Are School Libraries/Learning Commons: The Mecca of 21st Century Education?
“What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it thinks about education.”
Harold Howe, former U.S. Commissioner of Education
How does a school library contribute towards the future of children? As I ask this question, I feel convinced to convey this message to one and all. A school library serves as a vital center where young minds read, explore and learn. As a child I always wondered if there was a place where I could take refuge but also look out into the world. I discovered that there was one place that fulfills this purpose- a library. It is my hope that every child who comes to school has access to an inviting library where he/she can explore and discover new meanings.
Our country’s leaders have often misunderstood the crucial role a school library plays in educating children. There has been a drastic decrease in funding for libraries due to budget cuts. The lack of understanding of the importance of a school library is staggering. A recent study paints a different picture:
In schools with well stocked, well equipped school libraries, managed by qualified and motivated professional teacher-librarians working with support staff, one can expect:
- Capable avid readers;
- Learners who are information literate;
- Teachers who are partnering with the teacher-librarian to create high quality learning experiences.
Standardized scores tend to be 10-20% higher than in schools without this investment (Lance & Loertscher, Powering achievement: School library media programs make a difference: The evidence 2003).
As my colleagues and I are diligently working towards improving the conditions in the libraries we have been faced with several challenges. Many libraries do not have librarians, support staff or both. Some people argue that a school librarian or a library program is unnecessary. They say that we now have technology and tools such as the Ipad, Kindle and the Internet that can replace the library. However, seldom do they realize that the Internet cannot teach how to create knowledge. The Internet has vast information that is loosely organized and lacks quality control. The role of a library or the learning commons is more relevant than ever before in the 21st century. A library collection is carefully selected (this happens to be a fact that is often overlooked) by librarians based on reviews, journal articles and professional development. The most significant difference between the Internet and a school library is the human aspect- the librarian/the information specialist. A qualified librarian teaches information literacy which entails critical thinking and problem solving using all types of formats including: printed materials, e-books, online databases, websites and multi-media resources. School librarians are unique in that they are individuals who have knowledge of pedagogy and Information Literacy.
During my recent visit to India, I met elementary school children at the Susheela Memorial School who expressed a desire to read books and have access to a school library. In this one room school, there are four grades with a total of approximately 100 children and no library or librarian. As many schools in the developing world struggle to educate children, they are looking for donors to fund school libraries. Libraries are growing as rapidly as Starbucks. Room to Read is an organization that has taken the lead in opening school libraries in the Indian subcontinent and South Africa. Last year alone children in these libraries checked out 3.8 million books over 9000 libraries. According to its founder John Woods a former Microsoft executive, “libraries have a low overhead, allowing maximum investment in the educational infrastructure.”
“A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas - a place where history comes to life.” - Norman Cousins. It is not surprising to note that many great people attribute their success to the curiosity and adventure that was sparked in the library……Having been an elementary librarian for almost ten years, I have seen how libraries have empowered all students; from the neediest to the wealthiest. Yet libraries are considered non-essential and are compromised. Ironically, as the rest of the world moves forward towards opening new libraries, we see many closing in America. In the face of these budgetary challenges, are we ready to diminish the role of a library? Or do we have the insight to utilize this great resource and change with the times? Will a library once again become the Mecca of 21st century learning? As evidence points out, a library/learning commons is absolutely essential to educate the future generations to be thinkers and leaders in a global world.