How are contemporary school libraries inviting and creating spaces for rich conversations that lead to learning with students? How can expanding the concept of information literacy act as a catalyst for knowledge construction? How might school librarians get away from the traditional emphasis on “information objects” in the library space and instead posit the facilitation of learning as the primary mission of the school library? If school librarians are in the change business, how can we disrupt a standardized test-driven culture in favor of an inquiry-driven paradigm that is directed by conversations rather than knowledge consumption? The concepts of new librarianship support school libraries’ efforts to achieve these program goals.
Creating Conversations for Formal Learning
The four major standards for 21st Century Learners from the American Association of School Librarians include:
• Standard 1 Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge
• Standard 2 Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge
• Standard 3 Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society
• Standard 4 Pursue personal and aesthetic growth
These standards can be a vehicle for an inquiry-driven school library program that privileges questions and conversations. How do we use a framework of participatory librarianship to create conversations around these standards for learning with students?
One way that school librarians can create conversations about information evaluation and social scholarship is through the active creation and integration of research pathfinders into library instruction. By integrating traditional forms of information sources, such as widgets for databases and for the card catalog as well as emerging forms of social scholarship, such as RSS feeds from Twitter and blogs, or embedding YouTube videos, school librarians can open up conversations with students about the concept of authority. The use of both traditional and nontraditional information sources in research pathfinders provides a springboard for questions and discussions about when and how to use particular information sources for a range of information-seeking tasks.
School librarians can also create conversations about collaborative knowledge building using wikis and inquiry based activities that engage students through collaboration, cooperative construction, and knowledge sharing. For example, I created and facilitated a wiki to support tenth graders’ exploration of how individuals and groups are using social media for social good. Through this wiki, students could share links to articles, videos, and blog posts that discussed ways that people are using social media for charity and social justice; through the wiki, students could dialog with each other about the ideas they were discovering in their research. School librarians can also integrate face-to-face learning experiences that support an inquiry stance on information literacy. To reinforce the discussions taking place on the class wiki, I borrowed an activity from Dr. Bob Fecho, professor of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia, to spark conversations among students. The “speed dating” article activity involved students working in small groups to do rotating threeminute interviews of each other about the “social media for social good” information sources they had posted to the class wiki. As students interviewed each other, they took notes on the ideas that stood out in the interviews; the culminating activity was to then share these interview notes on the class wiki. This activity gave students the opportunity to converse and construct knowledge as they shared their findings and reflections on the ideas from their research.
School librarians can help students create conversations about adaptability and research strategies by teaching students blogging skills and strategies. As part of extended inquiry into issues facing Africa, students blogged multiple times each week. Some blog entries were reader response journals for the book they and their literature circle were reading; these books, fiction and nonfiction works, reflected one or more issues related to Africa and were selected from a menu of texts by each group. In addition, students engaged in conversations with themselves as well as their peers through weekly research reflections. In these blog entries, students wrote about challenges, successes, and questions they were encountering as they researched their chosen issue. The school library is the perfect place to engage in conversations about digital citizenship and ethical use of information. If you are teaching presentation zen skills, ways to share and create new knowledge through new media tools like video, Glogster, or Voice Thread, seize these learning experiences to create conversations about fair use or Creative Commons licensed media. If you are facilitating the traditional research paper, create conversations about giving appropriate credit and ethical use of information through citation support tools like Noodletools or Zotero.
A participatory philosophy can support school librarians’ efforts to convey ideas about alternate representations of knowledge, organizing knowledge, sharing learning reflections, and sharing resources. Multimedia medium, such as VoiceThread, student-created videos, and Glogster, are tools that students can use to create learning artifacts that are not text-centric and allow for alternate ways of representing key information. Students can use music, images, and other sounds to represent and create conversations about learning. Video and VoiceThread can also be used for students to verbally share what they are thinking and to verbalize their reflections or thoughts about their knowledge-creation process. The use of cloud computing tools like Google Sites allow students to leave comments and develop conversational threads on specific web pages they create for learning and research portfolios; on a larger scale, they may invite conversation from the community because their Web sites are viewable worldwide.
Social bookmarking tools also create opportunities for conversations about knowledge and authority. At the Unquiet Library, I work with teachers to create class groups for research projects using Diigo; students can share bookmarked resources—whether they be videos, database articles, Tweets, blog posts, or web pages—with their peers in the group. Diigo also allows students to leave comments and indicate whether they “like” a bookmarked resource. Students can even share their sticky notes with their annotations of the web page with the general public, or they can share them within the class group. This form of note-sharing can be a conversation starter as students compare ideas and information.
Skype is another tool that has great potential for creating conversations within and outside of the physical library space. Many authors are now offering virtual visits via Skype in which they re-create their traditional physical visit. Students and the author can easily interact through verbal discussion via a webcam in real time, creating conversations about reading and writing. In addition, Skype can be a window to a world of experts on issues that students may be researching in which conversations can take place between students and scholars.
Creating Conversations for Community
One of the most popular tools for conversations I have used to create conversations about books, reading, and genres in my library is the use of book displays. Creative and attractive book displays not only draw foot traffic to specific collections or genres of books, but they also provide an opportunity for students to engage in conversations about books and authors with each other as well as adults, including teachers, administrators, and library staff. Physical arrangement of collection, such as bookstore-style shelving strategies, can also engage students in conversations about books and favorite topics, genres, or authors of interest.
Displays don’t have to be just about information objects for students. The display of student work, such as poetry and artwork, can be a catalyst for conversations about learning in the school library. Each spring, we support and host poetry readings in collaboration with classroom teachers that we record and share via podcasts and/or slidecasts to highlight student work. In addition, we have a “poetry clothesline” that we have in the commons area of our library featuring student-created poems as well as student-selected poetry of famous (and not so famous) poets. Inevitably, students are engaging in conversation with each other about their work and with library staff about the poems. We also host rotating displays of student-created artwork to celebrate student creativity while encouraging conversations about the artwork.
Celebrating student passions is another way to create conversations in the school library. We have adapted the Geek the Library campaign as a way of making what students “geek” or love visible in the library. Students can share what they “geek” with silver Sharpie pens and black construction paper; once they have completed their “geek” flyer, they hang it from our display clothesline in the library. The “geek” flyers are frequently the center of inquiry and discussion among students and teachers who visit the library.
Physical space also plays a significant role in supporting a conversation- friendly environment in the school library. Café-style tables, comfortable lounge seating, and strategic placement of seating can create spaces for learning that are conducive to collaborative work and discussions, whether students are simply hanging out, using our library laptops, or working in small groups. Students are encouraged to share suggestions for furniture purchases and physical arrangement; their input has been instrumental in the physical space we have today in our library and, consequently, the rise of our library as a popular gathering spot for informal and formal learning.
The library’s web presence and use of social media are important mediums for supporting and igniting conversations. Our patrons can dialog with us and with each other about resources, announcements, and library activities on our blog, Twitter, Flickr, Slideshare, Friendfeed, and our Facebook fan page. In addition, we host a Meebo chat room three nights a week to answer any reference questions students may have. Our YouTube channel also features student and teacher interviews, in which participants share ideas and reflections about library program activities and learning experiences. Students and teachers can also complete a Google form to submit materials requests for items they would like to see in circulation. I also frequently incorporate polls, such as PollDaddy, into our research pathfinders to get student feedback on the resources we are using and to know what is working for them as learners. Text-based polls with Poll Everywhere always get discussions started when used to introduce an information literacy lesson.
Play is another way of engaging conversations in the school library. One of our most popular areas is the puzzle table; at any given time, you will usually find a hive of activity and conversation happening here, whether it be students, teachers, or a combination of the two. We also use playful learning activities, such as Readers’ Theater, to help students learn and converse about information literacy topics through fun and creative student-performed skits. Lunch trivia sessions, complete with food, also bring in students and stimulate animated conversations as well.
Transparency of the library program is also vital for creating conversations with library stakeholders. Whether we are posting and blogging our monthly report in traditional text format or with video, the sharing of monthly reports can be a springboard to cultivating collaborative partnerships with faculty, administration, and partners in education, as well as district officials and fellow librarians around the world. Our social media presence is also an important vehicle for communicating what our library does for our students and school and to invite conversation about those happenings.
By establishing a climate of participation, risk-taking, acceptance of “messy” learning, and inquiry, we can create conversations that in turn create school libraries that are responsive and organic. A participatory approach to librarianship can ultimately lead to learning experiences that, in the words of Steve Jobs, “make a dent in someone’s universe.”