A Listening to Student Voices post by SJSU School of Information student Naomi Hill.
In early education circles, it is widely known that children learn through play, and more and more early education curriculums are being updated to reflect this understanding of cognitive development. For some reason, as children get older and grow into adults, this idea is traded in for a learning-through-work model—one which can be successful when viewed through an apprenticeship lens, but by no means encapsulates the only or best way to learn. Additionally, our educational model focuses heavily on control and compliance: students silent, in rows, and not a toe out of line. And while this lends itself to creating biddable adults, it does not teach our students how to be creative, take initiative, or take responsibility for themselves and their lives—which are the skills demanded in our changing work environment that depends more and more on the type of labor that cannot be automated. To prepare our students for this, school libraries are changing their service model to better suit their needs, and that means the quiet school libraries of old are no more. In “What Does the Next-Generation School Library Look Like?,” Luba Vangelova (I cannot read this name and not think of Miss Vanjie, so here’s a gif to acknowledge that!) features the Monticello High School Library in Charlottesville, Virginia as a model of what learning everywhere can mean in the school environment. The school librarian, Joan Ackroyd, explains that the very things that used to get students in trouble in the library in the past—talking, working on things other than schoolwork, and eating—are the very things that bring students to the library now. Furthermore, students are given ownership over their time and have to be responsible for their actions: “‘[t]hey need natural consequences[.] […] Controlling children that much and then telling them ‘goodbye’ when they turn 18 doesn’t work well” (Vangelova, 2014). As adults we are expected to juggle our work with our personal interests, and to make smart choices about when and how we do so. Kids need practice learning this, too, and by providing them with the things they need to do both, Monticello High’s Library Learning Commons is helping them develop these skills.
The need for flexibility in learning has become even more pronounced with the shelter in place orders covering most of the U.S. as COVID-19 is ravaging the globe. Michael Stephens addresses this in his book The Heart of Librarianship when he says, “[r]eal-world messiness offers a level of experience unmatched by classroom activities” (2016, p. 124). Our society has long favored place-based models of service and employment, and one could argue that this is largely due—at least now, anyway—to a desire by those in power to oversee the activities being completed and to control users and employees as they work. While libraries were already transitioning to a more flexible model to meet the changing needs of our learning communities before the spread of the virus, we are having to evolve even more rapidly to a connected learning model, which Stephens’ explains is “an openly networked atmosphere in which to work and learn” out of sheer necessity (2016, p. 125). Everyone—students, teachers, and adults—is being ask to change the way they work and learn, and to use new technologies to do it.
It is messy, and can be frustrating on numerous levels: not everyone has the required devices, Internet access is a privilege, technological literacy levels vary from person to person, we are all navigating a world-wide traumatic event, and the emotional toll of missing once-in-a-lifetime milestones can be devastating. But we all—including libraries—are learning day by day. And we are also recognizing that not all efforts will be successful, and that is okay, too. R. Toby Greenwalt addresses this in his article “Embracing the Long Game.” Often our fear of failure inhibits our willingness to try new ways of providing library service, and he argues that failure is to be expected in the quest for evolution: “[i]t wouldn’t be library science without a little experimentation, and some of those experiments are going to fail. But occasionally, an idea is going to succeed. And when it does, it creates an opportunity to reshape the notion of what our libraries can do” (Greenwalt, 2013). Not all of our attempts to provide learning opportunities in our COVID-19 world will be successful, but through our attempts we are all learning together. And it is the “together” part of the equation that matters most.
Greenwalt, R.T. (2013). “Embracing the long game.” Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from: http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2013/02/embracing/.
Stephens, M. T. (2016). The heart of librarianship: attentive, positive, and purposeful change. Chicago: ALA Editions, an imprint of the American Library Association.
Vangelova, L. (2014). “What does the next-generation school library look like?” KQED Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/36326/what-does-the-next-generation-school-library-look-like.
Three parts bibliophile, one part hobbit, and two parts house head, Naomi is a teacher librarian with an MLIS from San José State University. Her scholarly interests include critical theory, YA Lit, care-informed pedagogy and librarianship, and mythology. She lives in the fog of Northern California, where the redwoods meet the sea.