Warming up for School Library Journal’s Leadership Summit October 26-27, Pam Moran (@pammoran) and Ira Socol (@irasocol), “unkeynote” speakers for the event, moderated a lively Twitter chat on October 22 that engaged with vital issues about the future of libraries. Teachers, librarians, and other educators used the hashtag #engchat to weigh in with opinions on hot-button topics: the prevalence of ebooks, the changing atmosphere of the school library, and the skills school library media specialists need to stay in top form—and relevant.
Moran, Superintendent of the Albemarle County Public Schools in Charlottesville, VA, and Socol, a special education technology scholar at Michigan State University’s College of Education in East Lansing, emphasized that it’s crucial to the survival of librarians that they keep up with today’s technology driven world.
But how imperative are ebooks? Many tweeters cautioned against wholeheartedly embracing this technology. Middle school librarian Deven Black (@devenkblack) reminded participants that access to ebooks in poorer schools is limited. Jenn Cook (@cookout70), an associate Professor of English and Education at Rhode Island College, warned that abandoning physical books may make libraries less inclusive: “Just like when millionaires talk about poverty, when we assume that ‘change’ means going digital/virtual, we leave many behind.”
Similarly, Buffy Hamilton (@buffyjhamilton), a high school teacher in Canton, GA, and blogger at The Unquiet Library, urged restraint among librarians who view electronic materials as “a one size fits all solution.” Though ebook distributors like OverDrive may seem to hold all the answers, she noted, not all libraries can afford them, and their content may not be essential or interesting to students.
Participants agreed that librarians must maintain traditional skills—such as readers’ advisory—but also be savvy to new trends in order to stay relevant. Becky Fisher (@BeckyFisher73), an educator in Charlottesville, VA, tweeted that “Contemporary librarians have to understand contemporary means of accessing and making information!” and encouraged them not to fear sites like Wikipedia. Going back to basics, librarian Kathy Kaldenberg (@scsdmedia) stressed the importance of encouraging a love of literature: “Hands down. The most effective thing we do at our library is read the books and give personal recommendations.”
Librarians aired frustration that administrators on tight budgets do not always accept evidence showing that libraries improve student learning. Julie Goldberg (@juliegoldberg), a librarian in Rockland County, cited a three-year study conducted by the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) at Rutgers University showing that school libraries have a positive effect on student achievement but lamented that “many decision-makers are unaware.” Hamilton tweeted, “many librarians are attempting to lead change but meet tremendous resistance from admin and faculty.”
Participants agreed that libraries should be warm and innovative environments, but opinions differed over whether they should also maintain quiet spaces. Shannon DeSantis (@shdesant), a library science graduate student at Syracuse University, tweeted that “the days of the shush library should be over. We want our space to be collaborative and welcoming!” On the other hand, Fisher spoke for many participants when she described her ideal space: “We are looking at providing cozy, quiet, curl up with a book spaces as well as noisy, collaborative, make things happen ones.”
Though participants had many diverse ideas about what future libraries must look like in terms of space and technology concerns, the belief that librarians are vital to the success of a school was a constant. Meenoo Rami (@meenoorami), founder and moderator of Engchat, underscored that what students need most is committed librarians: “Space are meaningless without meaningful connections with adults and peers in libraries.” Participants who want to continue the conversation can use the Twitter hashtag #sljsummit to follow Socol and Moran’s thoughts about the evolution of libraries at the Leadership Summit.
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