The Library Lab School

Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity” is one of the most popular TED Talks to date with over 71 million views. It’s an inspiring video and one that I have regularly included in my courses to help my graduate students understand the need to cultivate creativity in their K-12 students.

I’ve been curious to learn more about Robinson’s perspectives and how they might apply to the school library, so I took some time to read through his 2015 book Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education

Throughout the book, Robinson describes what he believes are the “keys” to transforming education and “critical factors” in raising student achievement. They are:

  • Recognizing that teaching and learning is a relationship
  • Engaging students as individuals, inspiring them to learn, and keeping an appetite for learning alive
  • Developing a rich and balanced curriculum with supportive and informative systems of assessment
  • Improving the quality of teaching (Robinson and Aronica 2015)

In addition to these keys/critical factors, one of Robinson’s quotes especially stood out to me: “Children are naturally curious. Stimulating learning means keeping their curiosity alive. This is why practical inquiry based-teaching can be so powerful. In place of offering answers to questions they haven’t asked, expert teachers provoke questions in students so that they are inspired to explore them” (Robinson and Aronica 2015, 107).

I had already made a connection between Robinson’s TED Talk on creativity with school librarians’ ability to collaboratively design and implement inquiry-based units of study. His book provided additional support to show how a robust school library in which school librarians are enabled to serve primarily as instructional leaders would meet each of his proposed keys for transforming education and raising student achievement. Collaboratively designed inquiry-based units of study are built upon relationships–between teachers, teachers and students, and students with one another. The foundation of an inquiry unit is student learning–determining how to spark curiosity and develop critical thinking and creativity by building knowledge in a topic of great interest to each student. School librarians and teachers work together to customize a rich curriculum with supportive and informative systems of assessment. This collaboration serves to improve the quality of teaching for all educators involved (Lewis 2018). 

School librarians know that inquiry learning has the power to transform education. Yet they are rarely enabled to engage in this type of collaborative work (Lewis 2021). Robinson says it well: “The great irony in the current malaise in education is that we actually know what works. We just don’t do it on a wide enough scale” (Robinson and Aronica 2015, xxvi).

I finished reading Creative Schools while sitting in the waiting room of a dentist’s office. Rather than scroll mindlessly through my phone as I continued waiting, I decided to take some time to sit quietly and allow my mind to engage in some imaginative thought about this topic. Like Robinson, I desire to see education transformed into something that enables “students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens” (Robinson and Aronica 2015, xxii). So, what if we could take what works about the school library and put it into practice on a wider scale? I’ve been thinking about what a school that is built around the library might look like. I would call it “The Library Lab School.” To begin, the library would of course be centrally located and fully stocked with print and digital resources. It would also be fully staffed with library clerks and IT personnel so that the physical library could remain open for at least 8 hours per day and personnel would be available to assist students and staff with resource management. 

My first paid teaching job was as a part-time grade-three classroom teacher. At the time, my state was working toward reducing class sizes in the primary grade levels. They didn’t have the funding to fully reduce class sizes to 20 students, so instead, they funded the placement of an additional teacher in each classroom for a half-day to assist with the teaching of language arts and math. As a half-day teacher, I was expected to team teach with an existing grade-three teacher (this was implemented at mid-year) with a class of about 30 students. Reflecting upon this situation, I wonder why can’t we do this with school librarians? I’ve also been thinking about how academic libraries employ multiple librarians to focus upon specific subject areas. Why can’t we also do this in K-12 education? 

In The Library Lab School, I would employ school librarians for each subject area and/or grade level. At the elementary level, school librarians would be assigned to each grade level or a grade-level span. In middle and high school, they would be assigned to subject areas. All school librarians would be expected to spend at least three hours per day in the classroom working with students and teachers. They would have two goals: 1) to implement an ongoing program of interdisciplinary, inquiry-based learning, and 2) to establish a habit of free voluntary reading with each student. Finally, each of the initial administrators would be expected to hold Master’s-level school library certification to ensure that they are equipped to cultivate a school-wide inquiry and literacy culture. 

My imagination tells me that this type of school would be incredibly transformative and beneficial for our students. How do we get started?

Works Cited:

Lewis, Melanie A. 2018. “A Collective Case Study to Examine Administrators’ Instructional Leadership Perspective of the Role of Instructional Coaches and Teacher Librarians in California Public Schools.” EdD diss. Liberty University. 

Lewis, Melanie A. 2021. “Enabling School Librarians to Serve as Instructional Leaders of Multiple Literacies.” School Library Research 24. <www.ala.org/aasl/slr/volume24/lewis>.

Robinson, Ken, and Lou Aronica. 2015. Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. New York: Penguin.



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