Most educators would agree that the library is still an important factor of education, but how many students would consider the library a place of instruction? Is it just a means to an end, a place to get your research materials and get out? Most of the instruction given by library staff is given in the traditional classroom, outside the library. When I attended Grand Valley State University, the library was built like a prison. All grey concrete and narrow windows, brown carpet, brown paneling, and not very many open spaces. If necessary, I would go get my research materials, those that weren’t available online, and leave as quickly as possible. However, if the library were to create desirable learning spaces within the walls of the library itself, students might come to see the library itself as a place of learning and not just a place for internet access, and to get their necessary physical materials, then beat a hasty retreat.
We as librarians need to be of a mind that we are educators, and not just a search engine to find the materials that students are looking for. In the article Reimagining the role of school libraries in STEM education: Creating hybrid learning spaces in the April 2012 issue of Library Quarterly, Mega Subramaniam and colleagues stated, “The most important role of a school librarian (and unfortunately the least known role) is the role of instructional partner” (Subramaniam, et al, 173). In an effort to support the growth of interest in math and the sciences, Subramaniam posits that by creating learning spaces in the library tailored to the sciences and partnering in instruction with teachers and the formal classroom, libraries are uniquely positioned to kindle interest among the underrepresented STEM students (168). As a hub for new technologies and pioneering programs, the library can offer students non-traditional materials such as video games, movies, fiction and non-fiction literature, combined with a warm inviting physical space that will draw students who may have an adverse view of the traditional classroom.
Furthermore, the academic library itself can no longer be restrained by traditional hours or a traditional approach. With this in mind, the librarians at Emporia State University in Kansas created a space that can be used by students 24/7, which they dubbed a “learning commons” (Gutierrez, 2014, 15). Highlighted in an article by Art Gutierrez, this concept is separated from the concept of an information commons, the difference being the mere retrieval of information from an information commons, and the creation of knowledge taking place in a learning commons (15). This approach to education allows librarians to be central in the learning process of students, not only providing instruction, but in creating a space where students can actively participate in their own instruction, empowering them to gather with each other and collaborate at the time of day when they produce their best work.
In a results-driven educational era focused especially on test scores, the library has a unique opportunity to become a non-traditional, technological space in which students can build upon their classroom learning by engaging in STEM learning and exploration. By creating spaces that are geared specifically toward learning in the method that best suits students’ needs and goals, the library can become and remain a crucial part of the instructional lives of students, and a much-needed ally and partner to schools’ traditional instructors.
Subramaniam, Mega M.; Ahn, June; Fleischmann, Kenneth R.; & Druin, Allison. (2012). Reimagining the role of school libraries in STEM education: Creating hybrid spaces for exploration. Library Quarterly, 82(2), 161-182. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/stable/10.1086/664578?origin=api&
Gutierrez, Art & Moffat, Kael. (2014). Libraries in transition: Creating a 24/7 space at Emporia State University. Kansas Library Association College and University Libraries Section Proceedings, 4(2). Retrieved from http://newprairiepress.org/culsproceedings/vol4/iss2/3/