For this month’s featured Learning Commons, I interviewed Pam Harland from Sanborn High School in New Hampshire. Besides being a librarian extraordinaire, she is the AASL Board of Director Liaison to Knowledge Quest. Her answers to my interview questions were so filled with great ideas, I am serving them up to you whole. Read on to get meaty nuggets to chew on for awhile.
With this latest terminology change from Library Media Center to Learning Commons, how do you feel the profession is changing along with the spaces?
I noticed that when my principal introduced me to people during my first few years at Sanborn he would say “This is Pam Harland, our librarian, but she’s more than a librarian.” I explained to him that I’m not more than a librarian, but that he had a different definition for what librarians do. We talk about this idea at some point each year and I noticed that he no longer introduces me as more than a librarian but will add some LC highlights into his introduction and let the space speak for itself. The space itself defines me as a welcoming librarian who created a flexible space including a wide array of information sources and integrated technologies. The space is filled with chatterbox students working away on a variety of projects and taking part in the space itself. Dynamic, flexible spaces with a wide variety of information sources, technological tools and resources are some of the defining characteristics of high impact LCs.
Give us an overview of your school:
700-750 students, public high school. I was hired to take over at the Library in 2011. The school was built in 2006 – so the space was new and beautiful (a lot of windows and brand new furniture). The previous librarian was very welcoming and progressive, so the library, when I got there, was well-used. Teachers and students checked out a lot of books and utilized the computers. Five years ago there were 3 laptop carts and the library PCs to use for Internet access. Now we have full wifi throughout the building and 9 laptop carts as well as a BYOD policy, and several iPad carts. So, the big question that keeps me up at night is: Why do we need a library when we have these laptops in our classrooms and access to more and current information than is available in our library? It is a scary question that should keep us all up at night! But, because of the changes we made when I got there, people still want to be in the library. The library is now a flexible space (a lot of our shelves have wheels, some of our tables have wheels, and we allow (encourage) students and classes to customize the space for their use. We rearranged the PCs and created a u-shaped classroom space with a large screen projector and nice sound system. We have a media production space, comfortable chairs by the windows for reading, as well as a large collection of high-interest books. When classes come in, they can utilize any of these resources and they continue to get used.
How has a transition to a learning commons changed teaching and learning in your school? Perceptions of the space and your role?
As we created our LC I also began offering professional development on research integration and how we can use our Virtual LC as a blended instructional space. Database use increased dramatically and the research projects have changed from traditional book reports to more engaging projects and complex uses of informational texts. As a faculty we created a school-wide research rubric that is used across the curriculum. It’s exciting to see that the language used in English is now used in Wellness and Science and Social Studies, etc. Students are now finding evidence to support their claims, rather than searching the Internet for topics. I believe the perceptions of my role has changed from being the manager of mobile labs and the library space to being a leader in curriculum, instruction, and technology integration.
What kinds of technology do you have in the space & how is it used?
We have a locking closet on wheels called the Technology Sandbox. We fill it with examples of the latest technologies for our students, teachers, and administrators to try out. We were the first to have Chromebooks on campus. Everyone wanted to try them out to see how this inexpensive device works on our network. Was it as fast and simple as people reported? Students can check any tools from the sandbox out for a week at a time. The latest crazes are our selfie sticks and Go Pro cameras. We checked a Go Pro out to a student before we had even turned one on. The student came back and trained us how to use it and now we see them training each other. One student figured out how to make his iPhone a Go Pro remote and now he teaches everyone that practical tip. We rely on students to be the experts on some of these tools. We do not have to be the experts on everything.
Do you have a Virtual Learning Commons? How is this different than your old library website? More participatory? Are teachers and students using it? How do you promote it?
Yes, our VLC is used a lot. We use LibGuides. The old library website contained links to databases, local libraries, and the online catalog. It was used during English class research paper writing. The VLC is divided into 3 chunks: Books & Reading, Research & Instruction, and Hours & Schedule. The Books & Reading section has some participatory features. Students can use our hashtag #sanbornreads and have their Tweet or Instagram pic show up on our feed. When students share pictures via the hashtag we print them out and put them up on our bulletin board and make digital collages with them. We promote the hashtag during specific events like Banned Books Week or Read Across America week.
The Research & Instruction pages (this is the deep portion of the VLC) have some participatory features. I like to embed polls and Padlets throughout these pages so students can share their resources, too. When talking about evaluating websites I like for students to share a good, bad, and ugly website on an embedded Padlet and present to the class why they chose each site. Then we can have them delete the bad and ugly sites, so all students have a jumping off point when beginning their actual research. It is an easy formative assessment that can happen in one or two class periods.
The Hours & Schedule section of the VLC is primarily for teachers to use to schedule spaces and resources. When teachers schedule the library their class is automatically added to our Google calendar so everyone can check availability in a glance.
Do you have a makerspace? Does this fall under your responsibility or an additional staff member?
We got a 3D printer last year, which started a lot of talk about makerspaces. This year we are adding a new class: Student Help Desk into our Technology courses. I am hoping that one of the students from the Help Desk course will take the lead on establishing a student-centered makerspace.
How much of your collection is digital vs. print? How do you drive students toward digital?
Most of our fiction is print. We have 6 Kindles that students can checkout like books. We load titles that our book club reads and anytime we have a waiting list for a book we add it to our Kindle and offer that as an option. Most students do not want to read fiction on one of our Kindles.
We replaced our print Reference collection with the Gale Virtual Reference Library 3 years ago. We embed titles from the collection into LibGuides on specific topics. Students and teachers love using these titles.
We also added QR codes onto our shelves to guide students to digital versions of titles or subject guides. For instance, on our Shakespeare shelves, we have QR codes guiding students to both our Hamlet LibGuide and our Macbeth LibGuide – both of which are robust with a variety of media to help students gain a full understanding of these texts (videos, cartoons, artwork, background, interpretations, etc.)
What’s your best advice for getting teachers on board with using the LC’s resources?
My best advice is for school librarians to join teams. I am the minute keeper for my PLC, so it keeps me engaged. Every time someone talks about a new project I can share out ideas for resources and tools from the LC. Being a part of a close team like a PLC is so valuable. I like to switch around each year and go where I feel I’m most needed.
Author: Cassy Lee
Cassy Lee is a middle school Teacher Librarian focused on education equity, empathy, and empowerment. She is the recipient of the 2020 AASL Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award and the 2018 SLJ Champion of Student Voice. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, son, and a steady stream of foster dogs. You can find her on Twitter at @MrsLibrarianLee and at CSLA in February!