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Redefining the High School Library Media Center

Redefining the High School Library Media Center: Inspired by the Frankfurt Book Fair
The School Library Media Center EXPRESSED!
by David Di Gregorio 2008 (Updated 2018)

Schools exist that do not have libraries.  There is one right in my neighborhood.  I think through their school library’s absence they have come to the conclusion such a purposeful space is in fact indispensable for a really successful school.  Several years ago the school’s library was closed after their librarian retired.  Last week, I received a phone call from that school, and after all these years, they have decided they would like to once again have a library, heard about Tenafly High School’s library, and would like to check out our model.  I say hurrah for their students! They will come to enjoy visiting their library, as long as it is designed correctly.

So yes, a school can function without a library, but like all good parties, nice towns, and even cells in our body, a purposeful center or a nucleus is needed to draw a school all together.  This, I believe is where the new and redefined school library comes in.

The new model of a library media center should focus on that which can impress students and teachers (much of the past functions) and also that which can allow students and teachers to creatively express.   If the school’s nucleus (the library media center) can turn itself into a location rich with these kinds of broadly defined forces, or activities, it, in my opinion can help transform a school the most positive ways.  A welcoming and thoughtfully designed library media center not only supports our students’ academic needs, but also their social and emotional needs.  This helps set a healthy tone throughout the school on many levels.

Impression Described:

With a foundation of the best print resources available, well organized, tailored to the needs of the school, and attractively displayed, the library media center has one foot firmly in place with rock solid tradition.  Emily Dickinson opens one of her poems with the line “There is no frigate like a book.”  Perhaps that line is even truer today as many of us are distracted by the multi-functions of computers.  The elegance of technology found in the book can be mastered by a child not even one year old!  This can be observed as he or she carefully turns the pages with little fingers.  So a rich, tangible, and attractive print collection serves as the facility’s base. In my opinion, any school library that gives this area short shrift is a fake.  I have visited new school libraries built in my area with luxurious couches, a café area, and just a few shelves of reference books – this, in my book, falls more into a lounge category than a library.  I also will note that this particular large and luxurious “library” had just a few students in it and no teachers at all.  With all its luxury, it was hollow, cold place, and for that matter, so was the rest of the school.

A thorough collection of magazines in a comfortable, but not too comfortable setting is important.  Integrating flat panel monitors carrying a non biased news channel (i.e. BBC World) and concentrating the sound non-disruptively with the use of sound domes for listening keeps library patrons current with the headlines and equips libraries with up to the minute news.  Should there be an important news event the library is where students should want to go.

There are many others ways to encourage the “impression” side of the library – map displays, flags, information and displays using flat panels, on line resources, and the list goes on.  Student work placed on display in its many forms can effectively put together “impression” and “expression.”

The major point is the library media center needs to be a welcoming, comfortable, yet always professional place.  Students’ main purpose for coming to the library is their desire to know the world better.  When this purpose is front and center, it can be heard, seen, and felt.  This is beautiful thing!

Expression Described:

Developing the “expression” side of the library and equipping it with the tools and equipment needed can place the library media center’s other foot firmly into the present and the future.  I think this area, in many ways keeps the library relevant and useful.  A library that has one foot in tradition and one in the future is a good spot to be in.

With inexpensive communication tools widely available today, the library media center can offer skills development, creative opportunities, and have the power to deliver practical information to an audience.  The library media center as nucleus of the school can better define itself – become more of a center – through being a vehicle for expression.

One of the greatest living examples I have seen of “expression” related to books and libraries is the Frankfurt Book Fair taking place in Germany every October.  Here, over 7,000 publishers, writers of all kinds, and countless books of all types come together to participate in the largest book event on the planet.  Throughout the buildings and halls housing the book fair, a visitor finds special areas for presentations as well as many radio and television broadcast studios.   These areas broadcast interviews and presentations by authors and other notables speaking about a wide variety of topics.  All the while, these interviews and talks are being broadcast throughout Germany.  I can only describe this event as a cultural jungle.  What a great model for creating an active learning community!

Back to our library media centers – A modest investment in equipment coupled with an imaginative media specialist can not only give the library media center more visibility, it can make itself much more useful and important to the school’s administration through breaking down the school / community barriers.  This aspect of the library media center can be built slowly and should fit with the school’s particular needs and collective personality.  As the administration and students start to reap the benefits, funding is sure to follow.

I strongly feel that school libraries should incorporate tools of expression to include a centralized television broadcasting facility, a presentation room or academic theater, photographic equipment, web authoring tools, video recording and editing equipment, audio production equipment, full service duplication center, and any other tools that can help organize, produce and share projects, productions, and information with the outside.

As these tools of expression are used as well as the traditional resources provided for impression, then a healthy flow impression and expression circulates within and without the library media center.  This flow, I feel, keeps things fresh and alive – and the school’s library media is at the center of it.