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New and Improved School Library Media Program

The New and Improved School Library Media Program: the Mankato Transition
School Library Journal, June 1995

In the fall of 1990, a school accreditation team wrote that a serious limitation of Mankato (Minnesota) Public School’s media program was that the present structure of separate library and audio-visual departments is not consistent with the current philosophy of providing a unified resource for students and teachers.  I was hired a year later and given the charge to address the limitation, and to incorporate the computer program into the library/audio-visual mix as well.

Less than a month after I started the job, a dozen rather anxious librarians came to the newly renamed District Media Services offices. At that meeting I handed everyone a new computer and explained that it was my goal that each would be the technology “expert” in his or her building, and that technology included computers. “You should be the first person your teachers think of for help when they have a question about technology.”

“This transformation should take about six months,” I thought. At the end of the first computer inservice, one librarian asked quite sincerely if he could please just have the money the computer cost so he could buy more picture books. I revised my time line - maybe this was going to take a full year.

As it turns out, I’ve been the District Media Supervisor for nearly three years, and I don’t know if the district has totally combined its library, audio-visual, and computer programs into a “unified resource” or not, but we have come a long way. This article describes some of the actions the media department has taken to create an integrated “media” program in the district, the results of those actions, what the future might hold for us, and some advice for other districts which are attempting to create similar programs.

Much to the delight of our parents, our building libraries are physically becoming true “media centers.” Wiring and space have been designed to accommodate banks of student research computer stations in all facilities. This has had to be a rather creative endeavor in our smallest libraries which were already cramped and seemingly wired before architects were 100% sure that electricity was here to stay. We are moving all computer labs in or adjacent to the main reading areas so the librarian can help supervise and teach computer-assisted information skills. The back rooms of our media centers have become wiring closets and equipment rooms which hold the network file servers, CD-ROM towers, equipment racks, punchdown blocks, concentrators, and video head-end equipment. The phone lines which form the backbone of our wide-area network run directly into these wiring closets.

Over the past three years we have automated all our media centers. We purposely purchased over-sized file servers and Novell licenses large enough so that all the computers in the building can be networked, and it is the media staff which manages these networks. All media centers have at least one computer with a CD-ROM drive which runs a multi-media encyclopedia and other interactive programs. This year we are hanging CD-ROM drives on our networks so the resources they contain can be accessed on all networked computers in the library, classrooms and offices. Each of our 13 buildings is an Internet node, and primary access is in the media center until the building network reaches every classroom. All media centers have X-Press/X-Change, cable television, the building’s fax machine, and a modem for access to commercial on-line services. Our librarians are committed to keeping the media center the informational heart of the school, even as networked classrooms make the entire school a “virtual library.”

Buying “things” isn’t much of an accomplishment, and the most sophisticated pieces of equipment in the world are just expensive paperweights until teachers and students can use them effectively. This influx of technology into the classroom and library has resulted in Mankato Schools redefining the role of the building librarian.

Before merging the library and technology programs, the librarians in our district had either a traditional print or audio-visual role, and saw no role for themselves in the computer program of the school beyond having an automated circulation system and electronic library catalog. So one of the first (and most continuous) jobs I have undertaken as District Media Supervisor has been to help my librarians see themselves in an expanded role: as a resource for teachers and students who need help with technology and digital resources, as well as print materials. There is an acute, growing need for technology experts in schools. Teachers and students alike need a resource person to help them learn to effectively use and integrate networked resources like the Internet; CD-ROM discs; productivity software like word processors and hypermedia; quality videotape productions; and off-air and cable television programming. The need, in fact, is so great that schools will find this kind of resource person in one way or another. My vision has been to make the librarian that resource in our buildings.

So how did we begin this metamorphosis? Discussion, access, training, role models, and time are all playing a part:

  • We have many discussions centering around our role in the school - who we are, where we are and what we want to become. We are creating a common vision of what a Mankato School librarian should be and do. Some of this has happened as a result of writing the district’s first long-range media/technology plan at one of our early meetings. Although the plan has been revised since by a team of parents, administrators, and teachers, most of the philosophies and goals of the first plan are still there.
  • Formal inservices for librarians are regularly scheduled. The model we use is a full-day meeting once a month. Mornings are dedicated to a technology skill which can later be taught to staff and students; afternoons are used for administrative and curricular work. Our training has included computer operation, word processor use, spreadsheet use, newsletter creation, video camera operation, and the use of cable programming in the classroom. We have also had practice accessing other libraries via modem, and have extensively previewed CD-ROM resources for our patrons. All librarians have been given a portable computer, modem, software, and a printer to use when and where they chose. Thanks to a pilot program with the local university, our librarians have had Internet access and training a full year before other teachers in the schools.
  • Our newest media specialists serve as models for our evolving role. Strong technology skills are a requirement for new media specialists. Our recently hired district computer coordinator is also a building media specialist.
  • Librarians now attend technology conferences or the technology strands of library conferences.
  • Teachers, administrators, and parents have been made aware of the changing roles of their librarians through inservices, presentations at staff and P.T.A. meetings, and articles in building and parent newsletters. Principals and parents have become keenly aware of the value of a technologically adept librarian to the educational program.
  • We are developing an esprit de corps. We now have two annual socials for all district and building media staff - a winter holiday party and end of the year picnic. Our monthly meetings are usually accompanied by an optional meal at a local restaurant. These informal get-togethers help us to develop a new group identity as we grow prouder of who we are and what we do.

We have some wonderful success stories as a result of our professional transformation.

  • Librarians have been instrumental in designing, setting up and running new state-of-the-art media centers and building information networks.
  • Librarians are taking active roles in presenting technology workshops on both building and district staff development days, and teaching or aiding in many technology academy classes.
  • Librarians are revising the library skills curriculum so that it addresses technology skills, and are helping students and teachers with digital information resources on a regular basis.  Our librarians all serve on district subject area curriculum committees. During district-wide curriculum days, we don’t meet as a group, but instead attend chosen content area or grade level committees. Librarians and classroom teachers will eventually share the responsibility for teaching through integrated units in the content areas, not just “library skills,” but all basic technology skills as well, including electronic resource searching, computer productivity software use, multi-media creation, video-production, etc.
While this is the area in which we are making the slowest progress, it is recognized as the most important, and we have a direction. Unchanged state funding, new laws mandating elementary teacher preparation time, and tradition so far have kept our elementary librarians responsible for scheduled classes and a curriculum which is still not tied directly to classroom activities. The best we have achieved is “wiggle-room” - a few additional preparation periods for librarians each week. We will exploit this room by giving teachers and administrators a taste of what a flexibly scheduled program might offer and by providing needed technology and research services.
  • Librarians are seen as the building Internet experts. (Two have built subject specific Mosaic pages.)
  • Librarians serve on building technology utilization teams and on the district media technology advisory committee along with a school board member, district office staff, parents, teachers, businesspersons, and others.
  • Our local university library school has begun sending us practicum students, and three of our library staff serve as adjunct faculty members.
  • We have hired technicians who give hardware support to the media program so that librarians and teachers can concentrate on learning and using applications, not fixing hardware.
  • Librarians have created and taught a successful program which has provided computers and 30 hours of computer productivity training to about a third of our teaching staff, and is having a major impact on the visibility and use of technology in the district. As teachers grow more comfortable and knowledgeable about technology, they will use it to support their curricular objectives. And it follows that the skills students need to use that technology will naturally be taught in the content areas as the needs arise - with the help of the building’s librarian.

Future Challenges
While it’s fun to glance back on occasion as this paper has done, it is also wise to peer down the road a little and try to guess what is just around the next bend. There are some big challenges for our librarians and the media program ahead:

  • We will continue to upgrade our technology and teaching skills. As new hardware and software become available, we want to be the experts in integrating those tools into the curriculum. What’s coming down the pike for Mankato’s schools? Interactive digital video classrooms which link our students with teachers and other students at a distance? Wireless networks? Integrated learning systems which will redefine the role of the teacher? Since we are working in a constantly evolving program, we must be constantly learning to stay relevant.
  • A related challenge will be to prevent stress, over-work, and burnout as we add responsibilities to what is already a full job. Can we find the skills and the discipline to put, as Stephen Covey says, “first things first” and learn to separate the important tasks from the merely urgent ones?
  • We will continue our curricular integration efforts, and make information skill curriculum revision a continuous process, not a once-every-five-year happening. We will be teaching the application of technologies and information to students in ways which are meaningful and have immediate application in their lives. Emphasis on locating information will give way to evaluating data, and using it effectively to solve real problems. What a revolution this will be in the entire school curriculum!
  • Librarians will work to see that a combination of site-based management, new instructional methods, and increased technology use will combine to make flexibly scheduled media programs realities in some of our district’s buildings. As teachers come to rely on the information and technology expertise of the librarian when creating student-centered, authentic learning activities, they will need a resource person who is not always tied up in classes. Like many districts, ours is implementing site-based management. At some point a committee of teachers and parents will be determining staffing, including how much and what kind of librarian best suits their individual school. For dynamic librarians who offer valuable services to teachers and students, this will be a blessing. Other librarians will only provide preparation time. There will be no magic wand waved in the Mankato schools which will turn a scheduled library program into a flexible one.
  • We will fight to keep the literature and reading component of library programs vital and visible. We must continue to help educate the hearts of our children as well as their heads. Examples of virtuous behavior and exemplary lives are still nowhere more readily found than between the covers of our libraries’ novels and biographies. This will become increasingly difficult in a society which worships the bottom line and is spawning censors in ever greater numbers and breeds.
  • We will create programs which make our facilities available to the community so that all our residents are served directly. Our current limited cooperation with the public library in interlibrary loan must be expanded until we combine our funds to purchase resources which will benefit whole communities. We’ll maximize our professional talents as well by cooperating on projects, programs, and training with librarians from other institutions.

    If your district doesn’t already have a combined library/technology program (and it should), I would suggest that the following criteria are vital:

  1. Make a single, administrative level person responsible for the change. Make sure that this person has a clear but flexible vision of what the program will eventually look like, and can vividly describe that future to others. Make sure that the person has a background in both libraries and technology. Ask for at least a yearly goals and a report of progress toward those goals, looking for steady progress rather than overnight miracles. Change needs a person in charge and accountable. Librarians must know that that person is their advocate in administrative circles, appreciates their contributions to the schools, shares their feelings about children and books, and genuinely likes and respects them as people.
  2. Professional librarians bring critical skills and philosophies to an integrated technology program. They are trained in the selection of materials, and in organizing and circulating those materials. Librarians are the building experts in intellectual freedom and censorship issues which will center increasingly around digital resources. They already know the effectiveness of skill integration into classroom content areas. Librarians take a “school view” of resource allocation, which is especially important in schools where computers and other technologies may have been held hostage by individuals or departments. Strong leadership by a school librarian can keep technology use from being only drill and practice or passive viewing. And remember that the traditional librarian brings a love and understanding of literature in various media and knows how it can address the affective side of the learning process. (It is for these reasons that the head of media/technology services should be a librarian as well.)
  3. Do not underestimate the time and energy needed for librarian training in technology skills. Do not expect librarians (or anyone else for that matter) to learn on their own or from a manual. Administrators must be informed that our profession is changing more rapidly than any other in the school, and therefore has exceptional inservice needs.
  4. The effect of change on people and institutions needs to be studied by the administrator in charge. The losses and gains which go with change need to be discussed and understood by those being affected by it. We need to both celebrate getting the new electronic catalog running, and take time to mourn a bit the passing of the wooden box of drawers and rods. Getting the CD-ROM magazine index we fought hard for also means giving up favorite Reader’s Guide lessons carefully constructed over the years. A new skill in the curriculum might mean a favorite story taken out. I personally wish I had taken more time to acknowledge and honor the good of the past traditional library program in our district.
  5. Individuals and their contributions to the program need to be recognized throughout the transition process. In no other school program does success or failure, effectiveness or ineffectiveness, depend so completely on personnel as it does in the media program. Because of this, change must be transformational rather than transactional. In other words, the difference in people and program cannot be in actions and activities alone; the difference must be rooted in self-perception, philosophy, and mission. I like to believe that increased feelings of worth and importance and job satisfaction are the prime motivation for all librarians changing not just what they do, but who they are. The best changes are those which benefit both the institution and the librarian. They are the ones which will be of long-term benefit to our children.

I am not always a patient person. I know that my librarians and I both become frustrated and maybe a little frightened when I ask them to accept new roles and responsibilities, and they are not immediately enthusiastic. And even I admit, my ideas usually mean more work for all of us. (Perhaps a latter edition of this journal should offer “equal time” to my librarians.) But my impatience comes from knowing that the mission of a true media program - to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information - cannot be carried out effectively if it is divided into separate library, audio-visual, and computer programs. And we still have a ways to go.

Posted on Sunday, July 8, 2007 at 06:24PM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

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