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New school initiative backs tech-ready librarians

Future Ready Librarians expands literacy—from books to tech to STEM
More relevant library: Students from Vista USD in southern California work on a project in their school makerspace.
More relevant library: Students from Vista USD in southern California work on a project in their school makerspace.

Media specialist Samantha Edwards wants noise in her library—and she hears it.

Last fall, Edwards, the librarian at Fogelsville Elementary School in Parkland School District in Pennsylvania, opened a modest self-publishing center in the library outfitted with an iMac, a printer and a machine to bind books.

She noticed how excited her students were to create their own publishing projects, and decided to expand the publishing center into a “makerspace,” a designated area for students to learn technology skills and tinker with electronics.

That winter, the district sent Edwards to a code.org workshop, where she learned how to introduce students to the basics of computer coding.

By the end of the year, the library was outfitted with a 3D printer, virtual reality goggles and robotics equipment. “It’s not a typical library,” she says. “I want noise—that means kids are collaborating.”

Follow librarians’ lead

Edwards is the kind of librarian envisioned by the Future Ready Librarians initiative, a partnership launched on June 29 by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Department of Education.

The initiative aims to share best practices, provide assessment tools, and encourage librarians from different districts to network and collaborate.

“The goal is to empower librarians to help expand the notion of literacy, from books to technology and to STEM competency,” says Tom Murray, digital learning director for the alliance.

Through the initiative, libraries nationwide are being transformed, as librarians take the lead in creating makerspaces in their districts.

School libraries are a unique place where CIOs, administrators and librarians have a “shared strategic interest” to promote technological education goals, says Mark Ray, CIO of Vancouver Public Schools in Washington. “As schools go 1-to-1, the need for students to use the library as merely a source of information goes away,” he says. It’s an opportunity to reinvent a “more relevant” library.

Ray sees the Vancouver district’s 35 libraries and full-time librarians as key partners in spreading technological literacy and encouraging creativity.

Over the next year, the district will transform up to six of those libraries into spaces where students will use 3D printers, participate in coding workshops, and take apart keyboards to see how they work.

The makerspace at Fogelsville, meanwhile, has been flourishing. Hundreds of students and their parents flock to after-school coding workshops, its robotics team took seventh place at a national competition, and the district is eager to replicate its success. Parkland plans to roll out similar initiatives across the eight other elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school this fall.

District leaders and CIOs should follow librarians’ lead when it comes to creating successful makerspaces, adds Tracy Smith, Parkland’s assistant superintendent for operations.

“I see myself as an offensive tackle,” says Smith, also head of the technology integration program. “My goal is to clear the way for my librarians. Do they need equipment, funding, professional development time? As a district leader I can help make that happen and help them succeed.”