Time is now to reinvent school libraries
When Dr. David Loertscher looks around the Wentworth School learning commons, he doesn’t simply see a place for books and other school materials, but instead a place for students to learn in a variety of ways.
Loertscher, a nationally-renowned library science expert, was in Scarborough last week to meet with area educators and launch “The Year of the Learning Commons,” his year-long effort to transform, reinvent and celebrate school libraries.
“When I first saw this, I thought I died and gone to heaven,” said Loertscher, a professor at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Sciences.
Harriman architects Dan Cecil and Tony Roy used research by Loertscher and input from Wentworth School Librarian Barbara Merritt, former principal Anne- Mayre Dexter and other librarians in the district to design Wentworth’s learning commons, a process, Cecil said, that was “intensively collaborative.”
“(Loertscher’s) work was very instrumental in creating this space. He liked the space and wanted to join us here today,” Merritt said Friday, April 10 before Loertscher’s presentation about learning commons for area educators. Wentworth School Principal Kelli Crosby said the presentation attracted technology integrators, librarians, curriculum directors and other educators from across the state, and as far away as Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Learning commons, Merritt said, started at the collegiate level and are now starting to become popular at high schools and are making their way into middle and elementary schools.
Merritt said teachers are finding Wentworth’s space a great place to bring students. It is not uncommon, she said, to have between two and four classes using the space at the same time. Merritt said teachers regularly carve out regular classroom time in the learning commons and students are free to check materials out during their free time.
“We now have so many more spaces for students and teachers,” Merritt said.
While it houses a wide collection of books like the old school library did, the learning commons also has a variety of learning spaces not offered before, including a maker space, where students can work on science, art and other school projects, a teaching classroom, a conference room, several smaller work spaces and a professional room full of materials for teachers and staff. All the tables and bookcases in the learning commons are on wheels so they can be shifted and the space can be set up in a variety of ways.
The commons also offers students books, audio books and computer access, and gives teachers the option of implementing traditional library materials, as well as videos, cameras and other technology into their classroom instruction.
The possibilities with a learning commons, Loertscher said, are endless. The problem, he said, is “people don’t know how to use them.”
The term library, Loertscher said, is derived from the Latin word for book. It was a place for information and circulation.
“It still retains that, but it is so much more,” Loertscher said of the learning commons.
“We call it learning commons because the central function of this place is learning in all of its ways,” Loertscher said.
The space, he noted, supports both teacher-driven and student-centered learning. The learning commons, Loertscher said, is designed to be the central base of operations for librarians and other specialists, such as technology integrators and reading, writing and math coaches, as well a place that students can call home.
“The library used to be the territory of the librarian, but that had to change because there are many specialists in schools that have the same mission as the librarian and that is to help all the classroom teachers and students across the school,” Loertscher said.
The learning commons, he said, is the perfect place in which teachers and specialists co-teach units, something that brings together two skill sets and two teaching styles to lesson plans. Loertscher said his research has shown students absorb material better this way.
That is just starting to happen at the Wentworth learning commons, Merritt said.
“This is a new building, so there are things we have had to get used to, but people are starting to see the potential,” Merritt said.
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