Librarians scare me. While I consider myself to be a fairly strong man and really brave, I’ve been known to not wear a hat on really cold days, the thought of my elementary librarian still scares the bejeebers out of me. Miss Jenkins, we’ll use that handle as I am still quite fearful of using her real name, was a large woman. She had glasses which, when perched low on her nose, she could throw a glare through that could freeze hot water. I can still see her sitting behind her enormous desk accessioning books with a dour expression on her face. The mere thought of gaining her attention through some mildly noisy boyhood antics continues to make the hair on the back of my neck stand. The last thing anyone wanted was Miss Jenkins attention. Within the frilly wrapped blouse and conservative cardigan lay the heart of a demon, at least in the eyes of children.
Now, as we begin the transformation of traditional Libraries into Learning Commons, I see the importance of shifting the personality type of those traditional librarians. No longer do we only need someone who can file, organize and frighten a group of prepubescent children into quiet submission. We need much more than that. Today’s libraries need to be staffed with people who can engage children in their learning, have them look at literature in a critical way, looking for links to their lives and societal needs. We need someone who can manage the library so that it has many roles. The librarian of today needs to be a person who can create spaces where deep learning can go on in a variety of ways – group work, tech driven or even silent, yes, even silent. Today’s librarians needs to create spaces that allow all types of learners to learn.
This transition needs to start with the person, not the space. The staffing of a Learning Commons is the most crucial key in its’ success. So what trait’s would be ideal for a Learning Commons librarian?
1. Naturally curious – Curiosity is contagious. If someone around you is passionately curious about something, you can’t help but buy in, even when you really don’t care. My son is passionate about fish, particularly cyclids. Honestly, it is not an interest to me at all, actually, I should say it WASN”T an interest at all. His natural passion and curiosity have drawn me in and now, I am interested in them. That’s what good librarians do – they draw you in to the learning.
2. Engaging – We’ve all met people we love to listen to. They have a way of drawing us in and pulling on our heart strings – good librarians do just that. They make the typical seem magnificent. Sometimes they use their own passion, sometimes they use great questioning but they draw us in and make us see the potential in things.
3. Resilient – This transition in the way we see libraries isn’t going to be easy, not for kids, not for parents and particularly not for teachers. There will be frustrations on the part of those you work with as we begin to try to realize the potential of our libraries. Librarians are going to need to weather the storm of resistance and keep being positive with their vision. The traditional teacher will want a place where kids can get books and be quiet and read. A Learning Commons with lots going on may fly in the face of that vision. Stay calm and look to the vision.
I’ve always felt that the gym was the heart of the school. You can see children flock to a gym to visit, to get active and to feel bonded to their community. I’ve always loved the gym in a school. Now, however, it’s time to make the library a second heart of the school. A place kids can go to collaborate, to learn and to relax. Let’s replace that image of the tradition librarian with a new model – a model of passionate learning.
Keep on learning!