I volunteer in the school library at the middle school. We collect only very simple metrics on circulation and on textbook records (the librarian checks textbooks and class-assigned novels in and out also), basically ones that come from the (unimpressive) circulation system. Most of the school libraries in our district have pretty static library services (and budgets–with the occasional panic over whether they will cut the librarian’s job or hours). Since increased funding is a pipe dream, no one really thinks too much about innovation, which is too bad, since for many of the students, the library is a lifeline, and I think it could be that for more kids with some innovative thought. Some innovations don’t need to be expensive.
The dull statistics we do collect could probably be used to tell more about user experience than they do. From the circulation statistics, the popularity of books could tell us a lot (and the library is small enough that even a manual review could be useful). The books that there are a lot of hold requests for, or renewal requests for, or overdue slips for–that could be very useful information, especially if it could be linked to some sort of genre information (which is often not included in basic cataloging information). Adding some sort of genre tagging could allow for some automated information about what genres as popular, or what’s waxing hot or not over time. Knowing class assignments and then seeing what books turn to for those assignments could tell us about students’ level of information literacy and what they find interesting.
Even the textbook statistics could tell us something: students who lose or damage textbooks or library books may be students with a more chaotic home life. Keeping track of these students and reaching out to them or reporting to the counseling department could raise kids to the radar who need extra support.
Lankes writes, “A good librarian challenges what could be, not simply reifies what is” (Lankes, 2013). There is a tremendous library knowledge gap among school students–the students who regularly use the library often learned library skills from families, having been taken often to public libraries. Other kids who don’t use it just think of it as a place you have to be quiet and are unaware of the library’s potential for self-chosen learning. Both school and public libraries have a mission to challenge that. The kids who aren’t even aware of what the library offers are probably the ones who need it most. As Morville points out, “The story of the library was rags to riches, not the rich get richer” (Morville, January 16, 2013).Our mission is to address information inequality and to offer library skills to underserved groups.
In trying to close the library skills gap, school libraries have one advantage over public libraries: they know exactly who all their potential users are, down to a complete list of names. Tracking who uses the library and who doesn’t could help you reach out to potential users and make them active users. The Library innovation and the community video (BCLibraries, 2012) about the Alley Health Fair made me think how a school library could get “out of their comfort zone” and reach out to students where they are. Already, the librarian will visit a class that is studying Egypt with a cart of books. But what about visiting the basketball courts (and the kids who use their every free minute to play) with books about sports? The school garden with books about the natural world? School clubs could be visited with a topically appropriate book cart. Our school also has “mandatorial” periods where students who need it get extra help. Perhaps the librarian could visit mandatorial sessions with books that support common issues that students are struggling with. What about a roving librarian with a laptop on the school wireless network to help students in mandatorials (or some other school situation) with research? Collecting information about what students want to know is more important than knowing how many books they check out.
Another strength that school libraries have that classrooms don’t is that library learning can be serendipitous, rather than mandated by the Common Core (or whatever the state secretary of education bought into this year). Learning can be “self-paced and student centered (Morville, August 25, 2013). In a blog post last April I explored the subject of serendipitous learning, a great strength of the library: “Libraries have always been places for self-chosen learning; it’s a history that can be built on in helping with a transformation of learning for the future” (McKinney, April 20, 2014). Learning can be driven mainly by the interest of the student. Instead of just accepting what we have always done, we can listen and learn and then teach.
BCLibraries (December 17, 2012). Beth Davies – Library innovation and the community [YouTube video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMAcDJttscI&feature=youtu.be
Lankes, R.D. (January 3, 2013). Beyond the bullet points: Missing the point and 3D printing [Web log]. Retrieved from http://quartz.syr.edu/blog/?p=2538
McKinney, M. (April 20, 2014). Why do songs rhyme? [Web log]. Retrieved from https://mollificence.com/2014/04/20/why-do-songs-rhyme/
Morville, P. (January 16, 2013). Inspiration architecture: The future of libraries [Web log]. Retrieved from http://semanticstudios.com/inspiration_architecture/
Morville, P. (August 25, 2013). Architects of learning [Slideshare presentation]. Retrieved from: http://www.slideshare.net/morville/architects-of-learning