The School Library as Change Agent

Perhaps the most valuable real estate in a school is its library.  Here’s why:

It is my belief that libraries offer a unique two-part invitation to learners.  This invitation is grounded by the opportunity for students to develop the skills associated with being literate, a time-honored purpose that these spaces have always supported.  The library also offers a unique opportunity for learners to shape their own experience and engage in a “learning expedition,” either independently, or with others, and do so on a path of their choosing.

While developing literacy is always an important and critical component of becoming well-educated, the path and expedition of learning is what I find intriguing.  I believe that both concepts are part of the shift that must occur in all aspects of learning at school - a focus on learners and their ability to own, shape and direct their learning experience.  The library is a unique location for that, a unique opportunity in itself, a catalyst if you will, for creating the conditions that enable ownership of learning by students while at school.

To accomplish this, the library must act to promote such a condition - in effect, a library must develop and possess, through the actions of its inhabitants, a set of dispositions, or ways in which the space declares and supports such conditions for learning.  That’s does the space itself act, behave, and promote certain actions by the people that enter?  How do all contribute to the development of the dispositions associated with a library?  And, what is the invitation into experience that a library can declare and offer in support of student-owned learning expeditions? 

To that end, consider the following four provocations as a way to think about creating new expectations for a library (or classroom, or school, etc.) that manifest in new conditions for learning:

1. How do you create the conditions for the invitation, the path, and experience?  That’s done through leadership.

2. How do you embrace and recognize the need of learners to create their own path and experience?  That’s done by understanding and accepting your students as human beings and by developing an empathic approach towards them and their needs.

3. How do you enable learners to choose their own path?  That’s done by unlocking agency.

4. How do you enable learners to own the path?  That’s done through empowerment.

Leadership.  Empathy.  Agency.  Empowerment. 

Blending the first two can give rise to the third.  When the third is in place, the fourth is possible.  When the fourth is in place, anything is possible.

Of course, what I am talking about here is developing the conditions for personal learning, and about the willingness of adults to ask the right questions and set the conditions for a new experience and having the initiative, perseverance, and determination to see that through.  How the library serves as a centralized space to support a shift in perspectives about learning is intriguing and truly represents the purpose and future of the library in schools. 

Loris Malaguzzi talked about space as the third teacher of children, along with adults and peers.  The school library offers a unique opportunity to explore that idea, and provide the freedom, the path, and the opportunity to students to explore learning on their own terms while at the same time serving as a plausible future for what a contemporary learning experience at school can be and mean. 

David Jakes is a recognized leader in the educational technology field, focusing on using the design process to support the organizational growth, development and change required to create relevant and meaningful conditions for student learning in schools.  David’s thought leadership includes addressing the increased need to develop agile, connected, and personalized learning environments that support a contemporary education, and how the use of technology can be re-imagined to create boundless opportunities for learning.  Before his current position as an independent consultant and as the Director of Learning Spaces with the EdTechTeam, David spent almost three decades in education as a teacher, technologist, and administrator. David's design experience includes working as a Digital Designer and Strategist for CannonDesign and The Third Teacher+, a leading architecture firm and learning space consultancy.   David is a frequent presenter at national and international educational conferences where he speaks about the power and promise of a new expedition for learning, and the roles that all educators have in shaping that journey. 


Nell Knight replied on

Thanks Jake. A timely read for me. You condense my perspective and inspire my future direction. The school library is the perfect model for learning based upon student choice and the ideal starting point for wider adaption of student-directed learning across the school. I paraphrase Joi Ito ... Education is done to you by others whereas learning is done by yourself (and through your own decision-making processes). Elsewhere the research and literature on student-centred learning is convincing (Guided Inquiry, Genius Hour etc etc). Schools are slowly recognising the importance of this approach to learning.
See Joi Ito, 2014.

Landon Johnson replied on

I totally agree!

As a 30 year veteran of hands-on industry modeled technical training, I started teaching when libraries were still libraries. In the 80s and 90s it seemed there was a push to dispense with the term, "library" in favor of more generic terms like 'Media Center" or "Learning Resource Center". In fact I was once reprimanded for referring to the LRC as a 'library' and told not to let it happen again!

The term 'library' carries with it a sense of tradition; reliability, accuracy, accountability. The change in terminology brought with it a dilution of sorts, where research, reading and critical thought have been replaced with YouTube videos and Wikipedia.

The library also was a guaranteed place to be alone with your thoughts. Even though I was studying, thoughts of WHY I was studying and what I would do with my education crept in, giving me a much needed break from the material. This gave me the space to lay out a path (not that I followed it) and justify moving forward every day. I made plans and set goals. This sort of respite simply cannot occur these days; we simply don't allow ourselves the time, instead using technology to give us answers without thinking about the question.

The library does not exist for convenience. You have to put in the time and thought and in doing so, you create space.

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