3 Things You Need to Know to Create a Student-Centered Library

With 227 schools, our district, Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) is the eighth-largest school district in the nation. We are a melting pot of urban, rural, and suburban areas. The word “diverse” doesn’t begin to describe our wide array of students, schools, and their individual needs.

In one school day, a library media specialist can teach a class about fake news, help one student find the perfect resource for his research project, and guide another towards a “just-right” book series that appeals to her personal interests. For 21st-century, future ready media specialists, the idea of the library as a “quiet space” is out, and creating new opportunities for deeper learning with students is in!

Here are a few tips for creating strong student-centered libraries in your district. 

Best Practice 1: Certified library media specialists are key.

We often get inquiries about Hillsborough’s overall vision for our libraries. The truth is, libraries in our schools are far from cookie-cutter, and that’s what makes us successful. One of the reasons we feel our libraries are so effective is because each school is equipped with a full-time, certified library media specialist. Additionally, each library’s resources are curated and customized for each school to meet the needs of its diverse student population. It sounds like a big task, but in reality it’s what our students need, so the effort is 100% worth it.

Best Practice 2: Provide a plethora of high-quality text options.

When students enter the real world, they’ll be exposed to a variety of print and digital text, and libraries are great equalizers for different forms of media. Our media specialists are experts in collaborating with teachers, knowing their student population, identifying the right mix of print and digital resources, and detecting student preferences. 

For example, some schools’ young students engage in a lot of computer-based testing, which may make them associate screens with testing. We see that as a contributing factor in students’ desire to read more print when reading for fun or for school. On the other hand, we have many students who prefer the freedom of reading digital books and news articles on myON. Providing a plethora of print and digital titles gives our libraries the latitude to personalize learning and make a positive impact on our students’ learning experience.  It is our goal that each student has access to the resources they need, in the format that works best for them.

Best Practice 3: Take risks, and don’t let the fear of failure hold you back

Every year, we encourage our students to read from the Florida state award-nominated book lists. In the past, we did a book-bowl style initiative. In 2017, we wanted to further engage students, so we revamped the program into the Student Literacy and Media Showcase (SLAM Showcase). As students read books from the lists, they responded to the literature creatively by employing their artistic and digital skills. Students had the year to work on their projects, and in the spring, we hosted our first showcase event, which highlighted work from more than 700 students from all grades K–12. It was akin to Comic-Con, but specific to literacy. We invited four authors to speak at the event and sign copies of their books for students. There was an art and film festival showcasing the students’ works. The event was a new, fresh, and inclusive approach to reading and literacy, which is one of the reasons it was a success.

Our libraries have become places where students go to discover their individual passions, interests, and creativity. To our fellow media specialists, we say: don’t let fear of “making a mistake” hinder your innovative spirit. When students are at the center of your work, you can only learn from your mistakes and move forward. 

This blog post is based on a recent eSchool News article. To read the full article, click here

John Milburn is the K–5 Supervisor of Library Media Services for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Follow him on Twitter @LMSK5.

Kimberly DeFusco is the 6–12 Supervisor of Library Media Services for Hillsborough County Public Schools. Follow her on Twitter @LMSsecondary.