Monday, May 23, 2011

High school libraries enter the 21st century

Goodbye card catalogue, hello high-tech

by: Matthew Pearson
Libraries at Ottawa's Catholic high schools, such as Janice O'Neill's at St. Mark Catholic High School in Manotick, are undergoing a major cultural shift to serve students in the digital age. Encyclopedias and some reference books are being replaced by laptops and e-readers.
Photograph by: Pat Mcgrath, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Citizen

The first thing Janice O'Neill did when she became librarian at St. Mark Catholic High School in Manotick was tear up the No Talking sign.

She also ripped up the No Eating sign, stopped charging students for printing stuff off the Internet and said goodbye to the card catalogue.

Now she's clearing the tidy shelves of encyclopedias and other out-of-date reference books jammed with facts that are a click away thanks to Google.

Even the name is changing, from library to learning commons.

"It was all, 'No, no, no,'" O'Neill says of the vibe in the former library, a spacious room on the second floor with an adjacent computer lab. "It wasn't welcoming."

Her efforts are part of a drastic revisioning of school libraries, aimed at giving students the information they need using the tools they're most comfortable with in a space that aims to be as inviting as a Chapters store.

Students will be encouraged to use laptops, tablets, hand-held e-readers, even their personal smartphones, to complement text-based resources, and rectangular tables, hardback chairs and study carrels will largely disappear to make way for comfy couches, pleather chairs and round tables.

Ottawa's Catholic school board, like many boards across the country, is trying to adjust to meet the needs of the 21st-century learner by focusing on collaboration, communication, creativity and problem-solving skills, as opposed to quiet, independent study.

But it's hard to help students learn to work together in a space that has traditionally frowned upon talking.

So bolstered by a report published last year by the Ontario School Library Association -which laid out a roadmap for making the shift to learning commons -the Catholic board decided to change it up.

"This is not eliminating the library and the librarian, this is a transition to a new model that recognizes students' needs have changed," says Tom D'Amico, the superintendent overseeing the change.

It will cost $2 million over the next three years to give each of the board's 80 schools roughly $20,000 to buy new digital tools. Funding will also be available to help schools make any necessary infrastructure changes and buy modern furniture that can be easily shifted around.

But money isn't the hard part - the cultural change is.

D'Amico said the board will help librarians become "cybrarians" by holding boot camps for them to learn the cyber skills they need to help students and fellow teachers adapt to the new reality.

The move reflects what students have been asking for and is intended to make the library a central hub in the school, something it has't been for awhile.

"Many of our students don't use the library because they feel they can do all of their research on Google," he said.

But -perhaps to allay the fears of traditional book lovers -D'Amico added the printed word is far from dead.

"We're not getting rid of books," he said, but rather adding digital materials which will be used to complement what books already offer.

Still, about two-thirds of the books will disappear from shelves. Subject specific ones will be moved to appropriate classrooms, while others, such as encyclopedias, will be recycled.

High-interest books -think, the Harry Potter or Twilight series -will remain.

Meanwhile, new online resources will soon be available through the board's website, giving students 24/7 access.

Back at St. Mark's, the learning commons buzzes with noon-hour activity. Students are eating, reading the newspaper and working on homework. Conversation and laughter fill the room.

Casey Crawford, Erin Higgins and Henry Nguyen are each carrying a Kobo e-reader, which they've signed out of the library to use in their Grade 11 English class.

Crawford and Higgins are reading The Pelican Brief, while Nguyen is plowing through The Scarlet Letter.

They all agree the changes to the library are welcome.

Higgins, who said she does most of her reading from a screen, said the space is more welcoming now. Before, she came here only when it was too cold or rainy to go outside during lunch.

Added Nguyen: "It will promote the use of the library."

from: Ottawa Citizen

No comments:

Post a Comment