The students are skeptical when the librarian says, “I want everyone to take out their cell phones and check to see if you can get reception in the library.” The young scholars hesitantly pull out their mobile devices unsure of what to make of this request. “Your assignment is to charge up your phones for class on Friday.” This wasn’t like any librarian they had met before.
Welcome to the Creekview High School Media Center in Canton, Georgia, or as it is commonly known around the halls, "The Unquiet Library.” The school opened its doors in 2006 and its library services were conceived during the Web 2.0 boom. This is evident in its design as a highly participatory learning environment embedded with interaction and technology from the beginning.
When Friday morning arrives, the students are excited for their library session. They anticipate how they might use their cell phones. The librarian draws their attention to a Smart board and demonstrates how they can text to it. This technology enables them to submit answers simultaneously, fueling the class discussion. With a grand gesture, the librarian has transformed their social devices into instruments of learning.
Buffy Hamilton and Roxanne Johnson are the media specialists who oversee this busy operation. Hamilton initiated the "Unquiet" brand. "To me, 'unquiet' evokes a sense of activity and being a bold force of nature," she says. "I want our library to make some positive ‘noise’ as we build a program that makes a difference in the lives of our students and teachers.” Hamilton and Johnson are shaking up expectations of what a high school library can be.
The librarians view the 9,000-square-foot media center as the largest classroom on campus. The space is carved out into distinct zones: places for lounging, reflection, teaching, and casual conversations. The library offers 60 desktop computers and a variety of furniture that can accommodate over 70 students. Food and drinks are allowed; in fact, two teachers host a coffee shop there every morning. The space also accommodates a variety of encounters such as trivia contests, musical performances, poetry readings, art exhibits, and gaming.
Not only are the students excited about the library, but the faculty is buying in too. Last year Hamilton and Johnson collaboratively planned 100 lessons with teachers. A successful strategy has been to meet with a group of teachers of a particular subject and develop assignments together. This helps to cultivate relationships and positions the librarians as full members of the teaching team. Hamilton also co-taught Media 21 with an English teacher, exploring the idea of transliteracy and providing students with educational experiences using social web and multimedia tools.
Teaching is the foundation of this library and the stats reveal just how popular it has become. Last year librarians taught 1,533 class sessions, having over 45,000 student interactions. Keep in mind that this is a three-person operation. Hamilton confesses that scheduling is chaotic and that on some days she teaches seven hours straight. Over the summer Hamilton is planning to incorporate e-readers and e-books, develop a parent outreach program, and create a virtual library of student work as a part of the collection.
Major challenges lie ahead, though. Districtwide cuts dictated the loss of a media clerk, reducing the amount of time available for teaching and other programs. In order to optimize their efforts, the librarians have met with teachers to assess activities that work best. Hamilton stresses that her first priority is “protecting the integrity of our instructional services.”
There is a great amount of library spirit at Creekview High, where the Media Center has three times as many Facebook fans as the school’s football team. Additionally, students proudly wear stickers that read “I geek the Unquiet Library.” It’s inspiring to see such a high level of pride in a library.
Brian Mathews is a librarian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of Marketing Today’s Academic Library (ALA Editions, 2009). This column spotlights leadership strategies that produce inspirational libraries.