School libraries continue to make the grade
By Kristi Anderson
For The Visitor
Unlike Moses, whose information descended from above on tablets of stone, this generation collects information downloaded from the World Wide Web onto Internet tablets.
These and other advances in media and technology are changing the way students are learning in today’s schools. While educators adapt to new teaching methods, school libraries are adjusting to their own changing atmosphere.
Although many of the school libraries across our diocese have made the move to automated systems, a number of schools still use the traditional Dewey Decimal System and card catalog classification as well.
“It’s a challenge teaching the kids the card catalog when they are used to being able to look up almost everything else online,” said Patty Dirkes, librarian of Holy Family School in Sauk Centre.
Lisa Silbernagel, librarian of St. Henry’s School in Perham, agreed. “These are skills that are being lost because of technology,” she said. “And with all the choices out there, kids just aren’t reading books as much as they used to.”
Library veteran Mary Keifenheim of St. Andrew School in Elk River feels the responsibility falls on the librarian’s shoulders to help students develop library skills as well as an appreciation for reading, regardless of the tools available.“
A librarian’s job is to market the books and to market reading. And what that takes is a library that is vibrant and always changing,” said Keifenheim. “It is our job to help children become lovers of reading and develop habits that they will use for the rest of their lives, whether electronic or not.
“A library cannot be just a storage room for books,” she continued. “It’s the very heart of the school.”
As the world moves into an ever-increasing electronic future, schools are confident about the opportunities for learning that the Information Age provides.
St. Andrew School is among many diocesan school libraries that have become automated. Students no longer sign their names on cards inside each book, but rather scan the book using a barcode system. “
The kids are well-trained and very comfortable checking out books and looking up books on the computer,” Keifenheim said. “We still teach the Dewey Decimal System so that students can walk into any public library and have the skills they need to find what they are looking for.
“The biggest change I’ve seen in my 26 years as a librarian is that the reference section is no longer as powerful as it once was,” Keifenheim added. “There are no longer rows of encyclopedias on the shelves. We now use the ELM (Electronic Library for Minnesota) rather than investing in hard copies of reference materials.”
In addition to the ELM online research database, the vision for St. Andrew’s school library includes investing in e-books for students who have access to e-readers at home.
“This is the time that it is crucial that students be convinced of the enjoyment of reading, Keifenheim continued. “Technology kind of promotes itself. Our libraries need to be a marketplace for reading, in whatever form that takes.”
Meeting the needs
Realistically, school libraries face budget constraints that make acquiring the latest technology difficult, keeping conventional libraries conventional. Regardless, steps are being taken toward the advancement of technology in even the toughest economic circumstances.
“Our funding doesn’t allow us to do too much in the way of technology in the library, but we’re doing just fine with what we have,” Dirkes of Holy Family in Sauk Centre said.
Holy Family School is one of the many schools across the diocese that uses Accelerated Reader, a program designed to assess students’ reading abilities. Dirkes explains how this program maintains balance of both modern and conventional learning.
“The AR program works really well for the kids. They read books at their reading level and then take a test on what they’ve read on the computer,” Dirkes said. “I feel it really is an essential program for comprehension and vocabulary.”
For Silbernagel, purchasing audio books has been vital to the school.
“I can honestly say it has been important to get books on CD,” she said. “There are so many students that struggle with reading, but really love to read. Being able to follow along with both the audio and printed version has just been critical for them.”
Silbernagel invested in her own e-reader for personal use, which she hopes to share with her students from time to time.
From library to media center
Some schools have already made the shift from library to media center. One example is the newly merged campus of St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud. With the pooled resources of the former Sacred Heart School in Sauk Rapids and St. Augustine/St. Mary’s Cathedral School in St. Cloud, the unified campus is able to house two computer labs, one of which resides within the library itself.
Ruth Steffes, music teacher and media specialist of the former Sacred Heart School, will be the media specialist for the combined campus.
“We will have one computer lab available to teachers to use with their classes and one lab in the library where I will be able to use it to teach library and computer skills,” she explained.
“In this new position, I’m faced with the thought that the kids might know more than I do. That rarely happens in history or math,” she said. “I’m hoping I will be able to use the kids’ expertise to help me.”
Steffes will have the opportunity to collaborate with a team of parents, parishioners and staff that form a school Technology Committee.
“This group is dedicated to advancing technology in our school and is a wonderful resource for me in many ways,” she said. “I certainly don’t know everything and we have some real experts in the group that I can rely on for help.”
Most schools in the diocese have incorporated this type of committee to identify potential needs and develop long range planning for the expansion of technology, according to Tim Welch, consultant for educational technology for the Diocese of St. Cloud.
Such visioning can be helpful in securing additional monies from government funding programs such as E-Rate, which assists in providing discounted telecommunication and Internet services to many schools, he said. Centered on literacyOverall, the focus of school libraries remains the same from generation to generation.
“Our school libraries have always been about literacy, that is, providing the written word so that students can learn language skills to better articulate their thoughts as well as listen to those of others,” Welch said.
“Our language is now a language of multimedia such as sound, graphics and video, as well as the written word,” he added. “Thus, it isn't surprising that you will see more technology in our school libraries to help our students become literate in ways that fit our culture: the spoken and written word, yes, but increasingly the world of multimedia. And, of course, we cannot ignore the power of the Internet brought to our schools through this same technology.”