John Palfrey continues The New York Times “Room for Debate” conversation on whether we still need libraries at his blog, with a post that explains why this is even a question today – “because too many people think that we don’t need libraries when we have the Internet” – and offers ten steps for establishing a strong and promising future for libraries.
By way of background, John Palfrey is Head of School at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA and Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School. Among other books he has written or co-written, Palfrey is the co-author of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.
Palfrey’s list of ideas for libraries relates primarily to public and academic libraries, but his thoughts on the future directions, relationships, and spaces of libraries can relate to school libraries, too – though not necessarily in ways that are immediately evident.
For instance, here is Palfrey’s #8: “Library spaces should function more like labs, where people interact with information and make new knowledge.”
This one is easy to imagine in the school library. It’s the learning commons, a collaborative space for discussing, questioning, reading, information seeking, creating, and sharing. School librarians are already working to introduce the learning commons into rooms and schedules that previously may not have allowed for these kinds of interactions.
But what about #5? “Librarians should only seek to do those things that need doing and where libraries have comparative advantage in serving the public interest.”
This one is trickier to picture in a school, at least at the outset. If we focus “the public interest” into the realm of the school community, in what areas do the library and school librarian have the competitive advantage? What do librarians do better, or maybe differently, than other educators? How is the library space different from other classrooms? These questions remind me of conversations I’ve shared with school library graduate students as they write lesson plans that integrate content areas into library collaborations. “You don’t have to BE the science teacher,” I tell them, “just focus on the 21st century skills, the ‘library skills’ in the science lesson.” To situate Palfrey’s suggestion in schools, think about what school librarians bring to the table: collaborative energy, a school-wide perspective on curriculum and assessment, information and technology expertise and leadership – and the competitive advantage becomes easier to envision.
What do you think about John Palfrey’s list? Does it translate to school libraries? How? And remember to check out the Room for Debate essays and the growing conversation of comments.