and online through video conferencing, blogs and other Web 2.0 tools. We also changed the physical space by removing no longer needed shelving to make space for students and teachers to work, putting wheels on shelves so that the space can be flexible, and adding comfy chairs and coaches as well as more tables for student group work. It involved the teacher librarian working very closely with teachers in a way that goes beyond gathering research resources for students and instead, involves collaboration in building student engagement and learning. This learning involves providing professional development to staff on Web 2.0 tools and emerging literacies as well as curriculum changes. It involves the teacher librarian being part of the instruction of students and building of learning activities. With all this, we have not reached the finish line yet. Perhaps constant evolution is part and parcel of our changing society, and the library Learning Commons needs to reflect that evolution.
I want to go back to my original concern that decision makers are thinking that a move to the Learning Commons is more about space and less about the actions in that space. I wonder how you can have a library Learning Commons without qualified library staff...both a teacher librarian and a trained library technician? Who builds the virtual library? Who does professional development with staff on emerging literacies? Who facilitates the building of the program, working with resources and inquiry learning? Who works with teachers and students as they create knowledge?
If 21st century learning and schools are about connecting, collaborating, creating and communicating, then creating an effective library Learning Commons is the right move. If it is about saving money and cutting staff, a true library Learning Commons is not going to happen in your schools. You may have comfy couches and a Smart board, but it is a dead space.
As you begin to make this transformation, ask yourself: how is the program you are building allowing for connecting, collaboration, communication and creating. This isn’t an overnight change that occurs because of the space and furniture but rather because of the actions of the school community. A great resource for those libraries interested in moving towards a library is Ontario's School Libraries Publication Learning Commons is Together For Learning: School Libraries and the Emergence of the Learning Commons.
I am interested in hearing other voices? What steps have you or are you taking as your schools make the move towards a library learning commons?
Join ASLC and Diana Rendina, Renovated Learning and Walking Together in exploring the excitement and potential of Makerspaces to impact student learning and learn how literature can help you create an Inclusive Learning Commons!
Location: Strathcona High School 10450 72 Avenue NW Edmonton, AB T6E0Z6