If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has, at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things. (Vincent Van Gogh)
In many schools, libraries are being renamed; their roles in the learning process are changing. The school library is increasingly being referred to as the “learning commons” to acknowledge the important influence it can have on student and teacher interaction, collaboration, and on learning in general. No program makes this emerging role of the school library more evident than the Learning in Depth, or LiD, program. (Learn more about LiD here).
LiD & The Library: Hear From 3 LiD Teacher-Librarians
We engaged in informal, semi-structured interviews with 3 teacher-librarians involved with the LiD program. At the time, all three teacher-librarians (Amy, Kathy, Baljit) worked with LiD at the elementary school level. All three participants were asked the following questions to elicit their sense of LiD’s impact on the library and the school:
- What is the relationship between teacher-librarians and students in the LiD program (LiDKids)?
- How can teacher-librarians be involved with LiD programs? How would you describe your role?
- How do you use the library in terms of the physical space/contents for the LiD program?
The participants’ responses indicated how LiD has impacted their relationships with students, the different ways they are involved with LiD, and the way the physical space of the library is used and organized.
Relationships & Roles
All three teacher-librarians spoke to the relationships formed between LiD teacher-librarians and the LiDKids. Their interactions support students’ learning and inquiry. Amy describes her role in LiD as a consultant and guide:
My role is often to help students refine the ideas they have…I help them drill down to discover what they may actually want to look at. They aren’t always sure where to start …so, for example, one student studying wood said to me ‘I want to build a house!’…Together we found resources that could inform that larger idea.
She indicates a number of ways in which she as teacher-librarian collaborates with LiDKiDs primarily by helping them to find resources and exploring questions with them.
Kathy and Baljit describe having great ”conversations” with LiDKiDs. Through these conversations they feel they can
- provide resources to LiDKiDs or suggest where to find them,
- help LiDKiDs express and reflect on what they are learning,
- offer an alternative perspective
- point to cross-curricular connections,
- introduce other LiDKiDs whose topics align in some way.
Both teacher-librarians emphasize how much they enjoy the kind of relationships they have with LiDKiDs. They indicate that the teacher-librarian-LiDKiD relationship is unlike that of the student and classroom teacher; the LiD program allows a different dynamic to emerge.
Kathy describes the positive impact LiD has on the sense of community in the school; she finds it changes her relationship with kids:
Rather than bringing challenges and problems, involvement in a LiD program for a teacher-librarian is more reminiscent of what we were meant to do, what we used to do and a validation of the importance of the kind of support we offer students in schools.
Baljit identifies how LiD not only builds community in school, but how it connects people across cultures/ages etc.:
I think LiD is a great equalizer. Adults and children are interested in learning together and I think students see adults are learners every day. I think students see adults learning and discovering new ideas and see this is a normal part of life. LiD is life long learning. Time in LiD can be spent on longer more in-depth conversations, time that is not always available in classes. I think these conversations develop stronger ties between adults and children and make school more personal…sometimes in large schools it is easy to feel disconnected, and just part of a large education factory where you know what project you are going to do next year because every year that is what is done.
LiD & Library Space
The teacher-librarians identify various ways the physical library space is involved with LiD. They indicate how, first and foremost, the library is a great resource for LiD information. Students come to the library to get information on their topics on a regular basis. For Baljit, the library space also serves as a venue for displaying projects, and gathering with other LiD kids. She indicates that in a LiD school, the library is a “high traffic area” as it brings kids and teachers together. Baljit describes the library as the physical heart of LiD in the school as it is where the LiD club meets weekly. Kathy indicates that kids do their Lid work elsewhere but come frequently to her and to the library for more information. All respondents indicate that they support the LiD program by equipping the library with resources based on LiD topics where budgets allow. Amy describes her role as being one of “curating online resources” for LiD. For some topics, she remarks, it is hard to find physical books that are suitable for children so she is creating online collections of links, videos and related resources. Amy—a teacher-librarian at an all-LiD school—indicates that LiD has had a significant impact on the way the library resources are physically organized. Certain books in the library are now identified as “LiD books” (sticker on the spine of the book) and are grouped by topic (e.g. cooking section, frogs, birds, etc.).
Overall, we see LiD is changing relationships and the nature of the school-library partnership. In relation to the themes explored in this anthology, our conversations with Lid teacher-librarians reveal how LiD contributes to community-building and facilitates social justice through the creation of intercultural learning opportunities and practices. It also plays a significant, but not yet measured, role in encouraging a variety of literacy activities among the students. Our discussions suggest three distinct benefits of LiD that impact the library:
* LiD creates a community of learners. Collaboration in learning—between students and among teachers—enriches school culture. LiD provides multiple opportunities for collaboration among teachers, among teacher-librarians and teachers, and among teachers, teacher-librarians, and students, and also among students in ways that they would not otherwise engage in.
* LiD supports creativity and imagination. The work of the IERG at SFU has been dedicated to increasing opportunities for imaginative development and engagement in learning. The theoretical and practical work of the IERG points to the limitations and problems associated with ways of schooling based on industrial, or factory-based, models. LiD offers a program that can increase what students know about their world. It provides stimulation for the imagination. It challenges the “norms” of schooling and how and what children expect of their learning experiences.
* LiD creates a foundation for life-long learning. The idea of “life-long” learning has become a cliché. And yet, few would discount its importance. LiD offers students a real experience of learning something over long-term. It offers students the freedom to engage as they wish and with whom they wish to pursue and demonstrate their learning. It is the foundation for a true love of knowing about the world. Confidence builds from being the expert in relation to some feature of the curriculum. Students’ expertise builds through working relationships with teacher-librarians and other students, and even at home, with parents (Egan & Madej, 2009). It overflows into recreated roles for students (as experts) and teachers in classes. We recommend further investigation into the LiD library-partnership and what it can contribute to learning in schools.
The initial development of the Learning in Depth program gave no thought to school librarians. The book that introduced the program (Egan, 2010) does not explore how libraries might play a role in supporting students as they build their LiD projects. And yet we have found that the program is one that benefits greatly from the involvement of teacher-librarians and it even offers those with whom we have discussed the program an enriching sense of their own role in students’ learning. It offers new ways to stimulate literacy activities among students, to build richer and more varied community relationships among teachers, librarians, and students, and it enriches the librarian’s professional role and practice.
Egan, K, (2010). Learning in depth: A simple innovation that can transform schooling. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Egan, K & K, Madej. (2009). Learning in depth: Students as experts. Education Canada, 49(2), 18-23. from http://www.cea-ace.ca/sites/cea-ace.ca/files/EdCan-2009-v49-n2-Egan.pdf