Monday, January 26, 2009

SLA: The Library

Since I work as a School Library Media Specialist, or teacher/librarian, I was curious to see the library facilities at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia.

At first glance, the collection looks meager, the resources limited. There are some standard reference works, popular fiction, magazines. As I found out though, through chatting with students and by observing the dynamics of the SLA learning environment, looks can be deceiving.

The Science Leadership Academy advocates "Project Based Assessment." Emphasis, in every subject area, is on independent study aimed at the achievement of certain benchmarks. Each student has a laptop with building-wide wireless access. Students can, and do, stay beyond regular school hours, only leaving when the doors are locked for the day at around 6 p.m.

Library instruction takes place during a mandatory technology course in grade 9 and is also embedded in core subjects. Students learn how to use databases, evaluate websites, practice good cyber citizenship - all the skills necessary to be a competent, self-directed learner. There are both organized and informal trips to the public library as well.

In the normal course of things, the librarian would be a key collaborator with other faculty members. The position is temporarily being filled by a substitute, due to the illness of the former librarian. Principal Chris Lehmann assured me that, although Pennsylvania schools are not required by law to have a librarian, the city of Philadelphia strongly supports school libraries. Interviews for a new SLA librarian were set to begin today.

Each classroom and hallway at the Science Leadership Academy displays the school's Core Values:
  • inquiry
  • research
  • collaboration
  • presentation
  • reflection
The first two Values are directly relevant to the traditional understanding of a key purpose of school library programs: to facilitate inquiry and research. The other three Values flow naturally from these two. So in a very real sense, the Science Leadership Academy in its entirety - curriculum, projects, attitude, outlook - is the library, the modern library, the library that's not a room but a mindset.

The title of this posting could refer to the Library as a part or subset of the SLA. I prefer to think of SLA and the Library as being synonymous.

"If a man empties his purse into his head no one can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." -Benjamin Franklin


A Keeper's Jackpot said...

Looks like you got a lot out of your experience. I didn't realize that school librarians were not mandatory in all schools - that seems strange!

Carolyn Foote said...


Great point. Hm, I'd been thinking about a library position somewhere...Philly would be nice ;)

Maybe your points are why I was so excited about what was going on at SLA because it seemed so natural to me in terms of what we as librarians do?

Thanks for drawing that comparison...makes complete sense to me!

kellywchris said...

Great post. Libraries are key as schools evolve. As traditional centers of "knowledge", they will need to continue to be central to the learning process. As you indicate, the role of the librarian is changing, as is the role of almost every other person in school! It's important that we don't overlook this as the ebb and flow of change courses through the halls of schools.

Seems you had a great time. Wonderful!

diane said...


In NY State, the law requires a secondary librarian for specific enrollment numbers; library instruction is mandatory in middle school. There are no mandates for elementary schools, though most districts choose to employ elementary librarians.

The laws vary widely by state.


You've had a lot of experience with a "library without walls" while your own library was being constructed. Have the outreach activities continued?


Important point: ALL of our roles are changing. Including that of a student, who must assume more of the responsibility for his/her own education.

bairdito said...

Hi Diane-

Glad you enjoyed the conference. As one of the original teachers at SLA I can assure you that you only saw an incomplete vision of what we want the library to be for our learning community. Paul our original librarian has been quite ill for over a year now and since this is only our third year as a school, you were looking at only about a year of work. The project of continuing to make our library a central part of the school has been put on hold during his absence.

One of the things that we have been stressing is that the library is also a place for collaboration. At times the cloistered environments of many school libraries prevents kind from working on their projects. (Yes, sometimes they are noisier than we would like.)

One thing that I want us to think about at SLA in terms of the future of our library are a response to Konrad's session on Sunday. He said that authentic project-based learning environments strive to give kids not only the skills to be "resourceful" but the "agency" to affect their world.

Libraries have a long history in trying to give kids the tools they need to act as autonomous learners. What would it look like, however, if our library at SLA was really dedicated to the idea that kids can affect their world? I think Paul was moving in this direction but we have not as yet really articulated this as a faculty.

Matt Baird

Anonymous said...

Next to the principal, I think the librarian has become the most important position in the 21st-century (Knowledge-Age) school. Not requiring one to be in a school (a la Pennsylvania) is like not requiring the lunchroom lady!

Matt, I can't think of a better opportunity, "dedicated to the idea that kids can affect their world," than to let the kids take charge of the library!

diane said...


I look forward to seeing the SLA develop its vision of a what a modern library can be and can DO.

Your articulate, motivated students are the leaders we need now and in our future.


As you know from your own experiences facilitating professional development workshops, librarians are a force to be reckoned with!

BTW, I'm choosing to take that "lunchroom lady" comparison as a compliment.