The Role of Today’s School Library

Elementary School students in the school library.

At our recent National Honor Society induction ceremony, our physics teacher, with a strong background in astronomy, was the guest speaker. She identified bits of knowledge as stars given to students from the beginning stages of comprehension. These stars become constellations as the many bits of knowledge connect to become something bigger. Eventually, students holding all these constellations of knowledge are then expected to go out and discover new bits of information to share with others. Therein lies the cycle of scholarship and a lead in to the role of today’s school library.

Contributions to the process in which one learns are vast. Traditionally, the library, moreover school library, serves as a strong contributor from beginning to end. From the multitude of reading materials at every level to enrich students to credible sources for research, the school library has long withstood its purpose. But what about the almighty internet where data is available with the touch of a finger? Where books are read on the screen or replaced with videos. Where audiobooks are downloaded for one’s listening pleasure. Dare we mention ChatGPT? The role of today’s school library is more important than ever for the following reasons:

  1. It sets the foundation for life-long learning and community building.
  2. It promotes reading and literacy at an early age.
  3. It provides curated, verified content for credible research.
  4. It lends support for digital learning.

The School Library Contributes to the Foundation for Life-Long Learning

Elementary School students looking at a book at the school library

School libraries play an important role in teaching students how to properly access information for learning, education, and training.  Its primary objective is to collect, store, organize, retrieve, and make available information sources to the information users. Oftentimes, the library is described as a system composed of the following:

  1. readers/users – knowledge seekers
  2. books, and other sources – knowledge
  3. containers and staff -knowledge seekers

With the connection of these three components, the library becomes a social and service institution where it serves the current as well as life-long learning needs of society.1

Even from a global perspective, a recent library and information science manual from India’s National Institute for Open Schooling (NIOS) states:

“The library provides ‘perpetual self-education,’ ‘life-long self-education’ and ‘universal self-education’. Education and learning is a lifelong process. The schools/classrooms provide the initial momentum. Thereafter, it is the library system which serves the necessary aids to perpetuate self-education for all.”1

At O’Neal. the role of the school library is to a complement to the classroom curriculum. Consequently, students in the early grades experience great books on a routine basis to cultivate their love for literature. Additionally, they learn how to use the library, from looking through the library catalog to finding the book on the shelf. For the older grades and research needs, students are taught how to properly conduct research with physical and digital credible resources with the help of expert guidance.

Professor and Director of the School of Library & Information Science at the University of South Carolina R. David Lankes was famously quoted as saying,

“Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.”2

Two elementary school students discuss the books they've picked with one another.

At library time for O’Neal’s lower grades, one sees the students reading their books and sitting together. The simplicity of sharing some time together to discuss the book they’re currently reading can foster a sense of community. As a result, time at the library becomes a social activity.

The School Library has an Important Role in Promoting Reading and Literacy at an Early Age

The topic of when children should learn to read is still discussed over and over. Experts often say by age 6 or 7, but there are some children who are ready to learn to read at age 3 and some who are not ready until age 12 or 13. Timothy Shanahan, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Chicago stated, “There is no particular age that one has to learn to read,” Shanahan says. “But starting early provides the greatest opportunity for children’s success.”3

Elementary school student looking at a picture book in the school library.

To be a strong reader, it is necessary for students to find topics that interest them to the extent that they want to know more through reading about them on a routine basis. In short, passionate readers find great interest in the books they read. The importance of school libraries for students is that it provides a variety of books to interest the finicky students and the qualified librarian to help them find their passion through reading.

O’Neal Director of Education Technology and Library Services Christine Fecteau takes the challenge,

“I WILL find a book that interests students who are least interested in reading.”

The New School Library Serves as a Provider of Curated, Verified Content for Credible Research

The librarian works with high school students on library search options.
Ms. Fecteau informs 11th-grade English students about library search options for their end-of-year research paper.

What is the difference between Google and verified research databases? It’s not that the internet is the wrong place to seek data, there’s just that extra step in ensuring that the data collected comes from a credible source. To help with that dilemma, accessing databases often available through the school library helps to eliminate that step. Therefore, proper guidance in using library resources in school will lend access to the right data more than the everyday internet browser.

Ms. Fecteau helps to teach and enforce research expectations for students as they are given access to EBSCO – a leading provider of research databases, e-journals, and discovery services for academic libraries. Students also can access JSTOR and PebbleGo (for the younger learners) and PebbleGo Next for intermediate grades. Ms. Fecteau is also working on a process for students to apply for an NC Library Card, allowing them access to NC Cardinal – the state consortium of its public libraries.

Research databases are important because O’Neal’s writing program requires that all middle and upper school students write a research paper. In addition, the School also offers the Signature Scholars Research Program for juniors and seniors. This two-year intensive research study is directed by English Department Chair Dr. Nicole Camastra, and students who complete the program earn a diploma with distinction from O’Neal.

Today’s School Library Fills the Role of Providing Support for Digital Learning

Fifth grade students look at a laptop computer in the school library.

Likely the reason why our librarian’s title is Director of Education Technology and Library Services is that, with some help, she manages the technical end of learning.  A sample of technology tasks are to:

  • conduct a complete audit of software programs used in classrooms
  • manage the clear touch panels used for instruction
  • propose 4th-grade laptops for research learning
  • teach coding in the Middle School
  • introduce 5th graders to the School’s intranet, email system, and library resources

Today’s school library plays an important role in digital learning. In fact, public libraries are making commitments to enhancing digital literacy in their communities.4 Like it or not, the digital world is here to stay, and the service of the school library is a resource to help in getting the most out of what it has to offer.

With Every Good Facility, There is a Great Facilitator

The school librarian and an elementary school student.

Director of Education Technology and Library Services Christine Fecteau comes to O’Neal from Greens Farms Academy in Westport, Connecticut where she served as director of library services for the past nine years. Ms. Fecteau has a master’s degree in informational science – school libraries from SUNY Albany and a certificate in school management and leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education & Harvard Business School. Only new to O’Neal since August of 2022, library circulation is already up 100% year-over-year. 

English Department Chair and Director of the Signature Scholars Research Program Dr. Nicole Camastra states,

“The importance of quality library and research resources cannot be overstated. The dynamism and volatility of the 21st century demand that students possess information literacy, which starts with understanding how to navigate and responsibly use the sources available to them. Having a good school librarian is invaluable in this regard. Christine Fecteau presents herself as that person in so many ways, and her work at O’Neal has been a gift for all our students, from Lower through Upper School.”

Norwegian writer and law professor Jon Bing once said,

“To ask why we need libraries at all, when there is so much information available elsewhere, is about as sensible as asking if roadmaps are necessary now that there are so very many roads.”5

Just like technology itself, library facilities must keep pace. As some schools have eliminated their libraries, others, like O’Neal, take special pride in this unique facility and service that continues to help inspire our students to be life-long learners, passionate thinkers, and high achievers.  

Mobile Sculpture hanging in McMurray Library
The Mobile Sculpture that hangs in McMurray Library

Learn more about this artistic focal point in the McMurray Library by reading the blog post The Timberlake Gallery.

References:

1: “LIBRARY SYSTEM AND MANAGEMENT.” National Institute of Open Schooling, Ministry of Education, Government of India, 2015, https://www.nios.ac.in/media/documents/SrSecLibrary/LCh-015A.pdf.

2: Studies, Librarianship. “Bad Libraries Build Collections, Good Libraries Build Services, Great Libraries Build Communities.” Bad Libraries Build Collections, Good Libraries Build Services, Great Libraries Build Communities, Librarianshipstudies.com, 27 July 2019, https://www.librarianshipstudies.com/2019/03/bad-libraries-build-collections-good.html

3: Rosenkrantz, Holly. “When Do Kids Learn to Read?” U.S. News and World Report, U.S. News and World Report, 30 Aug. 2021, https://www.usnews.com/education/k12/articles/what-do-kids-learn-in-kindergarten.

4:”Digital Literacy”, American Library Association, August 2, 2016.
http://www.ala.org/pla/initiatives/digitalliteracy (Accessed January 24, 2023)
Document ID: 9f9c68ca-b4b6-22e4-1945-6c7ff10523af

5: Studies, Librarianship. To Ask Why We Need Libraries at All, When There Is so Much Information Available Elsewhere, Is about as Sensible as Asking If Roadmaps Are Necessary Now That There Are so Very Many Roads., Blogger, 27 July 2019, https://www.librarianshipstudies.com/2019/05/to-ask-why-we-need-libraries-at-all.html.

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