Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The School Library of Today: Guises and "Universal" Roles

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

The School Library of Today: Guises and "Universal" Roles

Article excerpt

In recent years, the disappearance of traditional libraries from Britain's schools has attracted strong criticism. This paper explores how the computer-oriented information environments that have replaced them do, however, share similarities with old-style book areas. Specifically, each: (a) connects users with information, (b) offers resources that are available to everyone, (c) incorporates structures that demonstrate how large collections of information may be organized, (d) forms a space for developing and practicing information skills, (e) provides a welcoming environment for all, (f) unites pupils of different ages, and (g) may afford access to staffwho support the learning process. The paper concludes by suggesting that, irrespective of the nature of the "library", the existence of an intermediary who can discharge a range of teaching and learning functions is crucial.

The evolving school library

The vastly increased prevalence of information and communications technology (ICT) is one of the most fundamental differences between today's schools and their counterparts of thirty years ago. In previous eras, it would have been rare to find in Britain a school of any real size that lacked some sort of central collection of books and a work area for associated pencil and paper study. There is now, however, a growing trend in the UK towards school "libraries" that are mainly or even wholly electronic. This is especially the case in the secondary phase. It is true that some new school buildings which accommodate old-style book rooms are continuing to be constructed. Monkseaton High in the north-east of England provides a case in point (Shenton, 2011). Here, in September 2009, the organization moved into recently completed multi-million pound premises, where separate spaces are allocated for a "reading room" and several independent learning zones accommodating only computer workstations. Nevertheless, figures stated by Alan Gibbons suggest that as many as around one in five academies are opening with no library at all (Gibbons, 2008). Schools of this type are usually built in deprived areas of the country where levels of educational achievement are low. The premises of schools that have been deemed to be "failing" are replaced with new accommodation and, it is hoped, a fresh ethos is instilled. Technology tends to play a prominent role in the teaching and learning activities that take place within academies. There are also frequent reports of existing secondary schools jettisoning their traditional libraries. Typically, in their stead are either study centers which combine often limited book provision with ICT facilities or areas consisting solely of networked computers. In some instances, the change is motivated by concerns that the use made of large book areas is insufficient to justify either the space they consume or the costs necessary to maintain an up-to-date collection. Elsewhere there may be a feeling that, amidst all the high-tech innovations in teaching and learning, book rooms appear anachronistic.

The shifthas attracted much criticism in many quarters (see, for example, Adams, 2008; Lightfoot, 2008; Owen, 2009), and, for some commentators, any situation in which the profile of books within a school suffers a major reduction is deplorable. According to Susan Elkin (2012), "Books are to education and learning what air and water are to life. Every child needs access to the printed word". Rather than dwelling on what has been lost as a result of the switch from traditional library to computer-oriented resource center, however, it is illuminating to consider the various ways in which an essential continuity is maintained across the two ostensibly very different types of information environment. This paper discusses at length seven particular features that are shared by old-style school libraries and the new breed. It is principally concerned with information environments in secondary schools (which, in Britain, are attended by youngsters aged eleven to eighteen), although some arguments could be applied to schools that deliver education in either of the two main phases. …

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