This is such a daunting question.
A few things come to mind:
The future is now. Or at least by the end of next year.
Building the Education Revolution (BER) is here, whether we asked for it or not. For schools such as mine, which has “made do” with an old, portable library module (the school was supposedly promised it would be there for only three years, until a permanent brick building was erected, but it’s been at least 16 years now, I’m told). The “Primary Schools for the 21st Century” program is bringing us a new library (hurray!), but it won’t be quite what we’d always envisaged. (We’d assumed we’d, one day, have a new administration building, with a library on top. Now, new building regulations say that any new multi-storey public building must have an elevator, to ensure equity, and that takes such a concept out of our price range.) So, it’ll be single storey, on the site of the old portable, with an annexed room – to make up for the fact that we won’t be getting that new administration building we’ve only ever dreamed about, and desperately needed.
But that’s only the structural stuff. What has my brain whizzing at the moment is how much input and choice schools and staff will have on the internal layout of these new libraries. What does a 21st century school library need, and will it be expected to keep us happy in five years time, ten years time, or even as we approach the 22nd century?
My school’s current administration building is over 90 years old. When it was built, did people imagine it would still be being used as a school building nearly 100 years later? (If only they’d known then that we needed more than one power point in each classroom; what a saving we’d have made!) Because we live and work in the building every day, we usually only think of it in terms of its inadequacies. But to others, it’s a building of uniqueness. Attempts to revamp it would, no doubt, attract the attention of heritage-conscious locals.
Similarly, the portable library reminds me of its inadequacies – every time the floor bounces on the way to answer the telephone, and every time we complain about our lack of storage space, or when two or more classes are in the library at once. I can assume the new building will have a sturdy floor and adequate storerooms, but what internal layout and devices do we need to ensure our new library will be able to cope with the changing nature of how students need to access information?
I glance at my handy-dandy iPhone and am bewildered by the many functions it has, most of which I’ve never had time to explore in the eight months or so that I’ve owned it. My iPhone lets me locate myself on Google Maps (I’ve found some rather tricky addresses with ease, which is great when you’re a pedestrian and unlikely to have a Gregory’s directory on hand). I am never without a digital camera. I can check my emails and update my Facebook page whenever I’m bored. By clicking any URL in an email, I am taken immediately to the website being recommended. I can play all the iTunes music that’s ever been downloaded to my laptop at home, because my iPhone downloads all changes for me every time I plug it in for a recharge. I’ve bought things on eBay while on vacation using my iPhone, and paid for them with PayPal. I can instantly check four preset timezones to ensure my four library “newsroom” clocks are always accurate. A downloaded clever application keeps track of my extensive DVD collection, and automatically links me to IMDb on the ‘Net whenever I require cast and crew information about movies in my collection.
Most amazing is the “Mobile Me” program which enables my trusty iPhone and dependable Apple laptop to talk with each other – and exchange the latest changes to my calendar and address book – whenever they come into proximity with each other! No wires required. And, as I said, I suspect my iPhone does thousands of things I haven’t yet discovered.
I assume that, within a few years, everybody will have something similar (and smaller, and more powerful). Including our students, who’ll be quite blaze about having one. Such an ICT marvel shall be as important as wearing a wristwatch was until recently. When so much access to so much information can come with just one little device, I find it overwhelming to even try to imagination what we may have at our fingertips in five years time, let alone ten or twenty years.
As we know, our students are not usually daunted by touching a button to see what something can do. It’s the adults who sit there, sometimes frozen in fear, attempting to be brave enough to tackle the new technologies. There are still some teachers out there who’ve never sent an email.
We, and our students, are going to have access to an enormous amount of information, and soon no one may see a school library building as their first port of call. Hopefully, though, the concept of the school library (some of it virtual) as the hub of a school’s information needs, and the place (again, some of it virtual) where users can be guided to navigate information overload successfully, will remain paramount.
It seems to me that our school library webpages, online pathfinders, blogs, wikis, moodles, etc – and whatever else is yet to come in the virtual world – are going to be just as important, or more important, as the new BER library buildings.
The physical BER library buildings are what the public will see, and probably how they will judge if the money was well-spent. The important stuff may be (virtually) impossible to see from the outside, or even from the inside, because much of it may be virtual.
The discussion continues at School Libraries 21C.