School Libraries: Meeting the Needs of 21st Century Learners

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By Steve Zalusky, @ your library staff

School libraries are adjusting to the learning needs of the 21st Century.

For Bonner (Mont.) Elementary School Librarian Katie Dvarshkis, that involves not only providing books, but also the online and digital tools her students need – as well as teaching them the proper use of them.

Her library has a laptop cart with 30 laptops, as well as six desktop computers.

But it isn’t enough for the school and the library to provide the technology. The children need to learn how to navigate the online world intelligently and responsibly.

“In our library, we are really embracing the fact that we have online resources, such as World Book and EBSCO,” she said. The children are learning how to use those online databases, she said, “instead of just going to Google and taking everything at face value.”

At the same time, she said the library has tried to find a happy medium, teaching the children how to use books as well as imparting online research skills.

“There are two sides to it. You can have the print and the digital version. And I think that is really important,” she said.

The school is right outside Missoula in a one-building district. The K-8 school has more than 350 students.

Students reading at Bonner Elementary School Library in MontanaDvarshkis is only in her second year as a full-time librarian. She said she volunteered in other libraries before she was hired for her current position, so she had the opportunity to view what was on the cutting edge.

“I love books. I love the joy the kids get when they pick up a new book, when they get to travel to new places through reading. I love being able to see the entire school. I love to see lightbulbs turn on. I think it’s just a really rewarding place to be,” she said.

She said she gets great support from her superintendent and principal, with both of whom she is able to collaborate.

“At the beginning of the year, I send out an email and ask teachers what big projects they are working on and then try to send out follow-up emails every couple of months and (ask) if there are any projects you want to double up on. I have gotten together with a couple of the second grade classes. We get into World Book in the library. They go back into their classrooms. They check out books here, do their research in there, come back in here and do their typing, so I talk to most of the teachers pretty much on a daily basis. They just try to keep me updated on what they are doing in the classroom and I try to do something that goes along with that in here.”

Knowing how, “In this age, in this technology driven world, the kids are going to be constantly surrounded by technology,” she discusses with administration how to “teach them how to use that technology in a setting where it’s safe” before they confront it in the outside world.

Student at Bonner Elementary School Library in MontanaAs a librarian, she said it is important to direct children’s search for sources of knowledge.

“I can pull it together into one place for them and help them, not just tell them where that one place is, but be able to show them how to do it on their own, because as they continue to go on through school, they are going to need to know how to weed out different resources, and the librarian’s job is to teach them not only to take everything at face value,” she said.

With Common Core, the library is set to play a key part. The school is reading more non-fiction texts, and she said, “I’m trying to make sure we have a good rounded age level non-fiction section, so everyone can appreciate non-fiction.

“I think my job is going to be to help support all the teachers even more than we already try to do. But I’m trying to make sure that we have a solid non-fiction section, along with having solid on-line resources that are known.”

For Dvarshkis, her aim is to motivate the children to “give them the resources and have them just explore and see where their questions take them.“

Dvarshkis provides just one example of how the school library and the teaching provided by the school librarian are vital to student learning and the development of life-long learning skills.

The school librarian is one of the most effective teachers in the school; data from 26 states shows that where there is a certified librarian, test scores improve. The most important thing a student can do in the 21st century is learn how to learn – and this is what school libraries help kids do.

The school librarian supports learning across all disciplines for students, and is also a resource for all teachers, helping deliver critical in-school application of changing information technology to improve learning.

Expect excellence of your school and for every student by expecting that your school will have a library and a librarian.

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