From Now On
Vol 9|No 5|January|2000
by Jamie McKenzie
Frances Cox sits "leaning into the screen" with a cluster of students working in pairs and trios around several computer monitors. They are all intent on solving an information mystery. They have been asked to decide which early explorer was the better leader . . .
Explorer Time Machine -- A time machine you find at a flea market has only three choices, sailing with Magellan, Columbus or Drake. Who was the best leader? http://wwwsil.bham.wednet.edu/Curriculum/homeport.htm
Frances is a new brand of school librarian. She has joined these students and their teacher in their fifth grade classroom equipped with a half dozen networked computers. The Langston Hughes Middle School faculty has committed to the notion of an "information literate school community" (eSchool News, August, 1999), and Frances has led the way as school librarian, teaming frequently and effectively with her colleagues where ever the action brings her.
Unlike some schools who have mistakenly reduced funding and commitment to library programs as they have networked classrooms, this school fought for extra staff funding to strengthen the library program. They doubled the hours of a part time aide, an investment that has freed Frances to provide intensive support to teachers when and where they need it.
As schools network classrooms, many discover the central importance of a strong library, a dynamic librarian and a robust information skills program. The school media center, its staff and the library program all adapt dramatically to meet the challenges, the threats and the opportunities of the new information landscape. At the same time, there are many classical program elements that deserve protection and ongoing support.
How does your own schools commitment to library and information services measure up? Consider these four issues:
How clearly does the school commit to information literacy, frequent research and strategic reading?
How well does the school support the expanding responsibilities of the school librarian?
How well does the budget support the expanded services of the library staff?
How well does the budget support balanced information resources (print and electronic subscriptions as well as "free" Internet information)?
1. Clear Program Goals
My August and September eSchool News columns outlined the urgency of adopting a strong information literacy curriculum with an emphasis upon frequent research, inferential reasoning and strategic reading. As states have introduced increasingly demanding reading tests, new information technologies offer a promising environment within which to develop higher level thinking and reading skills.
In many schools, research projects are sporadically recurring rituals demanding little thought and offering little return on investment. To make a substantial and intensive commitment to skill development in this area will require 2-3 years of professional development, curriculum development and program development all tied to an assessment model that will help maintain staff focus on the goals.
Once a school commits to the goal of becoming an information literate school community, the library program becomes a critical ingredient, as important to the overall success of the school as yeast is to a loaf of bread.
2. Expanding Responsibilities of the Library Media Specialist
In addition to the services and support we have expected from the Library Media Specialist (LMS) in the past, we are now seeing some new, highly demanding roles associated with the arrival of electronic resources. This column will mention several of the most prominent challenges.
LMS as Professional Developer The LMS should be prepared to help everyone understand just what we mean by the term "information literacy." While we would not expect all adult learning to be delivered by the LMS, he or she should be one of the 2-3 most influential planners of adult learning in the school. The LMS should have a deep understanding of the nexus (connection) between research, strategic reading and literacy as well as the capacity to transmit this understanding to colleagues. This responsibility is explained in detail in "How Teachers Learn Technology Best." (McKenzie, 1999, FNO Press, http://fno.org/howlearn.html)
LMS as Curriculum Team Leader The LMS is a central player on the teams creating information and research intensive curriculum activities. As we are finding that the invention of such activities and units is a fundamental ingredient in a successful technology integration effort, the LMS introduces these teams to models worth emulating such as WebQuests (http://webquest.sdsu.edu) and Research Modules (http://fno.org/module/module.html).
LMS as Coach The LMS works alongside classroom teachers as they introduce technology intensive, information rich learning during regular classroom periods. Sometimes this coaching occurs in the Library Media Center, but increasingly we will be seeing the LMS out in classrooms as we distribute information resources electronically. The LMS goes (like Frances Cox in the opening scene of this column) where the action is. This kind of coaching and peer support is essential if we hope to enlist the enthusiastic participation of the reluctant and late adopting teachers described in the May column of eSchool News.
LMS as Pilot, Navigator and Sage The LMS helps everyone to manage Info-Glut and Noise. The LMS is skilled at locating reliable information and showing others how to navigate through the increasingly challenging seas of information. After the bandwagon subsides, the LMS assists staff and students with the speedy and efficient location of information worth considering. Some of these efforts show up as links and "user interfaces" that point to the best resources so that no one needs to waste time wandering about. Note links provided for students and staff at the Springfield Township (PA Virtual Library (http://mciu.org/~spjvweb) created by LMS Joyce Valenza.
LMS as InfoTect An InfoTect, much like an architect, designs the information delivery system (along with colleagues from the classroom and network engineers) to bring quality information to the classroom desktops in a well organized manner both user-friendly and reliable. The LMS should be a prime player in deciding with teachers what electronic information needs to be purchased in support of the curriculum and what students should see on their screens as they attempt to do the information prospecting that is the first stage of literacy.
LMS as Archivist and Curator The LMS has always prized the role of developing a vertical file overflowing with rich visual information such as maps and art prints. Now we will see locally generated electronic artifacts and digital resources added to the schools file server in ways to support the curriculum, whether it be scanned photographs of local history or a database containing water quality data from the county watershed. As suggested in the April and June issues of From Now On (http://fno.org), the school will take special care to supplement typically meager and unsatisfactory commercial clip art collections with good digital images and student art work. The LMS may lead the way as is the case with Silver Beach LMS, Dar New (http://wwwsil.bham.wednet.edu/Kids%20Eye/kids%20eye1.htm).
3. Budget Support for Staff Services
Strong information programs will require an increase in funding for staff to complete all of the new tasks mentioned above while maintaining the time-honored (and still essential) services we might expect from school libraries and librarians. Sadly, some districts are funding technology programs by eliminating and reducing library staffing budgets. See "A Brave New World of Padlocked Libraries and Unstaffed Schools" in the February/March issue of From Now On (http://fno.org/feb99/padlocked.html).
Many LMS staffing budgets were underfunded to begin with, forcing highly paid professionals to do much clerical work instead of more valuable tasks. Good sized schools need full time library aides taking care of the non-professional tasks so the LMS may devote attention to information literacy. Large schools will need several librarians.
4. Budget Support for Information
Schools that are networking for the first time tend to overestimate the value of the free resources available on the Internet as they run cables and buy computers.
Fortunately, teachers and media specialists in networked schools rapidly discover that there is no "free lunch" and begin supplementing the "free" Internet with electronic subscriptions and resources that deliver quality but cost money. They also tend to prize print resources once again as research takes on more importance and the advantages of books become evident.
Next months column - "No Free Lunch" explores the challenge of building a comprehensive and rich information system in an electronic context one that will support the school curriculum as well an emphasis upon literacy, research and strategic reading.
Curriculum for the 21st Century technology enhanced units for the elementary classroom encouraged and organized by LMS Dar New, available at http://wwwsil.bham.wednet.edu/Curriculum/curriculum.htm.
Information Power: Implementing the Information Standards
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