Innovation = Libraries?
By Mark Ray, Director of Innovation and Library Services, Vancouver Public Schools
My current job title is Director of Innovation and Library Services. As little as five years ago, this combination would likely elicit some chuckles. For some education leaders, the juxtaposition of ‘innovation’ and ‘library’ could create some cognitive dissonance. I explored this tension in my 2016 TEDx talk, Changing the Conversation About Librarians.
For many, libraries and innovation were not often used in the same sentence. That’s simply not the case anymore. As a district leader with ‘innovation’ in my job title, I share the beliefs of many superintendents, district leaders and national organizations like Digital Promise and Future Ready -- librarians and libraries are a perfect place to foment innovation.
Last year, I moderated a panel at SXSWEdu which explored Future Ready Librarians, a national initiative that articulates the ways in which librarians can lead, teach, and support innovation. Bill Bass, an Innovation Coordinator in Missouri was part of that panel. He and I hope to further explore the links between libraries and innovation this year at SXSWEdu 2018 in a session titled Innovation? In a Library? Uh..Yeah!
If you’re reading this and are intrigued, feel free to vote on our session.
Either way, here are a few reasons why libraries and librarians are logical incubators of innovation.
Libraries are already disrupted
As education shifts from consumption to creation, libraries and librarians have already had their existential crisis moment. Libraries lost their corner on the information market years ago and for some time, librarians have factored disruption into their near-term outlook. This contrasts with many classrooms where 20th century models of teaching and learning persist (and will persist) for the immediate future. For proof, I suggest reading Most Likely to Succeed by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. Librarians are already recognizing the need to re-imagine, reinvent, and reposition themselves as they seek to remain responsive to the needs of their communities.
Librarians do not bear the full weight of testing and assessment
Aside from often serving as a testing center for students, libraries are largely exempt from direct hits from mandated testing and assessment. Unlike classroom teachers, librarians are not routinely evaluated on student outcomes connected to high-stakes tests. As such, they have both the opportunity and permission to take greater risks without adversely impacting either student outcomes or their own evaluations. This freedom creates opportunities to provide different kinds of experiences that students might have both in the library and classroom.
Librarians teach to elastic standards
While librarians support the curriculum and instruction of all students in a school, the specific standards of library instruction vary widely. Librarians routinely tap standards including those of the American Association of School Librarians and ISTE Standards for Students, not to mention state standards where they exist. While some states or districts mandate specific library instructional standards, more often than not, these are not directly assessed. And in practice, most librarians have wide latitude to mix, match, and remix standards from a variety of sources to meet the local learning needs of students.
Librarians can collaborate
As cross-functional educators, librarians work with virtually all school staff members, having both connections and rapport with multiple stakeholders. In addition to being teaching partners with classroom educators, librarians often also work closely with paraprofessionals, district teams, building administration, and community partners. In many situations, the library is a hub of the school and the librarian is a linchpin leader, teacher and support to many.
Libraries are a (potential) blank canvas
With a picture-ready backdrop of book shelves, libraries are shared and familiar school spaces. Even in overcrowded buildings where every conceivable space has been turned into a classroom, the library often remains a protected space which serves all students, teachers and staff. With the benefits of being owned by many, the library can easily expand its scope to allow the safe exploration of innovations in making, collaboration, creation and presentation.
Proof of concept
As both a district leader in Vancouver Public Schools and Future Ready Librarians Lead at the Alliance for Excellent Education, I can speak firsthand about the ways in which librarians and libraries are central to innovation in schools. Locally, we are intentionally investing resources, support and time so that librarians can help move our district forward with innovative coding, making and project-based learning programs. A team of librarians and instructional technology facilitators recently participated in the summer Digital Promise Maker Learning Workshop with the express goal of developing a plan to foster innovation from our libraries.
At the national level, Follett’s Project Connect has highlighted numerous case studies in which innovative districts have leveraged innovative librarians to improve student learning outcomes. Bass’ district was featured in this study connecting professional learning with librarians.
Digital Promise has similarly amplified stories such as this in which future ready librarians are organically changing their programs to enhance opportunities for students. In a recent report by Digital Promise’s Maker Promise initiative, they note that 23% of Maker Promise champions are librarians.
“Where do we start?” As an attendee of many conferences and educational summits, this is a question perennially posed by educational leaders. I think part of the answer is simple. As a ‘director’ of innovation, I suggest directing your attention to your librarian.
Connect with Mark Ray and Bill Bass
BILL BASS | Innovation Coordinator for Instructional Technology and Library Media, Parkway School District, Greater St. Louis Area, Missouri
> Learn more about Project Connect. It's action. It's people. It's leadership for school libraries.