The following essay was written by our new incoming Librarian and Director of Information Literacy, Laura Lee Calverley.   She prepared this piece as part of her application for our position.   Next week I intend to post excerpts from other essays we received in the course of our search.

The 21st Century School Library: Literacy in a New Era

Traditionally, the school library has been a house of books, supporting the development of student literacy and learning. Though radical changes have swept us into the Information Age, the overall goal of the school library remains the same: To teach and promote literacy and to continue to provide students access to learning materials and information. Focused no longer on the idea of literacy being cemented to books and other printed materials, the modern school library appropriately embraces a modern idea of literacy—an information literacy. To truly teach information literacy, the 21st century library and the 21st century librarian must create a safe and welcoming learning environment that promotes a modern day literacy; teaching a comfort and understanding of the intellectual concepts behind information technology, whilst maintaining the library as a thriving center of research, reading and learning.

The concept of literacy must be redefined, as more and more information is accessible electronically, often in non-linear, interlinked formats. The 21st century library provides bibliographic and information literacy instruction designed to help students master the challenges of modern day literacy. This instruction must be integrated, through close collaboration with other faculty, into the curriculum at large. While it is extremely important to teach students how to access information via electronics means, such as online article databases and ebooks, modern day information literacy instruction will also teach students the how to evaluate the merit, timeliness and sources of that electronic information. Additionally, the library will teach students the concepts behind the technology that has been integrated into everyday life and everyday research. By teaching and evaluating to high standards, such as The American Association of School Librarian’s Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning (1), the modern school library will address not just the “how to” of technology, but the conceptual understanding behind information technology, giving students the solid evaluation and critical thinking skills that are necessary for a successful academic career in today’s information saturated landscape.

Providing access to learning tools and a learning environment is a key responsibility of the 21st century school library. While remaining a physical and welcoming space for students to sit, read, to meet in groups, ask questions, receive assistance, and comfortably learn, the modern library must also provide students with access tools and technology, such as computers, relevant, up to date software, and electronic information sources. Technology in the library has grown far beyond the form of the online article database or catalog. The 21st century library integrates technology into every step of the literacy and learning process.

It is an exciting age to experience as a reader and a learner. From leisure reading to research, new technologies are finding their way into the library and the classroom. Social Networking and Web 2.0 technologies have given us new and exciting ways to promote reading and research, including new methods of Reader’s Advisory, reference assistance, document management and access. Books and information now come in many forms: ebooks, online chapters and articles, portable audio devices, and more. With so many new technologies being turned towards the acts of reading and learning, the library must embrace
and evaluate these new technologies, giving students a place to explore and embrace reading and researching in these new formats.

In addition to providing access to learning tools, the 21st century library will continue its traditional role as a collection of information resources, though the format of these resources has changed dramatically. No longer restricted to a physical catalog of items, the 21st century library must use online databases, collaboration and a variety of new media formats to more effectively collect learning materials. With a well stocked digital collection, the modern school library can not only house far more the physical capacity of the building and shelves, it can also make smarter, more efficient budgetary choices to keep relevant, high
quality and up to date materials in our students’ hands. The modern school library must understand and define the role of the school’s collection, the potential collaborative collections within the community. With this understanding, the library will utilize the ability that new technologies give us to collect learning resources more efficiently and effectively.

With the continuous evolution of technology, it takes passion and dedication to be a 21st century librarian who will rise to the instructional, technological and collection development challenges of today’s learning environment.  Keeping up with information technology requires not just computer skills, but a passion for lifelong learning, for tinkering with new tools, as well as a passion for libraries, literature and the intellectual stimulation that we can provide to our students. A successful librarian must stay up to date with new trends and technologies in the learning environment, always learning and evaluating new technologies, following the academic literature and interacting with library community. This passion not only makes for a better library environment and collection, it makes for a better librarian who can teach and inspire faculty and students in research and the new researching techniques of today.

1 American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational
Communications and Technology. Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning.
Chicago, 1998.