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Importance of Bricks

The Importance of Bricks
Head for the Edge
September 2006
Our district is in the process of planning a new high school.  The architects are here and are saying that “many new schools are being built without libraries,” and that “students will each have their own individual gizmo and be able to access everything they need on-line.” (sigh) from an LM_Net posting, April 2, 2006.
A bit of storm was raised last spring when a Texas LMS sent the message that included the quote above. That Texas – always the educational trend-setter!

As schools look for ways to economize and as students increasingly have access to and a preference for online information sources, the old “Why do we need a library when we have the Internet?” question will be asked more often and more loudly.

While many out front librarians have responded to this digital threat by offering an increasing amount of digital content and digital services, might I suggest that we must refocus our attention, if libraries (and the field of librarianship) are to survive, on our bricks and mortar facilities and face-to-face services rather than on our virtual resources. As counterintuitive as it may sound, the very ubiquity of information requires this. What can our physical libraries do, that the Internet cannot?

1. Libraries must be the technology place.
The library should house the infrastructure technologies needed to insure that students, teachers and their electronic tools can connect to each other and the rest of the world, where data and video servers, patch panels, and routers are placed in a secure area. It is the logical place to house the technical staff, where one of the professional librarian’s jobs will be to help them prioritize their tasks and possibly supervise. The production lab containing computers with massive processing power used to do high-end image and video processing and number crunching will be a part of tomorrow’s library. Also needed will be spaces and resources for individual tutoring and group teaching of information and technology skills.

2. Libraries must be the collaborative space.
Collaborative learning and the need for social interaction will require our libraries to be places of active learning. Studies of Net Genners tell us that even this wired group wants and needs places for face-to-face interaction – a role a library space can fill in ways the classroom cannot. And while most of a child’s education will be increasingly individualized to meet specific learning goals and styles, interpersonal and collaborative skills will become ever more important. This means conference rooms, small lounge spaces, and tables where talking is not just allowed, but expected.

3. Libraries must be the performance/demonstration location.
I personally hope that storytelling, puppetry, live debates and demonstrations will be part of every child’s education. The library needs to be the space where all steps of the information process are practiced – including communication. Every library needs a presentation/storytelling area with multimedia equipment and seating for groups larger than a class.

4. Libraries must be the relaxation/meditation/caffeination station.
The library will remain a physical learning space if we begin creating facilities and environments where kids and teachers want to be. The library must have comfortable chairs, a pleasant ambiance, and a friendly, low-stress, safe, and forgiving atmosphere. It must contain flexible spaces that can be used by individuals, small groups, and whole classes. Think about why one goes to Barnes & Nobles rather than simply shops on Amazon. And yes, libraries should have coffee shops or their age-appropriate equivalent. See “A Jolt of Java in Your Library” <http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2005/10/13/a-jolt-of-java-your-library.html>

5. Libraries must be the go-to the place for face-to-face.
As librarians, we will need to compete for patrons and promote our space since we are no longer the only game in town for information. It will be our skills, especially our interpersonal skills, to which patrons will be drawn. The librarian needs to be a good reason to go to the library, rather than to avoid the library, if we are to survive.

We forget sometimes that society has given our K-12 schools three major charges:
  1. Teach young people academic and technical skills.
  2. Socialize future citizens.
  3. Contain and protect children while Mom and Pop are busy.
Each of these societal charges is increasing, not lessening – hence all-day kindergarten, latchkey programs, longer school days, and longer school years.

Schools themselves will be made of bricks and mortar for as long as they are expected to provide not just educational, but socialization and custodial services by the public. And a space called a “library” must be integral to future schools.

Posted on Sunday, June 17, 2007 at 10:24AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | Comments4 Comments

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Reader Comments (4)

These are five excellent MUSTs to remember--even while working within a tiny library. While we're limited on space, I really try to hit the 2-5 MUSTs. What's ironic about the ASB secondary library is we fall short on #1--even at such a high tech school. There are actually no computers for patrons to use in the secondary library since all the kids and teachers are 1:1. While I can see why we don't offer a station or two, I still see the need when students or teachers and more importantly parents (who don't carry around a laptop while visiting) want to access a computer to find an item on our library catalog or browse the net.

I try to make up for the lack of #1 computer usage by running fun programs that access technologies and highlight library resources: there's a digiframe always going, projectors are displayed frequently highlighting resources, the lcd tv gets lots of use, playlists running with music, and audio stations set up. We just don't have the needed station for patrons to hop on and off of. Baby steps. We'll get there!

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Krembs

Hi Ann,

I suspect your library is a lively, involving place despite the lack of workstations. We are finding kids like small check-out computers that can access the wireless network better than stations anyway.

Good luck (and wait til you see the libraries in IS Beijing!)


March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I am a heavy user of the Internet -- at work and at home. And yet I am often frustrated by the limitations of the information available there on the topics I'm interested in. Since I am no longer a registered university student, I do not have free access to scholarly journals, theses and dissertations. Much of the information readily available on the Internet is written at the level of popular newspapers and magazines and repetitive -- the same content simplified, plagiarized and reposted time and again. Quality information must be paid for, just as books must be paid for.
I have also been around long enough to discover that, as storage media is updated, much archived information is increasingly difficult to access, if it's possible to access it at all. Babylonian cuneiform tablets may be easier to read than old sets of keypunch cards. Are you willing to let the IT guys decide what information is valuable enough to keep?

May 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMartha

Thanks, Martha. You make some excellent points. I worry about the digital archiving of records will result in a loss of records in the long run. Got anything that reads a 5 1/4 floppy anymore?


May 23, 2009 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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