Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Student Learning in the Library: What Library Power Librarians Say

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Student Learning in the Library: What Library Power Librarians Say

Article excerpt

Library Power sought to improve student learning opportunities through enhanced use of an improved library media center. Over the course of the initiative, librarians in Library Power schools were asked to describe meaningful learning experiences for a student or students in their libraries and to explain what made them good learning experiences. The librarians' responses were analyzed for the quality of the learning experience described and for the kinds of indicators cited as evidence of learning. Focused case studies observed how the school library media centers in selected schools provided improved learning opportunities for students.

The National Library Power Program, funded by the DeWitt-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund, sought to improve opportunities for student learning by providing funding for library resources in elementary and middle schools in 19 communities across the United States. Although contributions to all of the schools were similar, some schools had more success than others in providing student learning opportunities. Although improved resources made an important contribution in all of the schools, other factors were at work that affected student learning in the libraries. Where Library Power seems to have had the most significant influence on student learning is in those schools where it has been tied to other reform efforts that were moving the climate in the school to a more constructivist approach to learning, centering on inquiry in the research process.

An Inquiry Approach to Learning

The Library Power Program was more effective where there was a commitment to an inquiry approach to learning shared by the librarian, teachers, and administrators. An inquiry approach involves students in the process of learning from a variety of sources of information that begins with students developing their own questions (Harste, 1994). Students are guided through inquiry by asking: What questions do I have? How do I find out? What did I learn? Inquiry learning takes students out of the predigested format of the textbook into the use of a variety of resources for constructing their own understandings. They learn to think through issues that do not have prescribed responses or preset solutions. Through a process of construction, each student actively builds on what he or she already knows to come to a new understanding of the subject under study.

Collaboration Based on Inquiry

Where an inquiry approach to learning is in place, the library is an integral part of the learning process. The inquiry approach requires more than just activities that involve the library. Collaboration between teachers and librarians is a fundamental component of an instructional program based on inquiry. Extensive planning and direction by the teacher is needed to guide students in the learning process with instruction given at the "teachable moment." Through collaborative planning and teaching, opportunities are provided for students to use library resources for constructing a depth of understanding in the content areas of the curriculum. Teachers and librarians are drawn together in a close partnership for developing inquiry as a way to meet the instructional goals of the school (Harste, Callison, & Jurewicz, 1994).

Inquiry is not a new idea for school librarians. Learning through a variety of resources has been the basic concept of library programs since the 1960s, with roots of the idea going back to the founding of libraries in schools. In an article on inquiry in libraries, Callison (1986) described how an inquiry approach changes the librarian's role from that of reacting to immediate information demands to that of interacting with teachers and students in the development of learning through the use of the media center resources. Over the past decade, while researchers in education have been building a strong case for an inquiry approach to learning, there has been a parallel stream of research in school libraries on the information search process. …

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