Using technology in school libraries

Making the grade: What good staff, high-tech equipment are doing to improve the quality of learning.

January 14, 2001

IN THE tech-savvy 21st century, school libraries need to teach kids more than how to use the card catalog. Specifically, they need to get kids learning confidently on their own, whether they're reading, listening or surfing for information.

In Maryland, where most public school libraries fail to meet basic quality standards, it's difficult to find creative programs.

But at least two schools in the Baltimore region are thinking innovatively. At Lisby-Hillsdale Elementary School in Harford County, for example, students are going to the library to check out more than books -- they're there to explore the school's cutting-edge television studio.

Librarian Lynne Koppenhoefer says her program's goal is to find what grabs young learners and help them run with it. "Each time we are in for a new shoot, we try to learn a new skill," she says. And that's essential when the goal is independent learning.

Students research scripts; they build sets for subjects as diverse as rainforests and presidential elections. They critique their performances and edit the productions.

Two counties away, at Carroll's Sandymount Elementary School, librarian Karen Boggs coordinates a weekly news program broadcast from the library throughout the school. She oversees an eager crew of students who prepare their reports on a range of topics, from books to school news to interviews. One recent show featured a fire-safety segment with a teacher who is also a volunteer firefighter.

The show's feisty student meteorologist "travels" the world during his reports, offering viewers a little social studies with their weather. With the help of a second handheld video camera, the young reporters visit classrooms and conduct live polls.

Learning doesn't get much more multifaceted than this -- not much more impressive, either, when you remember these are third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

But, sadly, there's a downside. This wonderful innovation is happening largely in a vacuum because school librarians have scant opportunity to share "best practices" outside their schools and jurisdictions.

More information must be exchanged if we're going to improve the overall poor state of elementary school libraries. The critical shortage of qualified librarians must change, too -- currently, only about half the public schools have a certified, energetic library leader like Ms. Boggs or Ms. Koppenhoefer.

The Maryland State Department of Education has a plan for sharing success among school libraries, and for training more certified librarians.

But MSDE can't do it alone.

The department needs Gov. Parris N. Glendening's help to meet those goals. His approval of MSDE's $8.7 million budget request for libraries is critical. So is his high-profile support.

In his State of the State address Wednesday, the governor should outline his plan for better libraries. It's time to tell Marylanders how the state proposes to turn around a failing system. Mr. Glendening owes it to the public schoolchildren under his care.

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