School libraries are the gateway to real-world research skills.
Research means something different today from what it meant even 10 years ago as it’s a skill-set that rapidly expands with every new technology and platform. Of course, designing a library space that best facilitates research is important but what is truly crucial, is that the library management system works efficiently to empower teachers and students in their learning.
Last issue, we interviewed teacher-librarians around the country and discovered that many felt frustrated by classroom teachers not capitalising on library resources enough. A library management system with an efficient tracking, monitoring and cataloguing system is uniquely in-tune with what students are learning. Librarians advised us that they notice students tend to borrow books related to units being studied but teachers don’t always think to encourage wider reading or approach them for a suggested reading list. School News was also advised that students that can choose their own book to study tend to borrow more books; independent reading prompts independent library use.
These kinds of trends can help libraries cultivate a reading culture at the school. If your management system shows you that historical fiction novels are popular with Year 10 students studying World War II, you could discuss how best to capitalise on that with teachers or look at buying more books on the topic for next year. An effective tracking function will also help libraries keep tabs on borrowing and make sure students have a fair chance to read what they like.
The back-end of a working library management system needs to operate seamlessly with the school’s ICT platform. If you are looking to upgrade or swap over to a new system, the IT department should be involved in the process from the get-go to avoid any incompatibilities. A new system needs to be able to cope with multiple users accessing different modules, mobile access and ideally have security measures to make sure different members of staff can access different levels within the interface. You certainly want to be able to customise any homepages with logos, library promotions, and create engaging campaigns as part of building your library community.
To be a research hub for your school, the library needs a solid referencing framework. How easy is referencing in your library management software? In some systems, shared databases are available between your library and others nationwide; this can be incredibly helpful for research purposes if a teacher or student is looking for a hard-to-find book or article but you may also be able to compare trends. Enquire with local schools and public libraries to find out which system they use as there may be benefits to sharing a sister-network.
Data is hugely valuable, so automatic back-up and restore options are critical. Is the server host reliable? Will the supplier assist with management, maintenance and staff training? What kind of post-installation help is available? Of course, data migration will likely be the first hurdle to overcome, so discuss this with both your onsite IT department and vendor of choice.
Especially for smaller schools, this is a huge consideration. When comparing contracts, look at the length of time it covers and what the training and maintenance stipulations are. How much is included and what will the ongoing costs likely be? First, you should find out whether the equipment you currently have will be compatible and meet the specs required for an upgrade or new system. If you need to purchase new hardware or workstation products you will need to factor this into the decision. Will future upgrades and add-on functions be included, and how well will they interact with the ICT framework of the school? Nobody likes a buggy upgrade!
What about the licensing rules? How many users are included? What if multiple installations are required?
Thinking outside the genre box
Functionality can make the difference between a busy library and a ghost town. Adding book reviews, suggestions and recommendations can personalise a catalogue and encourage wider reading. If the interface allows students to post reviews or ratings, even better. Take inspiration from YouTube recommendations and create lists, ‘if you like X, you’ll probably like Y’.
Genre has been newly defined by the streaming generation. Romance, fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, etc., have all lost their meaning in today’s astonishingly specific, overly personalised multi-media sphere. Netflix has more than 23,000 genre codes, with names like ‘true bromance’, ‘oddballs and outcasts’, ‘unlikely friends’, and ‘featuring a strong female lead’. If you’re thinking, these are descriptors, not genres… you would be correct and yet they work extremely well for Netflix, which librarians are telling us books now compete with.
Interestingly, genre-criss-crossing is a feature of young adult fiction, growing in popularity here in New Zealand. Teenagers, especially, will hop from genre-to-genre within young adult fiction, influenced by movie tie-ins and online fandom culture. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is a classic autobiography often read by students studying World War II, but perhaps if it was categorised as ‘featuring a strong female lead’ alongside The Hunger Games and Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore rather than relegated to the otherwise fairly unpopular biography section, it would gain an entirely different readership.