Times change, and the tools and resources available to a successful community must adapt accordingly.
For students in Champaign County, that means “libraries” become “media centers” and encyclopedias are replaced by the internet. Still, print resources are far from disappearing entirely in local schools.
At Urbana, the new school buildings have sparked a renewed vigor for state-of-the-art education. That means new learning spaces, new technology assets and expansion of device offerings. Some districts already offer one technology device for every one student for a 1-to-1 access ratio.
“We have a Media Center at the new Urbana High School and we have the 1-to-1 technology plan with Chromebooks in place for current 9th through 11th grade students. As a district next year we will be 1-to-1 for grades 6 through 12,” Urbana High Principal Kristin Mays said. “The Chromebooks are a great asset for our high school students and teachers. We no longer have situations where teachers have to move projects involving technology out of curricular sequence due to availability of computers for students. All students have equal access to computers during the school day.”
That’s not the only upside for educators, either, as communication has improved dramatically.
“Many teachers use Google Classroom to post assignments and information for classes – which assists all students. It is especially helpful for students who may need to miss a class or a day due to academic competitions, field trips or illness,” Mays said.
What that means for students at Urbana is fewer trips to what once would have been a library of books or a computer lab for research and more instruction time.
“School media centers are now not only places to access paper and digital books and resources, but are also places to do collaborative group work, to work with adults who can guide them to resources or assist with technology needs, and are a safe, comfortable environment to learn, create and share. The school library, as many of us remember when we were in school, is not the trend or need for schools in the 21st century. In those times, libraries were the primary, and in some cases the only, source of books and resources like encyclopedias and microfiche for academic purposes,” Mays said. “In today’s world, books and resources are available in many electronic formats that no longer require going to a school library. Our students now have access to digital books and resources through computers, iPads, Kindles and smartphones. A number of students prefer books and resources in paper format, while others prefer digital formats. So our Media Center, along with our classroom collections of books and technology, allow for student choice and preference.”
At Graham, the district has renovated its media centers to add practical learning spaces.
“I would say with regards to the libraries, we’ve added maker spaces into our media centers. We’ve tried to create some new spaces for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning we’re doing. We’ve not reduced the number of books that we offer. We’re not getting rid of books, that’s definitely not happening,” Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said. “We’re trying to introduce some of the model classrooms in our libraries, adding some of the technology, modular seating arrangements and things of that nature. That’s instead of putting that into every classroom. And that allows us to get more bang for our buck and allows for experimentation for teachers.”
The result is a space that has a high demand and access to devices that students and teachers alike are craving.
“We have been building our capacity and adding devices across the district, but we’re still not at a 1-to-1 ratio. there is a lot of teacher demand for those devices,” Koennecke said. “We believe libraries are vital to contemporary learning. We want to drive people to that spot to learn and work with one another where there are those resources – including books. You’ll never be able to replace the feel of a book in your hands. and we would never want to do anything other than cultivate that, especially in our young learners.”
Not only is Graham promoting research and academia with its print resources, it’s also promoting creativity. Koennecke is especially proud of the district’s commitment to a wide variety of resources, which includes a space specifically for graphic novels in the elementary.
At West Liberty-Salem, students in the newly-renovated campus may have noticed a reduction in the number of books available, but Superintendent Kraig Hissong noted that disposal was strategic.
“We took an inventory of books and any books that hadn’t been checked out in 10 years, we donated,” he said. “It’s a little sad, but there’s so many resources now. We just want to put our students in the best position to access those resources.”
The WL-S media center has a computer lab and a smattering of books still available with a wide-open space and access to projectors and monitors that foster group collaboration.
That’s especially important to younger students, who don’t have individual device access like the high school.
“We’re 3-to-1 at the elementary, but at the high school we’re 1-to-1. And they take those home,” Hissong said.
At Triad, the district will open the 2019-2020 school year with a 1-to-1 technology approach for the first time.
”Most district and community ‘libraries’ are moving to more of a ‘media center’ concept. Triad really has more of a typical library concept at this time – books, magazines, et cetera. But students can bring technology into the library to access print online,” Superintendent Vickie Hoffman said.
Hoffman recognizes the need to shift the district’s focus, but noted that the school would ideally cater to student preference.
“I think it is important to build a love for reading and expanding knowledge through reading in every student and adult. It is important for schools to provide as many different opportunities for this as possible. Although I prefer reading a paper book, my two daughters, 17 and 19, prefer reading online,” Hoffman said. “At Triad, one of our goals is to build this love of reading and teach students to use print to expand their knowledge. We will continue to offer many different formats to meet this goal.”
At Mechanicsburg, the district focuses heavily on rotating its collection of resources to reflect the school’s current climate of education.
”I can tell you that books are not disappearing from our media center! We take pride in adding books to our collection while being sure to update and rotate our collection based on student interests, accuracy of the publication, age of the book and condition of the book,” Superintendent Danielle Prohaska said. “However, a good media center has a variety of selections and modalities available for students including actual books, hands on materials for building and exploring, and technology-based access to book collections and online reading.
“Traditional libraries had your standard collections of books, encyclopedias, maps, magazines and newspapers. Many of those items are now readily available and extremely accurate due to our access to technology. So, media centers are updating their look to match how technology has improved our access to information and content.”
Mechanicsburg employs a 1-to-1 technology program for students in grades 5-12, which aids in that access.
”The Chromebooks are used as a tool to enhance our rigorous instruction. Technology is not a replacement to instruction but a powerful support that allows students to explore, apply and extend learning in ways meaningful to their futures. We use technology to support our portrait of a graduate and to make sure all students leave Mechanicsburg schools prepared for enlistment, enrollment in post-secondary learning, or employment,” Prohaska said.
Today’s technology offers a broader access to information, but students in Champaign County can still access a book. And for some students, books are no longer just about words on a page. Sometimes they’re words on a screen.
Author’s perspective: For all the differences between yesterday’s library and today’s media center, we should all be able to agree upon our need for students to develop into functional adults. And for that to happen, we need to embrace all types of learning technology – both old and new.