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Transforming quiet school libraries into collaborative spaces

One of the biggest trends is “makerspaces” where students use their imaginations to create crafts, electronics, videos and other projects
  • Teachers from Perry Township Schools in Indiana use their school library’s makerspace to create T-shirts for Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day.
  • Perry Township students use a 3D printer in the library’s makerspace.

Transforming school libraries into communal learning “playgrounds” offers students technology support, remote access to research resources and expanded opportunities for creative exploration.

Librarians can collaborate with teachers to develop lesson plans that incorporate a multifunctional library’s media programs, books and other online resources.

For instance, students in a history class at New Canaan High School in Connecticut can create a Cold War scrapbook or a playlist on imperialism using LessonPaths while others build a presentation on genocide with Google Slides.

In one of the biggest trends in school library spaces, “makerspaces,” which are physical spaces within the library, give students a dedicated tactile area to use their imagination to create, remake, or tinker. Perry Meridian Middle School in Indiana’s Perry Township Schools expanded its makerspace after receiving a U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services grant administered by the Indiana State Library.

The makerspace themes at Perry Meridian include electronics, coding, video production, crafts, micro-manufacturing and fabrication. The space provides physical tools, digital and print resources, and electronic and craft supplies, says Leslie Preddy, the middle school’s library media specialist and president-elect of the American Association of School Librarians.

“It doesn’t have to have expensive pieces of equipment, as it is more about doing the hands-on learning,” she says.

Her students create individual craft projects with items such as old catalogs, fabrics, comic books, old VHS cassettes and keyboard keys, in part to get students to use their imagination. Students can use a computer and digital printing machine to design logos or artwork and to print their own T-shirts.

Once a week, librarians guide students through a “make,” or this learning workshop, in the makerspace. For instance, students learn to focus a camera, use green screens to superimpose a different background behind a person or object in front of it, and arrange backgrounds as part of a guided photography “make.”

The librarian also provides a list of related websites, videos, blogs and community resources for the students to continue learning more on their own.

Libraries as community centers

Some of today’s libraries look more like community centers, with collaborative-learning commons and places to perform. Reading areas contain comfortable chairs and couches, and bar-style chairs have been arranged around bistro tables to encourage conversation.

Separate rooms modeled after college library facilities provide even more space for students to work together, says Bryan Luizzi, superintendent of New Canaan Public Schools in Connecticut.

New Canaan High School library’s Participatory Platforms for Learning program encourages students to experiment with digital tools, such as Google Apps. Students also research current events on Twitter and keep track of their progress in Facebook groups.

The school’s student information system, college application program and learning management system link to the library’s portal to keep materials accessible and organized in one place.

“It creates a whole system for the students around the content, assessments and library e-resources,” says Luizzi. “It is good preparation for college as the students learn to get their materials and manage their assignments digitally.”