I had an opportunity to visit the CLA (Canadian Library Association) 2011 Teacher Librarian of the year this week. We’d crossed paths a few times, more digitally than in person, prior to yesterday’s visit. But when our conversation on the BC Teacher Librarian’s Association Ning site started complaining about exceeding word limits for discussion posts, it was time to actually get together!
I’m lucky in that she teaches just up the hill from my house so the trip was easy to plan! The discussion took off along multiple themes, often simultaneously but one that particularly tweaked my interest and I didn’t feel that I had an adequate answer was the discussion of the use of the term Learning Commons. I’m not always quick on my toes with this stuff, but I’ve been thinking this through further since our talk.
It seems to that there are two levels to this answer. On one level, and this applies particularly well to Judith’s programme, it really doesn’t matter what her space is called. The physical and virtual spaces are clearly labelled “Library.” But a library, in the “Best” (Charles Best Secondary) sense of the word, is a collaborative space where students and teachers come together to make connections and learn. There is flexible furnishings, there is a computer lab, there are books and there are people (primarily Judith) with expertise who are there who infuse the content learning with information literacy skills at every chance they can. In many ways, it seems that the library is the learning hub of the school. It wouldn’t make a single bit of difference if she were to change the sign on the door.
The other level to this answer is that the term “Learning Commons” can be used to affect a change. It might be something as pragmatic as gaining grant money. I’m hearing increasingly of school districts and Provincial Government grants being offered to renovate library spaces to turn them into Learning Commons. If this is done with a Teacher Librarian who understands what is important about the Learning Commons model, the source of funding can be of great assistance to move in that direction. Last week’s visit to Johnston Heights and Michelle Hall, the name change was key to the transformation. A grant was given to change the space and, as I wrote last week, the name change not only got them funding, but it also helped affect a change in the way people were thinking about the space. In this case, the fact that the space is a Learning Commons and NOT a Library was key to the transformation.
Is the use of the term political? It can be. Can you have a space labelled Library and accomplish all that a Learning Commons is? Sure. In the end, the most important thing is the concept. A 21st Century Library or Learning Commons needs to put learning at the focus and the resources that surround the space are there to support the learning. If the focus is on books, or on computers or on any other tool, the space will become outmoded and irrelevant. If the focus remains on learning, then the spaces (virtual and physical) will adapt over time to support that learning by organizing information in ways that are appropriate to the times and the needs.
So: “A rose by any other name” MIGHT just “smell as sweet.”
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