School libraries and eLearning: Answering the call for access and equity

This week Michelle Campbell and I are off to the Manitoba School Library Association Conference to present this paper to other learning leaders in Canada at Treasure Mountain Canada 2017, the school library think tank for Canada.  We would love your feedback on our work and to hear from you about your projects in school libraries, eLearning and partnerships with public libraries.

Learning beyond school walls

School is no longer just a 9:00am to 3:30pm activity. With the increased use of technology and the growth of online learning, our children have an opportunity to learn anytime and anywhere. Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) has spent a great deal of time and money purchasing and curating excellent digital resources for our students to access 24/7 from school and from home or travelling between both. With the addition of UG2GO (our Virtual Learning Commons) and UGCloud (our Google Apps for Education environment) more and more homework and learning activities are being provided digitally. This works well for students who have ready access to technology in their home but provides a significant disadvantage to those students who have limited or no access to internet or devices in their homes. As well research studies have shown that children with internet access at home do better in school.

“There is agreement among teens and their parents about the role that the internet plays in teens’ education.  Eighty-six percent of teens, and 88% of online teens, believe that the internet helps teenagers to do better in school.  Eighty percent of parents and 83% of parents of online teens agreed with that proposition.” (Pew Research Center, 2005).

At Upper Grand we also offer a number of eLearning courses for our adolescent and adult students, that rely heavily on access to our excellent digital resources e.g. video streaming content. Staying connected is essential for student success in eLearning courses.

School libraries as safe spaces for eLearning

In general, the success of eLearning is due in large part to the flexibility it offers to its students to learn on their own time and in the setting of the student’s choice. The opportunity for learning in the school library with its reliable hours, equipment and staff support, pulls eLearning students into the space as regular patrons.  For marginalized students and eLearning students, who are working within the school system but in alternate modes of learning, both school and public libraries are safe spaces.  Safety comes from the security, the reliablility, the privacy, the equity of access and the hospitality of libraries.  Especially in small or rural communities, as in the UGDSB,  the “benefits of [these] shared spaces are numerous, and include economic, networking and collaboration, and safety reasons. An added advantage is that in a small community shared spaces support privacy and confidentiality” (County of Wellington, 2011, p. 29)  To meet the needs of eLearning students after school library hours, we have added improved access to digital resources through the physical addition of reliable equipment in community libraries.

Embedded school librarianship in online classrooms

Embedded librarianship is part of the eLearning experience at the post-secondary level but has yet to emerge in school libraries in a systemic approach.  For post-secondary students, embedded librarians are available, helpful and consistent in their approach to student queries ranging from technical understanding to research approaches.  My experience as a student with embedded librarians has influenced the work that I do as an embedded teacher-librarian in the eLearning classes I have access to.  

There are two main scenarios where I act as an embedded librarian: 1) through Google Classroom in our Google Apps for Education suite and 2) by creating an active space through our eLearning classrooms in Brightspace D2L.  In the first scenario, I often have the opportunity to meet the students face-to-face at least once but I provide resources, reminders or even assessment of skills online through Google Classroom.  The home teacher simply invites me as a secondary teacher to the environment.  Through our collaboration, I can help the teacher diagnose weaknesses in the students’ readiness for inquiry, respond to student discussions or invite the student to a face-to-face discussion where we can work through difficulties that they are having.

The highest level of achievement I have to date of being an embedded librarian though comes through our local Digital Historian program (http://www.digitalhistorianproject.com/about/).  Our school is home to this travelling 4-credit program for grade 11 and 12 students, in which students research the histories of local veterans to build an e-book of their lives to be housed at our local museum.  I often get to meet these students once before we are separated by distance.  This second scenario of embedded librarianship is managed through a persistent link I created within their digital classroom inside Brightspace D2L which has resources and also my contact information, should they need assistance.   The persistent link allows me to create resources in a public space, in my case a Google site, and link resources specific to their program and direction.  With these students the help I provide is often a series of pathfinders that lead students through increasingly complex historical and genealogical work.  We use many of the government websites, databases, Ancestry software public licenses and military records.  I am also able to link to a bank of instructional videos for research, but also any inquiry topic like MLA formatting.  The distance and isolation that these students feel in taking a risk by becoming an online student is decreased through the support I offer as an embedded librarian.

Imperative support for at-risk eLearning students

Our UGDSB experience has shown that fully online learning is usually first accessed by students in grades 11 or 12 and that the most requested courses tend to be in the university-stream. In the 2016-17, I was part of a group of librarians and eLearning teachers who ran an action research project (sponsored by an Ontario Teachers’ Federation grant) to examine student engagement in online spaces.  We found that some of the reasons that students are compelled to choose online courses are because: a) the course they want is full at their base school; b) the course is needed to upgrade a post-secondary application average or c) the online learning environment suits the lifestyle of these students who have schedules or geographical challenges that make face-to-face learning challenging.  Tragically, more and more students are forced into an online class because the course they want to take is not available at all in a geographically accessible, face-to-face school.  This factor is the primary reason why students are not successful in online learning (Feick, King, Downe and Unger, 2017).  Our action research indicated through a survey of 109 active online learning students that the following factors affected students ability to learn:

  • More trouble staying motivated in online learning versus face-to-face (27%)
  • Difficulty managing time (20%)

The greatest indicator of whether an online student felt supported or not was having opportunity to ask for help. (Feick et al, 2017).  

In my experience as a college preparatory English teacher, students often need my course to graduate.  Many of my students are returning to the secondary school learning environment just to complete my course and graduate.  This readiness and motivation to succeed is one of the reasons that I believe at-risk students can be successful in the online environment.  Many of my students are experiencing social challenges or lifestyles, similar to this report on youth homelessness in our area:

The primary group [at risk of becoming homeless] includes:

  • Large families (with 3+ children), particularly given the scarcity of affordable family housing units in the County
  • Youth, especially 16 to 18 year-olds (There is much confusion re when youth are “kicked-off” the child welfare system, and the rules about youth accessing social assistance).
  • Young and/or single parents
  • Individuals/families experiencing job loss and credit problems (bankruptcy)

Secondary populations who are also vulnerable include:

  • Young adults with limited job prospects who return to their home communities when they have nowhere else to go
  • Those who come from families with a history of poverty and/or transience
  • Long-time locals with inadequate shelter (e.g. poorly heated farm houses)
  • Men living on their own” (County of Wellington, 2011, p. 23).  

Not only are their prospects of graduating secondary school challenging, but so is their access to reliable computers, print and digital resources, technical and academic support and functioning skills in organization and time management.  As their teacher, these challenges between reader/user, and software and hardware are often insurmountable without a third party stepping in to assist the learner.  In our board, that third party is often a guidance counsellor for emotional support and a teacher-librarian for academic support.   

Pedagogy of eLearning with at-risk youth

Students who are both at-risk and ambitiously taking on eLearning classes are more at risk than their peers in face-to-face learning environments.  These students who are often verging on adulthood require a special pedagogy of their own.  In Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning, Repetto and Spitler apply a framework of “5Cs” (as cited in Ferdig and Kennedy, 2014) to online learning with at-risk students.  According to the 5Cs framework students need:

  • to be able to connect current learning in school to the knowledge and skills they will need post-school…
  • to be provided with a safe and supportive climate for learning….
  • to understand and learn how they are in control of their own learning and behaviors….
  • an engaging curriculum grounded in effective instructional strategies and evidence-based practices to support their learning….
  • to be part of a caring community that values them as learners, as well as individuals

(p. 115). The success of eLearning students at this precarious moment also often relies on moving eLearning students from adolescent reliance to adult independence through explicit training of time management, accountability and organizational skills.  Our research and practice demonstrates that school librarians are valuable partners in helping each student achieve this independence.  However the limited access to school library staff and spaces has challenges for eLearning students.

Equity and student success

The decision to bring technology to students in the community was based on an initiative from the Upper Grand Technology Council, an internal board group that brings together representatives from the board’s IT department, board administration, school support and program services. The intent of the technology council is to plan and strategize ways in which technology can support student success. Understanding that many students are at a disadvantage in terms of access to technology, the members of the technology council discussed many possible reasons why a student might not have access to the Internet or technology — no Internet in the home by parent choice, no Internet in the home because of low income, no Internet in the home because you cannot get Internet service in a rural area, Internet in the home but no or very limited access to devices in the home.

“In Canada, 83% of households have access to the internet at home, but a closer look at the numbers shows a stark divide between the top and bottom quartiles of family income – 98% of families in the top quartile have internet access, compared to only 58% of those in the bottom quartile (with average family incomes below $30,000)”(People for Education and Statistics Canada, 2012, p. 4).

One solution that is often proposed is to go to the public library to access technology, but we also hear from our students that the technology at the public library is limited and in high demand. “Given the digital divide, it is unsurprising that poorer Canadians rely more heavily on public access points such as libraries to use the Internet. The biggest user of library Internet access are Canadians aged 16 to 24, where 21.5 per cent used Internet library access in 2012”(Geist, 2013).
After much discussion we decided to approach one of our local public library systems – Wellington County Public Library – with a unique pilot project to see if we could increase access to devices for UGDSB students by having the public library loan out our Chromebooks to our students through their library system. Wellington County Library was chosen for the pilot because their jurisdiction covers most of the rural areas of our board. Wellington County Library was very receptive to the idea and willing to move ahead immediately with this project in 3 of their branch libraries. We worked together to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlined the roles and responsibilities of each party as they relate to the project. For example we determined that Upper Grand DSB would be responsible for loss or damage to the Chromebooks without any cost to the public libraries.

Bridging the digital divide by partnering with public libraries

“Not all students have the same kinds of access to digital technologies. The “digital divide” refers to the gap between the privileged and underprivileged members of society in terms of their ability to access digital tools and the Internet.” (People for Education, 2014, p. 4). After a successful pilot project with Wellington County Library we moved forward with approaching the rest of the public library systems in our board jurisdiction in an attempt to bridge the digital divide.  In addition to increasing the project at Wellington County Library to include 11 more branches (total of 14 branches) we added Guelph Public Library (7 branches), Shelburne Public Library (1 branch), Grand Valley Public Library (1 branch) and Orangeville Public Library (2 branches). The school board donated 5 Chromebooks for each branch library to circulate to Upper Grand students only. There were a total of 25 branch libraries between the 5 different public library systems that were given Chromebooks as well as given protective cases and Chromebook charging bins.

This project has been and continues to be extremely successful in terms of circulation statistics. The use of the Chromebooks in house and the circulation outside the library has continued to increase over time. During the 2015-2016 school year Guelph Public Library circulated 744 chromebooks and Wellington County Library circulated 1204 chromebooks. During the 2016-2017 school year circulation increased as GPL circulated 964 chromebooks and Wellington County Library circulated 1298 chromebooks. We expect this upward trend to continue for the upcoming school year.

Marketing and promotion was essential to ensure that students and parents were aware of the chromebook project. We used social media (school board and public library), school newsletters, public library newsletters, television and radio advertising, and online and newspaper articles to promote the project over a period of time. Here are a couple of examples of our marketing efforts:
http://www.ugdsb.ca/blog/Chromebooks-available-at-all-Guelph-Library-locations-for-Upper-Grand-students/   

https://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/5551299-upper-grand-school-board-links-up-with-libraries-to-provide-student-internet-access/

In cooperation with Guelph Public Library we also had an opportunity to present the Chromebooks in our public library project as a poster session at the 2016 OLA Superconference. The goal of the session was to spread the idea to other school boards and public libraries in the province. The title of the poster session was “Five Public Libraries and a School Board” and you can see the poster here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nFmji_CTcN3dHd6EOP-Qk48ucxJDj99B2o-w5oe1jvo/edit?usp=sharing

Chromebook circulation has been so popular at Guelph Public Library that we were able to allocate an additional 16 chromebooks for circulation through their branch libraries in the 2016-2017 school year. Other positive stories came from Shelburne Public Library who let us know that the addition of the Chromebooks allowed them to start a creative writing program for teens program. At Wellington County Library the addition of the devices prompted them to purchase and circulate “wifi to go” devices for their rural communities. Many of our UGDSB students have taken advantage of this new addition and will borrow both a wifi hotspot and Chromebook for home use. We also heard from a number of parents that this program has alleviated family stress because they only have one computer in the home and two or more children that need to use it at the same time.

Next steps

We will continue to support all of the libraries with replacing lost and damaged Chromebooks and any other support they require. In the next couple of years we anticipate that the Chromebooks will all need to be replaced and we plan to support this by ensuring that necessary budget is allocated. We anticipate that we will continue to provide additional devices to the two larger public library systems as there never seems to be enough.  Overall we feel that this has been a very positive and unique partnership with our local public library systems and the high circulation statistics justify the need. We hope we have helped to bridge the digital divide for our rural students and our low income students by providing equitable access to Chromebooks through public libraries.

School libraries are pivotal to the success of online learning programs, especially in rural communities.  The profile of an online adolescent student in combination with the context surrounding their choice to learn online puts the library at an optimal position to support this learning.  “Constructivist tenets of online learning match those of inquiry and problem-based learning associated with information fluency and library instruction” (Boyer and Kelly, p. 367).  As online students often are transitioning for the first time from face-to-face environments, they realize that they need to develop new strategies for their studies and a new skillset for success.  As with face-to-face learning, school libraries have the flexibility, security and tools to meet the needs of online learners.  The reliable nature of the public library in conjunction with the partnership of school libraries has allowed all youth to access online learning support across our rural community.  

The Learning Commons Model and Secondary School Library Redesign

Lately the idea of how to design for learning has become a focal point in setting up classrooms.  When it comes to a secondary school library, unique challenges face this space which is more mature than an elementary school library and more juvenile than a post-secondary library.  The secondary school library serves a role where the ambiance and activities need to serve the entire school community providing a communal area for learning that is unique compared to the classroom or the cafeteria.  Rather than looking fearfully at the future supposing that libraries are becoming rapidly irrelevant, the timely document of the Ontario School Library Association [OSLA] Together for Learning proposes that library spaces will become the “Learning Commons”: proactively envisioned as “the physical and virtual catalyst where inquiry, imagination, discovery, and creativity come alive and become central to growth — personal, academic, social and cultural” (2010, p. 3).  To meet the needs of the learning commons model, the secondary school library must become a school community showcase of equity, flexibility, innovation, collaboration and celebration.

Rationale

Johnston and Bishop (2011) assert that in order for a school library to be effective, it needs to meet the social, creative, exploration and security needs of its patrons; and create a sense of place where children can identify themselves culturally and physically (p. 3).   While the collection itself must reflect the diversity of its patrons, it is through interactions with the resources, whether in print or online, that users will develop a sense of place (Johnston and Bishop, 2011, p. 7) Therefore the accessibility and availability of a library’s resources must reflect the needs of the entire community of families that the school serves taking into account variables such as “race and ethnicity, income distribution, level of formal education, extent of parent involvement” (Johnston and Bishop, 2011, p.9).  In 2013, the role of the teacher-librarian is no longer to keep information but to provide access points to our students.

Until recently, libraries were repositories of information and programming was secondary but the onset of the internet has completely changed this raison d’etre.  In other words, the school library is required to meet the needs of each new generation of learners.  Don Tapscott (2009) calls the current generation of students in high school “The Net Generation” and describes them as valuing these eight norms: freedom, customization, scrutiny, integrity, collaboration, entertainment, speed and innovation (p. 74).  As such education is experiencing a massive paradigm shift and is moving towards inquiry-based learning, where students direct their own studies.  Tapscott (2009) describes school’s new dominant role as one to “encourage students to discover for themselves, and learn a process of discovery and critical thinking instead of just memorizing the teacher’s information” (p. 130).  School libraries need to morph to extend this role as well, creating flexible spaces where student innovation can happen.

The learning commons model calls for a redefinition of the library space in order to accommodate these demographic trends in our students and the new demands of teaching:

“Design components of 21st century learning spaces need to consider collaboration, comfort and community. Wherever possible, learning spaces should be colourful, inviting and playful. Learning is fluid and participatory… as a result, space should not place limits on learning.  Instead, space should encourage collegiality and intellectual development.” (OSLA, 2010, p. 9).

Equity

Defining equity for the learning commons model includes these three tenets: 1) optimal physical learning spaces for all; 2) availability of all library resources to all users in the school community; and 3) accessibility of all library resources to all users in the school.  The OSLA generalizes these goals for equity:

“The Learning Commons seeks to expand and integrate the real and virtual choices learners have to share their experiences. Safe, inclusive and welcoming environments throughout a school are imperative to meet the diverse abilities and learning styles of individuals, teams and groups. Virtual learning spaces increase this potential” (OSLA, 2010, p. 7).

More specifically and in alignment with the shift to inquiry-based learning, the Universal Education Organization (2010) says

“Universally designed curriculum overcomes limitations by incorporating three principles of flexibility into the design: multiple methods of presentation, multiple options for participation, and multiple means of expression.  This built-in flexibility provides a wider range of options for students to choose from — meaning the curriculum adapts to the student, rather than the other way around” (OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design, p. 200).

Providing this level of equity in one space is no small task.  Utah State University’s Centre for Persons with Disabilities in 2003 suggests that these “environments must be powerful enough to sustain the child’s interest and motivation without constant motivational and/or directional assistance from an adult” (OWP/P Architects et al., 2010, p. 204).  The learning commons model insists that true equity for each member of the school library community will include physical and virtual spaces that will appeal to the natural flow of learning and each learner.

An example of the complexity of these goals in equity might be found in the area of acoustics.  Since groups of teenagers can vary in their noise output, designing a static purpose in a static area of the library, such as creating an open computer lab, cannot work for the diversity of school library patrons.  OWP/P Architects et al. (2010) say “someone using English as a second language, or someone who suffers from an attention deficit disorder, is at a significant disadvantage in a noisy classroom (p. 42).  Ambient noise in the learning commons can affect all users:  “Research indicates that high levels of background noise, much of it from heating and cooling systems, adversely affects learning environments, particularly for young children, who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension (OWP/P Architects et al., p. 26).  Every choice made in design must consider the plethora of needs of the entire school community.

One way to begin achieving equity is to begin with the language of equity.  OWP/P Architects et al. (2010) insist “What you say influences what you think and what you do.  Use the term universal design, rather than accessible design, as a reminder of what it’s all about: creating an environment for all learners” (p. 201).   Achieving equity in the school library means accommodating diversity in all its resources, its programming and its virtual and physical environments.

Flexibility

In order to tackle the challenges of providing equity, each space within the learning commons needs to be improved for its fluidity in purpose and, where possible, accommodate these sensitivities to design.  Feinberg and Keller (2010) suggest that the school library needs to cater to a wide range of developmental programming needs to allow for these age and ability differences that make it an essential and unique part of every community (p. xi).  OWP/P Architects et al. (2010) proposes “Make classrooms agile. A learning space that can be reconfigured on a dime will engage different kinds of learners and teachers” (p. 89).  While these ideals are noble, implementation in schools at first seems quite difficult.  One of the main reasons that teachers bring their classes to the school library is to allow for, as OWP/P Architects et al. (2010) suggests:  “Change up the locations of regular activities so children can explore new surroundings with their bodies and their minds” (p. 49).  The stimulation of moving to a new environment of learning can signal a change in curriculum tempo.

Improving flexibility in the school library reiterates the need in our teaching to become more flexible as well.  Sir Ken Robinson (2010) says “if we’re looking for new pedagogical practices, we have to have facilities that will enable those to happen.  So you want flexible spaces where people can group and re-group, where you’re not stuck in one configuration with teachers at the front” (OWP/P Architects et al., p. 58).  This reconfiguration calls for spaces in the learning commons which do not have static purposes, and where equipment is mobile.  It not only improves the teacher’s ability to bring student-centred inquiry to the forefront of the curriculum, but it also allows for the equitable accommodation of multiple learning styles.   Feinberg and Keller (2010) say that in order to accommodate different learning styles in gender, that spaces in libraries need to be flexible enough to accommodate student preferences for the kinesthetic tendencies of boys, and the group-oriented tendencies of girl study groups. Feinberg and Keller (2010) emphasize  that “Teens frequent the library for a variety of reasons, and the more options provided the better the array of experience.  But somewhere in each library a core of students who see the library as a resource for study and quiet learning can probably be observed” (p. 75).  The learning commons isn’t only a place for stimulation, it needs to provide security for patrons who cannot find that in other school places.  Feinberg and Keller (2010) suggest that one way to provide this security is to honour the nature of adolescents in furniture choices which need to be comfortable to accommodate multiple sitting positions for the variety of tasks that might be completed by the full range of users in school library space:  “Curved work surfaces at two different heights can be accompanied by adjustable-height stools to accommodate varying heights of teenagers, either for standing or perching on stools halfway between sitting and standing (p. 42).  Once again, achieving equity in learning styles can be achieved by building in flexibility in task furniture.

Flexibility in learning design doesn’t just mean from moment to moment, but from season to season. Feinberg and Keller strongly suggest that “activities and needs are driving factors in how the space is used at any one time or for any one purpose” and that these needs can also change according to the time of day or the time of year (p. 112).  One way to maintain flexibility when implementing the infrastructure for technology, Feinberg and Keller (2010) suggest using flat wiring underneath carpet tiles so that moving anything requiring power only involves moving these tiles for access (p. 127).  Even in a static, traditional environment, flexibility in space and purpose can improve equity leading to greater opportunity for innovation.

Innovation

From an outsider point of view, it may appear that the library has no place in a digital future where information is at everyone’s fingertips.  Balas (2012) suggests that “the library is evolving from being a place that houses materials to a place where users can work (p. 33).  An emerging trend in public libraries is to create a ‘makerspace’ where learning happens through tinkering.  The makerspace, or area devoted to ingenuity in hands-on learning, can incorporate any sort of laboratory for experimentation from digital media to textiles.  The underlying concept of a lab space is to create a Da Vinci-esque space for exploration which transcends the curriculum.  Ken Robinson (2010) says that real innovation and creativity come at the intersections of disciplines — the way they merge and blend” (OWP/P Architects et al., p. 58).  With improved flexibility in how a space is used, occasionally teacher-librarians will need flexibility in separating zones for different purposes.  While the learning commons advocates for innovation, innovation cannot infringe on the other purposes of the learning commons.  Feinberg and Keller (2010) suggest that in order to maximize the potential for innovation and to “achieve full multifunctioning for these spaces, sliding doors can be used…the same design device can be applied to computer labs and small meeting rooms” (p. 51).  A teacher-librarian maximizing every corner can easily see how dividers can separate off areas for use as the seasons of purpose change.   Feinberg and Keller (2010) propose that the necessity of innovation is so great that any space that is single purpose needs to have a separate room built specially in order to alleviate scheduling demands on multipurpose areas (p. 51).  Tasks associated with specific and static areas of a library, like research and computing, will need to become possible in every facet of the learning commons.  The alternative is to create separate static areas which do not infringe on the flexibility and innovation happening in the learning commons model.

Collaboration

An age-old skill that has been reemphasized in the paradigm shift happening in education is the need for students to graduate with a firm grasp of collaboration on a global scale.  The learning commons model, incorporating new levels of flexibility and innovation, will naturally lead to cross-curricular collaboration.  The OSLA document Together for Learning describes the natural connections that will form in the new model:

“A Learning Commons is a vibrant, whole-school approach, presenting exciting opportunities for collaboration among teachers, teacher-librarians and students. Within a Learning Commons, new relationships are formed between learners, new technologies are realized and utilized, and both students and educators prepare for the future as they learn new ways to learn.  And best of all, as a space traditionally and naturally designed to facilitate people working together, a school’s library provides the natural dynamics for developing a Learning Commons” (p. 3).

A harmonious learning environment is one where socialization can naturally happen as Tapscott (2009) says “Students need to talk among themselves.  In fact, research has found collaborative learning to be more effective in increasing academic performance than individual or competitive learning” (p. 137).

In creating physical and virtual spaces for collaboration, the nature of working towards common goals will become permeated throughout the processes of creation and student work will reach a more authentic and diverse audience.  Tapscott (2009) advises teachers to “Encourage [students] to work with each other and show them how to access the world of subject-matter experts available on the Web” (p. 148).  There are many experiences that a learning commons can provide to stimulate discussion, relationships and deeper connections within the physical and virtual space.  OWP/P Architects et al. (2010) suggest that one way to support innovation is to “Emulate museums.  An environment rich in evocative objects…triggers active learning by letting students pick what to engage with (p. 67). Although this could of course be a solitary task, inquisitive discussion is a derivative of evocative objects.  Evocative objects provided can lead to the innovation and creation of new objects made by students themselves.  A natural extension of collaboration of this sort is the celebration of achievement in student work.

Celebration

The learning commons model enriches the traditional function of the library which is to serve its community.  There are few spaces in a school where student work can be shown to the entire community, and fewer still that will recognize the complete diversity of the community.  Once the learning commons model is achieved OWP/P Architects et al. (2010) suggests “Open the doors.  Give students places to exhibit their work as if it were in a public gallery, then invite the public to come and have a look” (p. 189).  Furthering the innovation of the traditional library space once more, the learning commons becomes an ideal place for the arts.  Feinberg and Keller (2010) suggest that “the creation of a performance space…used for small concerts by the teens, poetry readings, and other special events” can have a stage, curtain, lights and acoustics built in (p. 75). In order to create a sense of community and ownership of the learning commons by its users, student work must be honoured and celebrated in the physical and virtual spaces.

Libraries need to revisit their spaces to ensure that they are:

  • equitable, reaching every member of the school community;

  • flexible, allowing for learning processes to evolve naturally and adapting to the learner;

  • innovative, allowing for authentic cross-curricular creation;

  • collaborative, encouraging connections on a local and global scale; and

  • celebratory, recognizing the achievements of student work that embodies the aforementioned tenets of the learning commons model.

If these objectives are met, then the library becomes about the community within rather than the tasks associated with the space.  The traditional role of libraries is no longer pertinent when reading and research can happen anytime, anywhere.  Rather Feinberg and Keller (2010) maintain that the future success of high school libraries lies within our ability to create a space where teenagers perceive that they are “needed, respected and …belong” (p. 17).  Instead the mandate of accessible and available learning becomes embodied in a physical and virtual space known as The Learning Commons.

References

Balas, J. L. (2012). Do makerspaces add value to libraries? Computers in Libraries, 32(9), 33.

Feinberg, S., & Keller, J. R. (2010). Designing space for children and teens. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Johnston, M. P., & Bishop, B. W. (2011). The potential and possibilities for utilizing geographic information systems to inform school library as place. School Libraries Worldwide, 17(1), 1-12.

Ontario School Library Association. (2010). Together for learning: School libraries and the emergence of the learning commons. Ontario Library Association.

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture, & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can design to transform teaching & learning. New York, NY: Abrams.

Tapscott, D. (2009). Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.