Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Digital Age and School Libraries

The Twenty First Century   
    Reading has long been an extremely important factor for both academic and career success. Reading opens the door to information. Without this most important skill individuals are not equipped to make sense of the unlimited fast paced information flow of today’s digital age. The enigma today is that the amount of information available and the ways to access it have drastically changed. Information professionals must consider themselves educators who have the responsibility of instructing today’s students in the twenty first century learning skills they will need to navigate this information age. These essential skills are outlined by:  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, AASL’s Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, ISTE NETS, and Skills for the 21st Century Learner, by Tony Wagner (among others). Each one of these entities refers to the importance the ability to access or research information, information fluency or literacy, and the ability to think critically. These skills, in combination with collaboration, communication, and problem solving are the essential twenty first century skills. Librarians, as information professionals, must be proficient in these skills themselves and must help students become proficient in them as well.
Librarians of Today and Tomorrow   

    Now more than ever libraries and librarians have evolved from being a place to simply check out books to an information center. Today’s librarians hold master’s degrees in information science and are not the stereotypical librarian. There is an immediate need for new twenty first century librarians that will be an up to date version of the librarian of days gone by. The qualifications for librarians have increased throughout the years to reflect the need for expertise in a field of rapid growth. Librarians must use their knowledge and expertise in both the areas of library and information science to the benefit of their students. A librarian must be an efficient resource for students in their endeavor to acquire and utilize information. The World Wide Web puts information at a click of a mouse. For this reason, librarians must be masters of information fluency. Librarians of today cannot only be experts in printed texts but, they must be information and media experts, teachers and instructional specialist, as well as, experts in finding and evaluating information efficiently and quickly and be able to teach their students to do so themselves. As stated by Lettis (2000) it is no longer sufficient for librarians to be proficient at “gathering, collecting, and protecting data. . . [but] . . .choosing, evaluating, organizing, [and] distributing information” are now more important skills (p. 27). In order for libraries and information professionals to make this needed transformation it is necessary to shift paradigms completely in regard to the library’s physical make up and the services offered.  According to Bentheim (2010) there are several factors to take into account: scheduling, the physical space, the instructional model, and technology (p. 38). There must be flexibility in both scheduling and the physical space and the instructional model and technology must meet the needs of the twenty first century learner.  There is now opportunity and need for libraries to become an indispensable resource as students begin the journey as digital natives. Very young children are capable of navigating new technologies to explore and acquire knowledge. Librarians are challenged to help young students hone these skills.

Information Overload   

    The internet is a valuable yet daunting resource for students. There is an over whelming amount of information available at a click of a mouse. Wagner describes the conundrum of learning in today’s digital society as an “. . .active, dynamic, nonlinear, discovery-based process – more like traveling along a spider web than moving in a straight line from point A to point B” (p. 179-180). Students are expected to be able to utilize this plethora of information at younger and younger ages. For students to be successful in today’s society they need direct instruction in skills that will enable them to find information, evaluate sources, and make sense of the information. Students must be able to analyze information effectively. The twenty first century skill that facilitates online research and learning is information fluency or according to Wagner (2008) “accessing and analyzing information”. (p. 36). Students must be taught how to analyze the information they find fluently. Regan (2008) describes the skills students need to succeed in life as the ability to sift through the information available, collect and analyze the information, think creatively about the information learned, and communicate it intelligently (p. 12).  Students need purposeful guidance to acquire these skills.

Knowledge Application

    Information access and retrieval has changed and so has the assessment of students’ acquisition of knowledge. Students today must be able to express what they have learned in creative, innovative ways. As stated by Regan (2008), students must know how to relay their knowledge in digital contexts. Multimedia web 2.0 tools are the new norm for all students (p. 11). Librarians are therefore challenged with the task of helping students develop these skills. One of many methods for internet research is I-LEARN. According to Neuman (2011) the I-LEARN method of research facilitates student’s ability to “access, evaluate, and use” information (p. 1). The I-LEARN method includes: Identify, Locate, Evaluate, Apply, Reflect, and Know. One of the key points within the model is that the method does not have to be linear in nature. Each stage with in the method can be visited as needed and repeated as needed. Students must be responsible for their own research topics and questions, as well as, finding and validating sources on their own. They must also have opportunities to apply what they learn in “critical and creative ways” (p. 10). This type of engagement will allow for profound learning and success for students. Methods such as the I-LEARN are vital in school libraries so that students can effectively analyze the information available to them. Primary school teachers are masters at teaching students to read fluently. The collaboration of teachers and librarians will ensure that students are fluent in the access, retrieval, and synthesis of information from a variety of sources.

Into the Future

School librarians of the future will have to evolve into information professionals with many different roles. The role of campus instructional technologist would entail training both students and teachers on: basic computer use and set up, computer care and trouble shooting, software programs, and web 2.0 tools. The role of instructional coach might include assisting teachers with analyzing and understanding the TEKS, assisting with instructional lesson design, and training teaching staff on new curriculum and instructional techniques. The role of information specialist could be to assist teachers and students in finding resources and conducting research.  Future librarians’ job descriptions will most likely include all of these roles combined with traditional library duties of book circulation and weeding and ordering books. The library of the future will become a center for both print and digital resources. There is a need for media centers for laptop workspace, hardware resources, technological instruction, and workspace for collaboration and research. The library and librarian of the future will serve as a twenty first century resource for both teachers and students. Through training and collaboration the librarian can have an integral part in the instruction of twenty first century digital technologies as well as twenty first century soft skills. All of this will take libraries and information professionals into the digital age!

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians (2007). Standards for the 21-century learner.   American Library Association. Retrieved from:

Bentheim, C. A. (2010). From book museum to learning commons: riding the transformation train. Teacher Librarian, 37(4), 37-39. Retrieved from:

International Society for Technology in Education (2007). The national educational technology    standards for students. Retrieved from:       standards.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Lettis, Lucy (May, 2000). The future of information professionals--seize the day. Information   Outlook, 4(5), 26-31.

Neuman, D. (2011). Constructing knowledge in the twenty-first century: I-LEARN and

using information as a tool for learning. School Library Research, 14, 1-14. Retrieved from:

Regan, B. (Jul/Aug, 2008). Why we need to teach 21st century skills--and how to do it.        MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15(4), 10-13.

Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: why even our best schools, don’t teach the new survival skills our children need – and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Basic Books.


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