Libraries Must Accommodate Self-Directed Student Activities | Pivot Points

In many classrooms, traditional rows are giving way to pods of desks where students work collaboratively. As students get used to flexible, collaboration-friendly environments, libraries need to adapt as well.

Recently, I had a chance to do several learning walks in our 1:1 schools, during which small groups of educators observe teachers teaching. This has become increasingly common in the Vancouver Public Schools. Thanks to outstanding instructional practices and new digital tools, classrooms are evolving rapidly.

I couldn’t help thinking about how school library programs can support the exciting things that students and teachers are doing. Along with great teaching and learning, I saw a number of opportunities for teacher librarians to enhance their instruction and spaces.

Information Literacy

In the 1:1 classroom, information literacy and problem solving are more important than ever. Research has gone from being a periodic focus to something undertaken often many times a day. Still, teachers who apply rigor to learning targets and formative assessments can blithely assume that research is something students don’t need to learn. Based on my observations, students need our help. When asked to research topics from the definition of a slope to the causes of the Civil War, kids were often literally left to their own devices.

In many classrooms, textbooks remain in bookcases, replaced by the iPad and the Internet. Teachers are turning to open educational resources and found texts that may or may not meet traditional textbook standards of accuracy, currency, objectivity, and readability. Some teachers make students responsible for figuring out how to find relevant information. This isn’t all bad, but it makes information literacy increasingly critical.

Librarians must engage with classrooms to teach information literacy and problem solving—not simply as “library skills” but as fundamental cross-curricular adaptive learning. We’ll need to build well aligned digital collections and ensure that these resources are just a click away. It is no longer enough to guide students through multiple clicks and passwords on complicated library websites. If library resources are not yet as easy as Google, they need to be. Finally, librarians may well leverage their curation skills to teach teachers how to find exceptional resources, or to do this for them.

Student-centric spaces

In many classrooms, traditional rows are giving way to pods of desks where students work collaboratively. Thanks to shifts in teaching strategies and interactive technology, students frequently use tools like AirServer to screencast their work without leaving their seats. Classrooms are increasingly self-service, with bins, drawers, and resources available as needed. Students use personal whiteboards and draw on desks with non-permanent markers to work out ideas. Tools like Edmodo and Google Drive extend face-to-face collaborative learning into virtual spaces.

These shifts have implications for libraries. If students are used to flexible, collaboration-friendly classrooms, we need to follow suit. While creating dynamic furnishings for students, the library may also need to provide interactive projection systems, specialized computers for multimedia production, printers, and even keyboards for students to take assessments.

We can also become more student-centric by revising policies to provide both the climate and functionality for self-directed use. Library rules regarding self-circulation, use of computer labs, noise, and personal device use may warrant reconsideration. If students are using online collaboration tools, we should be experts on these, too. Ideally, the library and librarian should have a presence in the online environments where students and teachers are.

With the advent of 1:1, much of what used to happen in the library can now occur in class. For the sake of students and teachers, libraries are well advised to meet their patrons where they are now, not where they used to be. I’ll share more observations from the 21st-century classroom on my new blog,

Ray-Mark_Contrib_WebMark Ray ( is the director of instructional technology and library services at the Vancouver (WA) Public Schools.

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