Literacy Night proves libraries are more than ‘books and cobwebs’

Nov 4, 2015

Kathleen Souza-Pontes read her picture book aloud to a circle of students and parents while, in another part of the library, a robot was hard a work building the Death Star.

Dartmouth Middle School’s Family Literacy Night highlighted what a school library has become in 2015: a place to check out a book and to explore technology. The evening included a video about creativity hosted by Taylor Swift, a reading of “August Skies” by middle school teacher and local author Souza-Pontes and a tour of the library’s Makerspace, a technology hub.

The Makerspace is part of a recent national trend to modernize school libraries to foster student creativity and draw in more kids. At the middle school library, the space includes a wall made from Legos, several green screen walls that link up with iPads and a 3D printer, which the school acquired last month through a grant.

Some of the students’ 3D designs were sitting in front of the machine as it was hard at work sculpting a miniature version of Darth Vader’s spherical warship from yellow plastic.

Librarian Laura Gardner said that, because technology has become so commonplace in modern libraries, some have started referring to the facilities as “media centers” or “learning commons.”

“I prefer to say it’s ‘a library’ – and let’s change our thinking of what a library is,” said Gardner. “For me, a library is a place with books, technology, people, collaboration, creativity and lots of cool things happening all the time.”

“I don’t think of a library as a stale place that just has books and cobwebs. My library has 80 people in it for the 20 minutes before the buses leave. It’s awesome,” she added.

She said that, even with all the gadgetry, students remain interested in books. During the last academic year, kids borrowed about 15,000 books from the middle school’s library.

“We’ve got a lot of readers in Dartmouth. Kids love to read,” said Gardner.

Not only are kids in the middle school borrowing books by the thousands, they’re also taking an active role inside the institution. There are currently 55 seventh and eighth graders signed up as library assistants. In January, the program will be extended to sixth graders.

“They are kids who love the library so much that they want to be a part of it,” said Gardner. “It’s a great way for me to have ambassadors – to tell their friends about all the cool stuff that’s going on.”

The assistant program also gives classmates an opportunity to make peer-to-peer book recommendations.

Whether it’s suggesting a new book series or exploring new tech, Gardner said the library is student-led and student-driven.

“We made over 100 green screen projects last year, and it was just because kids wanted to do it themselves. The teachers had no idea how to use the app. The kids led the way, which, in general, is what you can do with technology these days,” she said.