1) How are Learning Commons different than a traditional library?
A library has traditionally been a place to store books – the name literally tells us that it relates to books. Books are still, and always will be, tremendously important, but the library is now so much more than that: it connects students to websites, videos, streaming media, presentations, ebooks, databases, and more. The term learning commons encompasses all of these forms of information, and shifts the focus from a place to store information to a place that connects students and teachers with the information they need. It’s also meant to highlight the collaborative, interactive learning of the 21st century. It’s not a silent place, it’s a hub of activity and engagement. It’s a space where ideas can flow freely and be exchanged, where new learning happens, and where new products are created to demonstrate that learning.
2) Do you think this new setting might impact the students and/or teachers work habits? Do you see any other ways your job as School Librarian might also shift?
My main hope is that the physical changes, especially the shift to mobile furniture and technology, will prompt a change in how people perceive the space and want to use it, that they will embrace it as another teaching space with the resources they need to teach and collaborate, and that I’ll get to work more directly with teachers to achieve the kind of collaborations that allow students to learn and master new skills. I want the new learning commons to be a hub for the school, a space that is used for teaching, learning, collaboration, exploration, presentations, book fairs, school committee meetings, performances, workshops, professional development, tinkering, making, and creating. I want it to be a space where student work is displayed, whether that be library projects or poetry or artwork. I think of it as a blank canvas in some ways – we can rearrange the space to do whatever we want with it at any time.
I also think that these changes will cause a change in the conception of what happens in the library. I know over the last year and a half, the common refrain has been “wait, you do that in the library?!” because people are always so surprised to hear what kinds of things I do with the students. Yes, we read books together, but there’s so much more than that: we Skype with kids in different states, and learn to do research, and film videos, and create book trailers, and learn to code, or build things in engineering-themed centers. All of these things can coexist in a learning commons space, and I think they should. It’s less about what’s in the space than what’s possible in the space.
As for my job – the job of the librarian has changed – we are now more information specialists, helping students and teachers alike locate, use and understand resources in a variety of formats, we curate information and pull it together and put it into formats that make sense. I recently noticed that Cambridge Public Schools is starting to use the term Library Technology Specialist, which I think is a great marriage of terms. It represents (to me) how the librarian is still a librarian/information specialist, finding resources and information and teaching people how to use them while still acknowledging the way in which technology has completely changed the profession at large. If anything, I think the addition of mobile technology to the library will really start to push my instruction and the learning that happens in the library in a more technology-centric direction, but always in support of the 21st century research, collaboration, creation and information processing skills students need.
I am deeply grateful to the CEF for taking on this project. The opportunity to bring the CPS Library into the 21st century and make it the kind of collaborative, flexible space is a tremendous opportunity, and it’s one that I think will benefit the CPS community for decades to come. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think the end results will be amazing, and I am so excited for where we can go next once the new space is done. The sky is the limit!