Headshot of Stephen Pruitt

Stephen Pruitt

We, educators and parents alike, talk a lot about how rapidly education is changing. From online classes to tablet computers to lessons on coding for even the Commonwealth’s youngest students, there’s little doubt that today’s classrooms are much different than the ones I knew as a child.

But when we talk about how education is advancing, I think we often overlook the thing that is at the heart of every school – the library. April is School Library Month, so I thought this would be a good time to talk about how vital libraries – and librarians – are in Kentucky.

I’ve always thought of libraries as almost magical places. They are quiet rooms filled with hundreds of volumes that can take you everywhere, from Whoville to Middle Earth. There are encyclopedias and nonfiction books to expand my thinking, while my fictional favorites let me spend many hours visiting with long-treasured friends. And always there is the school librarian, there with a ready smile and a great recommendation for what I should read next.

So what’s changed in school libraries? In short, just about everything. Libraries in general – and school libraries in particular – have grown far beyond just being a place to house rows and rows of books.

Some really innovative programs are going on in Kentucky’s school libraries. Eminence Independent opened up a new kind of library this school year called the EdHub, which includes eight different labs that can be used for taking tours with virtual reality goggles, filming projects for class, a LEGO wall and more. The EdHub also has one feature that seems more at home in a science classroom than a library – an aquaponics lab – where students can grow plants and observe and record the scientific phenomenon behind the unique indoor environment.

School libraries are becoming the place for new and innovative community partnerships. Myria Ironmonger, library media specialist at Nicholasville Elementary, and Rachel Staub, children’s services outreach librarian for the Jessamine County Public Library, partnered during the 2015-16 school year to introduce students to virtual book clubs. And this school year, the Allen County Public Library partnered with the Allen County schools under the One Library program to offer all of the public library’s holdings to students and teachers.

These days, school libraries are often home to makerspaces, areas where students can gather in groups to do anything from making Dr. Seuss inspired papier-mache art projects to learning valuable high-tech skills creating projects on 3-D printers.

While there is little doubt that libraries are changing, one thing remains steadfast. At the core of what school librarians have always provided for students is how to navigate the world of information, in all of its many forms. Information literacy/media literacy is a foundational skill supported by certified school librarians throughout the ages.

While more and more resources are available on the internet – which opens up learning experiences for students that were unavailable even 10 years ago – it presents a new problem of helping students understand that not all sources are created equal. Looking through Wikipedia may be a fun way to spend some free time, but because it is not an authentic source, it might not be the best material for a research paper. It is school librarians who are tasked with helping the Commonwealth’s students tell fact from fiction both in books and on the web.

School librarians also serve a unique role in Kentucky’s schools. They are one of the few certified staff members that work with all subject areas and all teachers. Each and every day, librarians work with teachers from across their school to help support and improve student learning. If you are a school leader or a librarian, make sure to check out the Kentucky Department of Education’s Proficiency @ your library page for more information on high-quality school library programs.

So during the month of April, let’s all take some time to show some love to both our school libraries and the librarians who serve them. Drop a note to your school’s librarian in your child’s backpack, volunteer to help out in your child’s library or even write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your thanks for all that librarians do.

Let’s remind all of Kentucky’s school librarians that they rock!