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Launching SchoolLibraryNJ (and some models beyond)

We’re exited to launch SchoolLibraryNJ, a evolving project designed to address inequitable access to resources for K12 schools and libraries and to present the value of librarians in digitally curating resources for teaching and learning.

Led by a small team of NJASL volunteers, a few of whom just happen to be Rutgers LIS alumni and students, with the generous support of Springshare and the blessing of the New Jersey State Library, we are building a network of LibGuides to support our learning community statewide and beyond.

Why?

On a personal level, I know that ever since 1996 my own virtual libraries ensured that my instructional voice as a librarian reached my community 24/7, wherever they were. It dramatically extended the ROI of my collection investments. But, perhaps even more importantly, a robust digital presence introduced me as a professional. A robust virtual presence made my efforts transparent and tangible. And I had data to prove my impact–local and well beyond. Scaling this type of work has been my long-time dream.

During the pandemic we’ve seen value in the efforts of so many librarians whose online presence bridges their school communities. We’ve seen evidence of this in the many curated digital collections shared across social media, including all of those lovely Bitmoji libraries.

And yet . . .

  • Not every school, not every teacher and not every learner has a librarian.
  • Not every library has a realistic budget.
  • For many reasons including training and access to resources and time, not every librarian is yet engaged in the perhaps daunting task of building a robust digital presence, even when it comes to making sense of and curating the bounty of resources that are freely available.
  • Most importantly, not every kid has direct access to the resources they need to think, create, share and grow. They can’t wait.

Creating a digital presence is more critical than ever before and it is best accomplished with local needs in mind.

But must we all begin from scratch?

Our Vision:

To bridge information equity gaps for K12 students in New Jersey (and beyond!) by providing professional school librarian guidance and leadership.

Our Mission:

To ensure students, educators, and parents have easy access to the quality information resources they need to enhance teaching and learning and to enrich literacy experiences.

The site is a work in progress with the team continuing to expand and refine our Guides. At this point, it is heavy on organizing and presenting free resources that might be used by every student and educator. We are working on adding voice and will soon be extending our resources on inquiry.

Guides for students consistently offer areas for research and databases, search, reference, crediting sources, discovering digital reads and a newsroom, like this one for high school students.

Right now, we are building the following daisy-chained Guides:

To librarians:

While we include a number of New Jersey-specific resources, we hope that much of the freely available content we have gathered will be useful to others. Please feel free to use, embed and link to our work, using proper attributions when they are noted.

And we know what you are thinking . . .

Might folks think that efforts like these would supplant the need for a school librarian?

The value of school librarians is stressed throughout the Guide, most explicitly on the Administrators Guide. We hope that our work offers a proof of concept and inspires administrators to consider what it might look like if a professional librarian was engaged in building an even more robust and targeted presence to meet specific needs across local learning communities.

Our message is clear across the site:

Your School Librarian

While this Guide curates some of the excellent material available to students, teachers, administrators, and parents in New Jersey and beyond, students with school librarians have access to far richer collections of professionally selected age-appropriate resources.

In addition, students with access to school library programs have access to instruction to support the development of information skills, critical thinking, productive and authentic inquiry, as well as readiness for college and career.  School librarians build cultures where literacies flourish! 

We quote AASL’s January 6th, 2021 letter to the Biden-Harris Education Transition Team

School librarians are integral to fostering a culture of inquiry, developing critical thinking, nurturing multiple literacies, differentiating learning, personalizing resources, and building empathy and a disposition for lifelong learning. They bring a unique view to the learning community as they serve in an instructional role that spans grade levels and content areas, engaging with students throughout their years in the school. Literacies and inquiry undergird today’s school librarian’s work, a role that has become even more essential with increased reliance on digital learning. School librarians have responsibilities as teachers, leaders, instructional partners, information specialists, and program administrators.

What’s next?

Our small team is committed to growing our pet projects with feedback from the community.

I will offer my own pre-service LIS students at Rutgers authentic opportunities to create annex Guides in response to research and identified community needs.

One example of such an annex is Grace’s engaging Virtual Fieldtrip Airport, currently attached to both the Librarians and Educators Guides.

The team:

From left to right: Beth RaffSteve TetreaultJoyce ValenzaMeg BrandtGrace McCuskerEwa Elliott & Lisa Manganello

We welcome your suggestions. We want our work to support yours.

While we are excited to introduce SchoolLibraryNJ, I also want to acknowledge several other models, varied in their mission and scope, that might also offer inspiration:

1. INFOhio: In 1989, a group of school library media specialists meet to develop a plan to computerize all the school libraries in Ohio. That became the seed of this robust site with an inspiring and ambitious mission: INFOhio transforms student learning by providing equitable access to quality resources and cost-effective instructional and technical support for each student, educator, and parent in Ohio.

INFOhio

2. Connect, Create, Lead: New York City School Library System’s Homepage is a network of Guides covering curriculum, inquiry, collection development, strategic planning, resources for librarians and other educators, vendors, professional development and much more!

NYC School Library System: Connect, Create, Lead

3. The WA Digital Teachkit is an easy-to-use guides crafted by teacher librarians to help K12 educators select, understand, and use commonly-adopted digital learning tools in Washington State. Divided into two sections,

WA Digital TeachKit

Tools: Designed by and for Washington State educators, the tools selected for this guide represent commonly-used apps, services, and software already in use in many schools and classrooms. The guides may include tools not currently adopted or approved in your district. Some tools require purchase, enrollment, or subscription.

Guides: These guides are designed to help educators understand different kinds of digital tools and services and how they can fit into your instruction. If you’re not sure which tool fits which need, these guides are designed to help you make the right choice. Among the Guides are:

4. Massachusetts Virtual School Librarian: In collaboration with Massachusetts Library System (MLS), the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) offers a Guide designed to provide support for students and teachers during school closures and to ensure all students and teachers have the services of a school librarian to find high-quality information, tools, and strategies to continue developing media literacy and research skills. On this page are digital resources available to each person in Massachusetts either through the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners or through the Boston Public Library with an e-card. The site also features a virtual “Ask a School Librarian” service.

5. Virtual Library Guide: David Loertscher recently wrote to share a project he’s been developing with his LIS students at San Jose State. In his introduction to the Guide, David shared:

The rude awakening of the world pandemic in early 2020 caused libraries to close their physical library spaces. Suddenly, patron access was only available to online virtual resources. Many librarians suddenly realized that virtual access left much to be desired.

Using the design thinking process, thirty graduate students in the school of Information at San Jose State University have created this guide to curate, create, and propose many novel ideas for reinventing how librarians can build a community of patrons both during and after the pandemic. Our design challenges the librarians of any type from public, academic, school, and special to reach out beyond just delivering resources virtually, to construct a two-way collaborative community.

Together, patrons and librarians build not only physical collections, but virtual connections. This is a sort of learning commons; a cousin idea to Wikipedia. Everyone is not only using resources but creating them as well, for the benefit of all. We have created and curated many ideas here but also invite librarians to add to this collection.

Current student-designed projects fit in these categories across library land:

6. Resources for School Librarians: This classic directory of goodies has been maintained by retired librarian Linda Bertland since 2000 according to the Wayback Machine. Linda also hosts a Virtual Middle School Library.

Linda Bertland’s School Library Directory

Some background:

Valenza, J.K. (2012). “Curation!” School Library Monthly, 29 (1). Sept/Oct. http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/articles/Valenza2012-v29n1p20.html

Valenza, J.K. (2007). It’d be Really Dumb Not to Use It. Virtual Libraries: Their Influence on High School Students’ Information Seeking and Use.  Chapter in Mary K. Chelton and Colleen Cool. (Eds.) Youth Information Seeking Behavior. 2nd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.

Valenza, J.K. (2005/2006) “The Virtual Library.” Educational Leadership, 63 (4), 54-59. 

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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