- It takes too much time.
- It costs too much money.
- The administration won’t go for it.
For the most part, all three reasons (and any more you can come up with) are true—and false. If you decide it can’t happen in your library, it won’t. But what if you could transform your library into a Learning Commons? Would it be worth the time and the risk? How would having a Learning Commons change the perception of your program in the eyes of students? Teachers? Administrators? Parents and the larger community? It’s one more step, a big one but a step, in demonstrating your leadership.
Some Reasons to Consider
Let’s start with why you should want to make the transformation. Years ago, school librarians added the word “media” to their title. The reason was to focus attention on how libraries had moved from just having print to incorporating technology into learning and research. It was important to change perceptions to prevent libraries being regarded as dusty warehouses.
Once again it is time to change perceptions first and then change reality. As with many businesses, the 21st century demands we reinvent ourselves. Does your library look like one from the 1990’s? Earlier? The world has changed radically in the past quarter of a century, and it’s not just the technology. It’s how our relationships, learning, and communications have been transformed by technology.
We are living in a participatory culture. We rely on crowd-sourcing, curating, and 24/7 access to information—much of it from our smart phones. Does your library reflect those changes? If you were a students would you see the library as a place to learn, create, share, and grow? (Those are the shortcut phrases describing the four standards of the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.)
As the great American philosopher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.” Fortunately, you don’t need to do this on your own. In a Knowledge Quest article Carole Koechlin and David V. Loerstcher explain the elements needed in a Learning Commons and how to plan for them.
While the article is an excellent start, you also need an incentive to keep you going. You are all highly capable researchers. Look for images of Learning Commons and more articles detailing how others have made the transformation. Not only will this inspire you, it will be useful later when you present your plan. Limit your search by grade level. While the concept stays the same, you may want to know what an elementary Learning Commons looks like.
Don’t be intimidated by the pictures. Just look at the message the different spaces convey. It’s all about participating, sharing, creating, doing. Where in the Learning Commons do these different activities happen? You want to demonstrate the library is not just a place for finding things. It’s a place for making things – and more. It promotes inquiry learning just by the environment it creates.
The conversion to a Learning Commons does not have to be done in one year. In fact, it might be better if it were stretched out to at least three years. This way you can see what is working, what needs tweaking, and where you need to add or delete ideas you had for the next stage.
Your space will need to change. Fresh paint on walls, green screens, signs, and new furniture cost money. Most of you have been struggling with small or no budgets. How can you pay for this? Time to get creative.
What parts of the transformation are DIY – or DIY with volunteer help? What can be done cheaply? For example tables and chairs need to be moveable to allow maximum flexibility. How much would it cost to put what you have on casters? What outside sources of funds are available? Most districts have a local education foundation that gives grants. Are there other grants you could apply for? Could the parent teacher organization help in any way?
Nothing is going to happen without the support of the administration. Once you have you plan put together and have collected a file of pictures, prepare a pitch for your principal. Be sure to include pictures of libraries from the 1950s, the 1990 and your current library.
What is the key message you want to deliver? If possible, tie it to your Vision and the Mission of the school. Keep it brief. Show the work you have done and your cost analysis.
You may get shot down, but listen carefully to what you’re told. I had a superintendent who told me she saved a lot of time by responding with a “no” to almost every suggestion. Most people would just go away disappointed. I would come back with an alternative. And then another alternative. By this time she knew I was serious and that I would work hard to see the project accomplished.
Are you up for the challenge? Isn’t it worth it to try?