The time for libraries is now!


Each new academic year brings me challenges, changes and excitement in ways that I often cannot anticipate. Once again our library shelves have been dusted, collections prepared, digital tools sharpened, and our motivation is running high. Yet the one point of predictability is that the learning landscape refuses to ‘be still’!  When it comes to literacy, information and life-long learning, the pulsing energy of change powers the curriculum of learning  throughout the year at breakneck speed.

Before the year had hardly got underway there were already several indicators that confirmed that education should  never be what it was when you were at school. For example YouTube told us:

Since the dawn of YouTube, we’ve been sharing the hours of video you upload every minute. In 2007 we started at six hours, then in 2010 we were at 24 hours, then 35, then 48, and now…60 hours of video every minute, an increase of more than 30 percent in the last eight months.

Never mind that the ‘dawn of YouTube’ was February 2005, which was just 10 short years after Larry Page and Sergey Brin first met at Stanford University, and before Google was a twinkle in their eye.

We saw the launch of iBooks for education, and iBooksAuthor which promised to challenge the textbook environment in schools by allowing teachers and students to create interactive content for iPads.  Following the unveiling of iBooks 2 Apple saw an incredible 350,000 textbook downloads in in the first three days after launch.

We also saw the new twist on Google+  which finally allowed both nicknames and full-fledged pseudonyms to be used. We got confirmation once again that game-based learning had more to offer than novelty interest. When online gamers topped scientists’ efforts to improve a model enzyme using the online game Foldit (University of Washington in Seattle) a milestone in crowd-sourced research was achieved.

While all schools are now involved in technology integration, laptop programs of some kind, and even iPads for 1:1 programs, it is astounding to think about the myriad ways the core tools and learning opportunities of the 21st century have indeed become extraordinary.

This is the socially connected era of mobile devices where interaction is key, and where mobile phone cameras are replacing point-and-shoot cameras to provide visual connection to the conversations. Audio and video media are more and more available online and always accessible in contrast to a disk or separate device designed for single purpose use. While some schools (or systems) lag in adopting the tools of today, students generally do not, making this is part of the overall challenge for information professionals.

Both librarians in your public or corporate library,  and your teacher librarians in your school library can have a vital role to play in today’s interactive knowledge environments as knowledge building, literacy and communication in action  takes many forms, shape-shifting before our eyes. This digital information ecology demands a new knowledge flow between content and digital connection in which expert professionals understand reading and information seeking in a connected world. In other words, the time for libraries is now!

For schools, all this sounds very much like an environment that is best understood and interpreted by teacher librarians who are passionate about their library’s role in the learning culture of their school. It sounds like the perfect space for teacher librarians who are up-to-date with social media, and who already understand the portable, personal web, focused on the individual, on life-stream, on consolidating content, that is powered by widgets, apps, drag-and-drop, and ‘mash-ups’ of user engagement.

Print materials are no longer at the core of the school library reference collection, the non-fiction collection, or the information search process. Students use technology to research online, anytime, anywhere. School libraries that adapt to the digital needs of their students not only continue to build a reading culture in the school, but provide the divergence and convergence in media needed to provide the materials for motivation, differentiation, collaboration and connections necessary for 21st century learning in the multiple and diverse ways of a true expert.

Put bluntly, the era of the  iPad and other mobile/hand-held devices have changed school libraries forever, but have made the role of the teacher-librarian within the whole school community the most important leadership role there is!

Lisa Oldham, Development specialist for school library futures at the National Library of New Zealand, discusses the future of school libraries in the knowledge economy.

Let’s make 2012 the best ever for our libraries!

Image: cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by heyjudegallery