Part 1: Making the Connection | How to Transform Your Library Into an Innovation Center
by Ron Starker, Library Media Specialist at Singapore American School
A Perfect Storm
Climate change is a hot topic these days, but it’s not only the weather that’s changing – technological advancements are also dramatically shifting the world’s cultures and institutions.
Digitization, globalization, the growth of social media, a knowledge explosion, and the very convergence of these driving forces are creating a rapid acceleration of change across all disciplines and all subject areas.
Every sector of society is experiencing these effects; however, I’m most concerned about the threat to education and libraries, which, I believe, is about to reach a “perfect storm.”
Bookstores are closing at a rapid rate, library budgets are being cut, and librarians are increasingly being asked to provide new services. The libraries that can adapt to their communities’ demands for change will survive (and probably thrive), while those that resist will most likely become extinct.
Everything Is a Remix: even this subtitle
Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson, who created the Everything Is a Remix video series, defines remix as the ability “to combine or edit existing materials to produce something new.” I believe we now need to remix the concept of libraries by retaining the best elements of past and present libraries and then transforming and combining them with new elements from other fields and disciplines.
For example, let’s take our original brand embodied in the great Royal Library of Alexandria and copy its best features. Now, let’s transform those features and combine them with elements of modern technology and culture, as well as ideas from information science, psychology and other fields. What results is a brand-new remix that promotes learning, entertainment and social change.
That’s So Yesterday
I have visited many academic, school and public libraries and have talked to many librarians, and I’ve noticed that we all seem to be looking for answers about how to forge ahead. The ALA is a venerable institution with dedicated and talented individuals supporting libraries in numerous ways, but it isn’t providing librarians with clear direction for sailing into this perfect storm.
If you read the numerous books, blogs, websites and articles discussing the libraries of the future, they usually focus on one or two features, such as introducing a Makerspace or using new technology to highlight learning. Together, it all seems a bit of a hodgepodge, with an idea here and there, but without a single coherent plan or framework.
Long Live the Revolution
The days of the timid, reclusive librarian are over. Since we aren’t seen as revolutionaries, we have the perfect cover for covertly leading a revolution.
Next I will tell you the story of how my colleagues and I developed a program called the Connections Project, designed to transform our library and the way we facilitate learning.
Part 2: Making the Connection | How to Create an Innovation Center within Your Library
Your Mission, If You Choose to Accept It
The school library I work in emphasizes helping students facilitate their learning through the “eight forms of intelligence,” a theory set forth by Harvard University professor Dr. Howard Gardner. Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, along with University of South Carolina professor Dr. David Lankes’s library mission statement and theoretical work, provide the “why” for what I am proposing. Reading is a powerful learning tool derived from verbal linguistic intelligence, but we also learn in many other ways, including logical mathematical, body kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual-spatial, musical acoustic and naturalistic intelligences.
The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities. —David Lankes, The Atlas of New Librarianship
In our library, we adopted Lankes’s mission statement for librarians (above), reminding us that we are there so we can help give our members a greater sense of clarity and purpose. And though his mission statement radically differs from almost every other mission statement I’ve been exposed to as a librarian, it perfectly fits the work we’re doing at Singapore American School.
The Connections Project
Libraries and schools usually favor verbal skills by emphasizing literature, narration, storytelling, and poetry, devoting far less attention to math, science, art, music, photography, horticulture and astronomy. And while, yes, we have books and literature of all sorts devoted to these subjects, it is still unusual to find a library that facilitates learning through art, music or wellness studios. After reading numerous articles on 21st-century learning approaches, we developed a motto to go with our mission statement: “Everything is connected.” This short phrase reminds us to look for those connections between people, ideas and disciplines.
Education has a long history of hierarchical development and knowledge specialization. It’s time for greater integration through cross-disciplinary problem solving. There is no better place than the school library for students to witness the relationship between music and mathematical thinking, the shared subject matter between history and literature, and the common ground between the arts and the sciences. Using the theory of multiple intelligences, we designed the following studios to better facilitate cross-disciplinary learning:
- The Living Room: An area intended to support naturalistic intelligence. It looks like a regular living room, but also has plants, a solar charging station, books on nature, and displays of animals and other living things.
- The Note Pad: A music-recording studio to support musical intelligence. The studio has several digital instruments including a violin, cello, ukulele, lead guitar, bass guitar, drum set, keyboard and other instruments along with recording equipment.
- The Top Ten Den: A room which highlights verbal comprehensive intelligence. We showcase our best books by displaying ten top selections from each genre at the start of each month.
- The Wellness Corner: This corner offers stationary cycling machines, treadmill machines, balance boards and other fitness equipment to allow us to support body kinesthetic intelligence. Middle school students need to move and squirm; we find that spending time in this area makes them more receptive for later reading and classroom activities.
- The Tiger’s Eye: A photography and videography studio to support spatial and artistic intelligence. Outside of this room we also have 3-D Google cardboard and oculus rift devices along with Wacom digital art boards to allow students to explore spatial forms of learning.
- The CAT or Center for applied Arts and Technology: this is our most popular area, and while we have labeled it as supporting logical mathematical intelligence, the projects created with 3-D printers, wood shop tools and other Makerspace devices draws on several intelligences.
Our centers for interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences are just beginning to form as we explore the interests and needs of middle school students.
Just Do It
You might be thinking this looks overwhelming and beyond the scope of your library budget or personal skills. Tap the expertise within your building and start small. This approach “takes a village” and requires help from tech coaches, teachers and students. We employ students through our Creative Mentors Club to train other students in how to use the studios, and we have avatars the students have helped to create as instructional aides.
WATCH VIDEO INTRO to my book, Transforming Libraries: A Toolkit for Innovators, Makers and Seekers.
Transforming Libraries (#1156BK8) is available on Titlewave.com.