Transcript of "High School Library as Learning Commons"
The High School Library as Learning Commons
When I decided to pursue a career in education, I knew that it would not be an easy path
to follow. It certainly would not bring me riches, and it would require an enormous amount of
hard work and dedication not to mention resistance from family and condescension from anyone
who undervalues education. Teachers are seldom appreciated for what they do and are more
often criticized for what they cannot do. All of this I knew when I started my undergraduate
coursework in elementary education. After an enlightening student teaching experience, I chose
to continue my education in a related field, library and information science, where I could still
pursue my aspirations of becoming a teacher but in the library rather than the classroom. Still I
knew that continuing on the K-12 track would not release me from negative stereotypes of
teachers and ignorance of those who are not in the education field. I was surprised to find,
however, the stereotypes within the education community about teacher-librarians, thought of as
simply library workers who shelve books and shush students. Because of these false perceptions
of teacher-librarians, I have kept a realistic position about my future in a high school where I will
be the minority as a teacher-librarian. I have thought about the changes that must occur within
the school community in order to modify those dated views of the librarian, the ways that I could
market myself and the library as essential aspects of the school that promote student learning and
success. Using this practical approach, there are many small changes that I could make in order
to prove my worth in the school and help students and teachers achieve their educational goals.
Practical is what I do every day and is what makes the most sense especially when entering an
already established educational community of teachers and administrators, but I do not
necessarily think that practical is my only option. It’s the easy option. For this assignment, I dare
to venture into the ideal, to propose a different way of thinking about the high school as an
educational space, to enhance the roles of teachers and teacher-librarians, and to provide a
modified educational experience in the current social context.
Before I alter the status quo, I would like to first illuminate the ways in which it functions
(or does not): what does the average American high school look like today? For the most part,
teachers are subject specialists, focusing only on their area of study. Students move throughout
the school, period by period, getting their 45-50 minutes of core and elective subjects.
Classrooms are self-contained in that collaboration between teachers is virtually non-existent.
Students are required to compartmentalize their knowledge as connections between content areas
are rarely ever made explicitly. Trips to the library are also a rare occurrence as the library is not
seen as a vital aspect of daily school life. The library contains resources such as encyclopedias
and perhaps books that aid students in their research, or at least would aid students in their
research if they actually came to the library. For the most part, if the library has computers, it is
used as a computer lab, rarely involving the teacher-librarian in any instruction or collaboration.
Teachers may not be aware that teacher-librarians are qualified to teach or available as resources
for their particular classes. Students are also not aware that teacher-librarians are teachers and do
not solicit them for help in their research or any other reason, such as recreational reading
options or technology advice. The library itself is uninviting, a quiet place with musty old books
and hardly any seating. It is not a place of instruction, unless a content area teacher schedules the
space for a class. Separation is the theme of most high schools—you teach your subject, and I’ll
teach mine. While this may instill in students the content knowledge necessary to pass
standardized tests, it does not prepare them for life outside the confines of high school. It is not
relevant in their everyday lives and does not teach them anything about the social world around
them. If the ultimate goal of the American high school is to produce students who can achieve
well on standardized tests, then the current model will suffice. But if we seek to educate our
students more fully, to teach content knowledge, yes, but to also develop socially and globally
aware students who will actively and creatively engage in society as responsible and educated
adults committed to lifelong learning, then we need to rethink the way our high schools work in
order to make them more socially relevant to students.
Although this change may and has taken various shapes and forms in high schools across
the country, I propose to bring the teacher-librarian to the forefront of this process as a leader in
transforming the library and subsequently the high school environment into a learning commons.
The term “learning commons” in this context has a very specific meaning, described by David V.
Loertscher, Carol Koechlin, and Sandi Zwaan:
…the showcase for high-quality teaching and learning—a place to develop and
demonstrate exemplary educational practices. It will serve as the professional
development center for the entire school—a place to learn, experiment with,
assess, and then widely adopt improved instructional programs. It is the keystone
of literacy and technological programs of the school and the place where
classroom teachers can collaboratively design, build, implement, and assess
knowledge building learning activities.1
These three educators have elaborated and described in detail their concept for the
transformation of the school library into a learning commons in their book The New Learning
Commons Where Learners Win.2 I would like to extrapolate two main points of their idea to
serve as a basis for the change I am proposing: 1. The learning commons as a physical and
virtual space, and 2. School-wide collaboration.
1A. THE LEARNING COMMONS AS A PHYSICAL SPACE
David V. Loertscher, Carol Koechlin, and Sandi Zwaan, “The Time is Now: Transform Your School Library into a
Learning Commons,” Teacher Librarian 36, no. 1 (October 2008): 10.
—, The New Learning Commons Where Learners Win!: Reinventing School Libraries and Computer Labs (Salt
Lake City, UT: Hi Willow Research & Publishing, 2008).
The high school library of today as a space is unappealing, isolated, and boring—this is
not breaking news. A stroll into most high school libraries in central Illinois will validate this
assertion. Tall bookshelves occupy most of the library’s space, with perhaps a small computer
lab inside or attached to the library. There are usually few tables for students to work at, with
minimal comfortable seating. A large circulation desk is strategically placed next to the door
with security gates at the entrance. As for atmosphere, the lighting and wall color are usually just
as dismal as any other classroom in the school. When it comes to creating inviting, colorful,
vibrant spaces, high school teachers are generally unconcerned with decorations, focusing
instead on the content of their curriculum. High school libraries too have had a tradition of
simplicity in their décor, focusing more on the content and quality of their collections. But if the
high school library is to serve as the hub of educational activities, it must be renovated in such a
way that reflects the goals of the learning commons, creating an open space for students and
teachers to learn as well as an “experimental” space for engaging with new technologies.3
The Open Learning Commons
In order to create an open space that is inviting to students, teachers, and staff and
conducive to a variety of educational activities, the high school library must push aside its
bookshelves and make room for flexible and comfortable seating. Clustered lightweight tables
and chairs provide for a collaborative working environment. Diner-style booths and lounge
chairs are better suited for recreational reading and book discussions. A combination of both of
these suggestions allows the teacher-librarian to fulfill both purposes of the library curriculum—
to promote personal growth and information literacy—while still maintaining a much broader
David Loertscher, “School Libraries Need a Revolution, Not Evolution,” School Library Journal 54, no. 11
(November 2008), 47.
purpose in serving as the meeting place for all educational endeavors in the school. The physical
layout of a space is important in determining its usefulness, so by creating specific areas in the
new learning commons where collaboration and group work is encouraged with additional space
for individual learning activities, the new learning commons becomes a valued space in the
school. Students will come in just to hang out. Teachers will spend their free periods there.
Students can work together on homework or read in a comfy chair. This space, designed as such,
will also become the new meeting place for faculty in-service days and professional development
workshops. Professional learning communities can use this space as their own too. The entire
school community is welcome and encouraged to utilize this space to further their educational
goals. Transforming the physical space of the library is one step in changing the social culture of
the school, one step in creating the learning commons.
The Experimental Learning Commons
Teacher-librarians are skilled in the context of information, all types of information
coming from all sorts of media. Teacher-librarians are not only concerned with the domain of
books, even though it is still a crucial part of the information world, but they are also savvy users
of all types of technology, from online article databases to YouTube to e-book readers, etc. Aside
from the technology specialist (if a school is fortunate to have one), the teacher-librarian is
usually the most technologically adept adult in the school. This is important to note because most
high school students today are digital natives—they live in a multimedia world and are mass
consumers and creators of information. In the classroom, however, students are generally denied
the opportunity to engage with information using various types of media (e.g. websites, blogs,
videos, podcasts, etc.) because the technology is not present or because the teacher believes in a
more traditional approach to education. Whatever the reason, students who are living in a read-
write culture of active participation and engagement with media and are creating and remixing
information are not afforded the opportunity to express themselves in the traditional classroom
and library setting.4 If we are to preserve the roles of teacher and student as separate and unequal
with the teacher as the bearer of information and the student as the sponge of this content, then
we do not need to change our environment. But if we are to act as co-learners, as facilitators to
learning, and allow students the chance to share their knowledge with us and to show us more
authentic ways of engaging with the content, then we need the space for this to happen, a space
that is more familiar to these digital natives.
The experimental space in the learning commons is the place devoted to technology. It
does not need to be cornered off or separated from the space entirely, but it does need to occupy
its own space for its own functions. A reasonable addition to this space is a computer lab of some
sort—Mac or PC, desktop or laptop, whatever works for the particular school—with at least a
small subset of computers devoted to multimedia activities such as audio and video production.
Many high schools already have these technologies in their school libraries, but they are not
using them to their fullest extent. The reason for placing a computer lab inside the learning
commons is so that the whole range of learning activities can take place inside this space where
the teacher-librarian can be available to assist students and teachers in their use. While students
may use the internet at home for personal purposes, they may not know how to transfer that
knowledge of social networking and multimedia tools to the educational setting. Teacher-
librarians in collaboration with content area teachers can work together with students in this
space to make that connection between technologies that students are familiar with and
Larry Lessig, How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law (TED, March 2007), 18 min, 56 sec., MP4,
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html (accessed May 10,
educational content. These technologies can also be used to experiment new methods of teaching
or try out new lessons in an environment supportive of such innovation with specialists at hand
to provide the needed assistance. In practice, I have seen teachers use this type of space to edit
videos of their teaching in order to get their National Board certification; students piece together
still images and add audio tracks to create book trailers; and the whole educational community
test out a new netbook to decide whether or not to buy a classroom set. In this space, technology
is valued for the positive impact it can have on educational experiences and the sheer necessity
of it in some situations.
1B. THE LEARNING COMMONS AS VIRTUAL SPACE
While the physical space that is now called the learning commons is the place where
teachers, students and staff use during the school day, there should also be a virtual space where
the learning experiences may continue at all hours of the day on any day. This is customarily
manifest as the library’s website, a portal to subscription databases and hand-selected websites of
interest to students, teachers, and parents. This website is maintained by the teacher-librarian
who selects all content that is included on it. Although the library’s website may be filled with
important information and links for students, this method of transmission is dated and one-sided.
In order for students to be consumers of this information, they must feel like they are also
producers, that they have a say in what gets published and what is shared on the library’s
website. When this website becomes a collaborative effort between all members of the
educational community, overseen by the teacher-librarian, then the learning commons will also
achieve a virtual space.
While I do not want to go into the logistics of how this may be accomplished, I do want
to offer some ideas of how this virtual space will enhance educational experiences. For example,
at the high school where I work, I create research guides for students working on a specific
project. I gather resources (e.g. subject headings to use when searching the library catalog,
databases the library subscribes to, websites with quality content, etc.) that I think are
appropriate for the project and for the students to use, and I publish this guide on the library’s
website.5 Recently, I have published these guides as wikis so that students are able to edit and
add resources, which has actually increased the interest and use of these guides, thus increasing
the quality of their work. Other ways that the learning commons can go virtual include having a
chat room-like or virtual conferencing space for collaboration, spaces to highlight student work,
news feeds, student and staff blogs, etc. This space should focus on the educational goals of the
school, and it should include opportunities for those goals to be met. It can also serve the
experimental purpose of the learning commons as it can be a place to test-drive new technologies
and ideas. Perhaps a teacher is thinking about creating a blog for students to post their
assignments to so that they can comment on each other’s work—the teacher may seek out the
teacher-librarian to help with this innovative idea and to brainstorm ways to make it work, thus
embedding it on the learning commons’ website. This site becomes a one-stop shop for all
classroom activities as well as professional development opportunities for teachers and staff. A
private network can be created for teachers to share their ideas with each other and receive
feedback in real time rather than having to wait to have a face-to-face conversation with a
colleague. This has been made easier through e-mail, but a private network (like a Ning6) housed
on the learning commons’ website allows for all faculty and staff to communicate with one
University Laboratory High School Library, “Class Projects,”
Ning, “Ning: About,” http://www.ning.com/
another, if they so choose. These are just a few ways that the learning commons could be
transferred to virtual space so that its mission can be furthered outside the confines of the
physical space and time constraints of the school day.
2. SCHOOL-WIDE COLLABORATION
Changing the library space is only one small step to changing the entire high school
culture from one of isolationism to that of collaboration. The library cannot move into its role as
a learning commons unless people move with this idea as well and embrace their new roles too.
This change involves the entire school community and must be supported by such, as the
teacher-librarian alone cannot institute this change. This, in itself, must be a collaborative effort
first backed by teachers, staff, and administrators. While the teacher-librarian may serve as the
leader in organizing and accomplishing this change, every person in the school will be affected.
Teachers must agree to rethink their daily lessons to provide room for some collaboration, some
way to expose their students to the learning commons in authentic and meaningful ways related
to their content areas. This is not simply about using the technology and the space just for the
sake of using it, but rather, it is about realizing that the educational experiences of students
should involve the “real world” that they live and participate in and should utilize the
technologies that they are already using. Collaboration between teachers is essential in
accomplishing this task because using technology in an instructional setting is more volatile than
a straightforward lecture—the multimedia world that our students occupy is largely unknown to
us as teachers, and we need the extra support in order to navigate it effectively.
Staffing the Learning Commons
In current practice, the high school library is usually staffed by a teacher-librarian and a
library aide, more or less depending on the size and budget of the school. Many high school
libraries depend on parent and student volunteers to keep their libraries running smoothly.
Because a teacher-librarian’s job is three-fold—teacher, librarian, and administrator—there is
always work to be done, and the load may be overwhelming. In the new learning commons, the
teacher-librarian would be surrounded by a support group of school specialists with whom to
collaborate. The daily functions of the library itself (e.g. checking books in and out, shelving,
processing new materials, etc.) would be administered by the library aide so that the teacher-
librarian may focus on the educational goals of the school and work with school counselors,
literacy coaches, special education teachers and other school specialists who are often left out of
the loop when it comes to the daily learning activities in the school. By bringing all of these
specialists together in one space, the learning commons, the school is able to physically show
that these staff members are valued in the educational community, so much that they occupy the
focal point of the school. Also, by housing school specialists in the learning commons, the
teacher-librarian has daily opportunities to support and collaborate with these members of the
school community, a feat left unaccomplished in current high schools. While this may mean a
drastic renovation of the current library’s physical space, this change is necessary if school-wide
collaboration is to take place.
Collaboration between Content Area Teachers and the Teacher-Librarian
Collaboration between content area teachers and teacher-librarians is crucial to the
success of the learning commons and more importantly, the success of students. The library
literature is saturated with stories of how one teacher/teacher-librarian duo worked together to
create an amazing learning experience for students that produced much better results than the
standard lecture/test method because the collaboration allowed for creativity and the use of
technology in new and meaningful ways (see bibliography). These stories are inspiring to read,
but they may not be enough for administrators looking for statistical evidence of improved
student achievement. For this group, there are books and studies written entirely about the
benefits of teacher/teacher-librarian collaborations, including an emphasis on standards-based
instruction that yields measurable results of student learning (see bibliography). Collaboration
amongst teachers is not a new idea to the education field, but it is difficult to accomplish in the
high school setting. Because teachers are partitioned into departments, there is little opportunity
for interdisciplinary teaching to take place, especially given the time restraints of the school day.
Collaboration becomes easier with the introduction of the learning commons because it provides
a neutral and central meeting ground for teachers to be utilized at any time during the day. Since
it is generally open before and after school as the traditional school library is, this also provides
teachers with more opportunities to physically meet, not to mention the anytime/anywhere
accessibility of the virtual learning commons. Most high schools do not have a dedicated space
for teachers to share ideas and work toward common educational goals, so the learning commons
can fill this need.
Traditionally, high school teachers are subject specialists who teach alone in their own
classroom. Their educational goals are very specific—students should learn X facts and
demonstrate Y skills by the end of the semester—and are driven by state standards for their
content area and grade levels. They work alone because that is just the way it is done and has
been done for as long as anyone can remember. Perhaps there is some inherent resistance to
change or to giving up complete control within a teacher’s personality, but more likely is the fact
that most teachers have not considered collaborating with their colleagues because they have not
had the experience modeled for them. They do not know what it would look like, how their
lessons would change, and how this would enhance the learning experiences of their students. If
teachers are satisfied with their lessons and their students are achieving the set educational goals,
then they may not feel that collaboration is a necessary part of their job. But collaboration is
essential because it does more than create a new lesson, which is a valuable outcome in itself; it
creates a concrete example, a model for students who are expected to work in groups and teams
both in and out of school. If we are to prepare students for life outside of school, we must show
them that teamwork is valued and that collaborations can be successful. We are living in an
increasingly isolated culture, where every student strives to outshine the other, but we also live in
a social world where collaboration is evident in all types of workplaces and situations. In such a
diverse culture, we should also strive to provide students with diverse experiences, and
collaboration between teachers is one experience that is missing from many high schools.
Collaboration between content area teachers and teacher-librarians has the potential to
produce outstanding educational experiences for students. It brings together two people who
specialize in information in very different ways—the teacher who has the “know” and the
teacher-librarian who has the “know how.” The teacher knows about the “stuff” that students
need to learn, and the teacher-librarian knows how to get to that “stuff” in exciting and
meaningful ways. Teachers hardly have the time to be innovative with their lessons (though
some do an excellent job of it) and are generally not up to speed with the latest in technological
advances—that’s not their specialty. But teacher-librarians specialize in finding information
from a variety of sources, many of which are now online, where this generation spends most of
its time. Teacher-librarians are responsible for staying current with information trends, which
means that they are the first to know when a new database is being launched or an organization
publishes new educational materials or a new educational tool is being experimented. They know
about or at least can find online resources that can enhance lessons and produce more telling
student learning experiences.
For example, a U.S. History class is studying Westward expansion and the traditional
lesson consists of a lecture and reading from the textbook. If the history teacher and teacher-
librarian collaborate, the lesson may include an exploration of the American Memory website,7
where students would find primary source documents of this period, including letters written
during the journey West and photographs taken at this time. Students’ engagement with the
material in this case would be much more personal, allowing students to make connections that
may have seemed more distant in the traditional lecture/reading setting. In this scenario, the
teacher-librarian would provide instruction in the use of this online archive, while the teacher
would serve as the content specialist, providing the context for these primary sources. In this
collaboration, both parties are still meeting their set of content standards, but they are also
enhancing students’ educational experiences by providing meaningful connections to the
material using technologies with which students are already familiar and comfortable.
Teacher/teacher-librarian collaborations should always focus on a set of educational objectives
but do so in a way that integrates technology seamlessly. Other ways to do this include students
using social networking tools such as blogs or wikis to create a product such as a collaborative
analysis of a book chapter in their literature class or a painting in their art class; participating in a
WebQuest about a certain topic such as global warming or post-modern poetry;8 creating a
podcast to demonstrate their new content knowledge in a creative way in any content area; or
Library of Congress, “American Memory from the Library of Congress,” http://memory.loc.gov
Bernie Dodge, “WebQuest.Org,” Department of Educational Technology, San Diego State University,
using subscription periodical databases to formulate a debate position on a current event. In all of
these examples, the teacher and teacher-librarian work together toward a common goal while still
focusing on their areas of expertise.
The learning commons also allows for a myriad of professional development activities to
occur, which the library could not previously support. Because the learning commons is
primarily a learning environment where collaboration is encouraged (which means that talking is
allowed!) and technology is present to serve a variety of purposes, professional development can
actually be a team effort rather than an isolated practice. School in-service and faculty
improvement days can be held in the learning commons, where technology can both be used and
demonstrated. This is a prime opportunity for the teacher-librarian to promote library services
and to teach workshops on new databases or web tools of interest to teachers. As a library
administrator, the teacher-librarian should lead teachers in innovative practices and uses of
technology and information in education. The learning commons space allows these professional
development activities to occur in the same environment that the future educational practices will
take place, thus easing the learning curve for some teachers.
For example, the teacher-librarian may have recently subscribed to a new reference
database, containing hundreds of encyclopedias and other reference works in full-text that the
library could not even hope to afford to buy in print. In order to promote this new database, a
mini-workshop on its content and use can be held in the learning commons where the teacher-
librarian could demonstrate sample searches and key features and teachers can click along on
their own computers, allowing time for them to explore the source on their own. Even though
this is a source primarily for student use, it is important to educate teachers about it because they
are the ones who can better promote it to their students who they see on a daily basis. Other ways
to use this space for professional development include small groups of teachers sharing their tech
success stories with each other; teachers pairing up to teach other about a new practice they have
incorporated or are thinking about doing in their classes; or teachers participating in a virtual
conference or webinar. The learning commons, especially the experimental lab, will give the
school community a concrete space conducive to reviewing and rethinking best practices in
education and allowing for creative ideas to flourish.
OBSTACLES TO OVERCOME
Creating a learning commons in the high school is a major undertaking which must be
met with support from the entire school community. This change is not as simple as purchasing
new technology or hiring a new school specialist. It involves changing the school climate and
selling teachers and administrators on the idea of school-wide collaboration. Changing the
physical space of the library to accommodate the new learning commons model is no easy task
either and will be difficult to accomplish without the proper support. Potential obstacles include
resistance to change from both teachers and administrators, the current obsession with
standardized testing and measurable student outcomes, and lack of funding.
Resistance to Change
Changing the way an entire organization, in this case the high school, works is never
easy. Some people are naturally resistant to change, and in a high school where dozens of
teachers have been teaching the same curriculum in the same way for a decade, the resistance to
change may be quite high. But the first people who need to sign off on this change are the
administrators—the ones who will be supplying the funding (which is another issue), overseeing
the process, and justifying it to the school board. In order to gain the support from administrators
on this new idea, a solid case must be presented to them that outlines the potential benefits of the
learning commons. One way to do this is to provide examples of schools who have already
adopted this model and the success that it has brought them.9 Another way is to include the
educational benefits of such a space and the research that has been done to show that
collaborative teaching positively influences student learning.10
Getting teachers to rethink their ways of teaching and to be more open to collaborative
possibilities is also a challenge to creating the learning commons. While most teachers will be
glad to finally have a library that is more in tune with the changing times, including a fully
equipped technology lab and comfortable space to work in away from their claustrophobic
offices, they may still be hesitant about modifying their lessons and collaborating with the
teacher-librarian and each other. After working alone for so long, it can be difficult to give up
control of the classroom and to try new things. This teacher/teacher-librarian collaboration will
not happen instantly and will have to be paced slowly. If there is one willing teacher on the
faculty who is open-minded and ready to tackle this change, then that is a good enough start to
motivating the rest of the faculty. Once the initial collaboration has taken place, it can serve as an
example to the rest of the faculty because it will undoubtedly result in success. At the very least,
teachers should feel more comfortable in consulting with the teacher-librarian when they are in
need of information and/or technology resources so that the lines of communication may be open
Valerie Diggs, “From Library to Learning Commons, A Metamorphosis,” Teacher Librarian 36, no. 4, (April
Keith Curry Lance, Marcia J. Rodney, and Christine Hamilton-Pennell, “Powerful Libraries Make Powerful
Learners: The Illinois Study,” Illinois School Library Media Association, 2005,
to future possibilities of collaboration. Again, this may take several baby steps, but the goal is to
achieve a collaborative environment where teachers feel that they are welcome to share new
ideas and experiment with new technologies to achieve their educational goals. The teacher-
librarian should lead this effort by continually communicating with teachers, asking for
feedback, offering support in their content areas, and suggesting collaborative possibilities.
Standardized Testing and Measurable Student Outcomes
The current state of high school libraries is dismal. They are not used to their full
potential in schools, and this is a problem that teachers and administrators do not acknowledge.
Instead, the dominant thought is that the school library is merely a supplemental resource and not
a vital part of the school. If students and teachers are not using the school library, it must be
because it’s not useful. But this is not true! One of the benefits to transforming the school library
into the learning commons is that it gets more bodies into the space—a space that will still be
dedicated to the traditional roles and responsibilities of the school library with the addition of the
new learning commons goals. Because the school library will still maintain its purpose and
function, it can finally start to prove its worth to the school community as more people arrive to
use its many resources, including books, databases, physical technology, and most importantly
the teacher-librarian. For administrators and teachers who are overly concerned with
standardized testing and measurable student outcomes, the learning commons can only have
positive effects, especially since the school library will be highlighted. These effects are
documented in much of the library literature (see bibliography), most notably in the third edition
of School Libraries Work!,11 which shows that school libraries do have a positive impact on
Scholastic, “School Libraries Work!,” Scholastic Research & Results, 2008,
student achievement. The learning commons will in fact support teachers in their efforts to meet
standards and measure student success.
Another challenging obstacle in the way of creating the learning commons is the funding
required to physically transform the school library. This transformation will look different in
every high school because each high school’s library is unique. Some possibilities include
completely remodeling the space—tearing down walls, building new offices and labs, retrofitting
electrical outlets, buying new furniture and bookshelves, etc.—if the old one is beyond repair;
purchasing more comfortable and moveable furniture to place in the space along with modern
décor to spruce up the atmosphere; moving or purchasing new bookshelves to open up the space;
adding an attached technology lab if there is not room inside the library itself to house it; or
simply rearranging the old space to better reflect the goals of the new one. Any of these
situations could be costly, and the funding may be scarce if not non-existent.
The first step to overcoming this obstacle is to present the school administrators with a
rationale for the change and a proposed budget for the work that needs to be done. By specifying
exactly what is needed in terms of funding and where the money will be spent, it is more likely
that administrators, including the school board, will be receptive to funding this idea. If the
funding is denied, however, even though administrators may be in favor of the idea itself,
because some schools just do not have the extra money to spend, then it is possible to apply for
grants that will support such a change. Specifically, the LSTA grant is very supportive of these
types of changes in the library and may be a viable solution to this problem.12 The bottom line is
that lack of funding should never be an excuse to not pursuing such a strong educational
Illinois State Library, “Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA),”
initiative. Even if a makeshift learning commons must exist before funding is raised for the
physical changes to take place, the most important aspect of this change is in the collaboration of
teachers and openness of the space—the changed culture of the library from a quiet, stifling
room to a bustling, creative area where students and teachers can pursue a variety of learning
The goal of this paper was to describe a change that “schools need to make to respond
effectively to the changing social and technological context” of our current times.13 By
converting the high school library into the learning commons, schools can provide better
educational experiences that engage students in this social and technological context. By
instituting this change, we are validating students’ everyday lives by bringing the same
technologies they use in their personal lives into their educational lives, connecting the real
world to the school world. By collaborating with teachers, we are acting as role models, as
examples of successful teamwork, a “real world” skill that students will need in their futures in
this increasingly connected social world. Most of all, creating the learning commons provides a
tangible social network, where collaboration is encouraged and emphasized because it is already
such a significant part of teens’ lives. These changes ultimately are necessary in the high school
if we want to modify the mission of the school itself—from one of inculcating students with
massive amounts of content to be regurgitated and later forgotten to one of providing students
with the tools and skills necessary to be responsible and creative citizens who actively participate
in the world around them. This mission is not unlike many mission statements found on high
Nicholas C. Burbules, Syllabus, EPS 411: School and Society, Spring 2009, University of Illinois at Urbana-
schools’ websites, but it is one that is often not realized in those same high schools. If we are to
move past this era of fear of not meeting expectations on standardized tests, then we must change
the way we view the high school environment and the way it currently functions. I am confident
that high schools who adopt the learning commons as their new school library will be pleased
with the results.
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