Our school library learning commons (SLLC) is undergoing a substantial change. Simply put, over the last year there has been interest and encouragement to transform from the traditional form of school library to something that could be truly referred to as a learning commons. To become a place “where student success is the highest priority, and learning objectives are ambitiously pursued through collaboration between teacher-librarians, teachers, and students” (Ekdahl, Zubke, & Contributors, 2017, p. 3), the SLLC must have a collection that will allow students to achieve this success as well as offer support to the teachers who are to guide them there.
In a previous paper, “Community Analysis and Report,” our International Baccalaureate (IB) science curriculum was identified as an area that could be supported by the library, that has the most impact on our students and one in which support has been requested. To reiterate elements of the need in this area from the previous analysis, 80.6% of our 227 senior IB are taking two sciences. In each, biology, chemistry and physics, students must complete an individualized internal assessment (IA) worth 20% of their grade in each course. This is to be a scientific investigation resulting in a 6-12 page write up from about 10 hour of work (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2014). It has also been identified that students require support in choosing an appropriate topic for their IAs and finding sources at an appropriate level to support them in their research.
Before looking directly at the collection itself, there are factors that must be considered for the evaluative process to be fully understood.
Student Use of the Library
As of October 8th, 2018, the library has seen no less 500 people per full school day over the course of the first month and a half we have been in session. This number is confirmed by a daily reading of the gate counter. The library reaches its 90-person seating capacity just after 8am, when it opens and remains full throughout the half-hour before the beginning of school and throughout flex time. Once the library is full, there is often a line up of students waiting to get in. Generally, the atmosphere is focused on individual and collaborative work, with students finding a place to sit and remaining focused for the time before their first block.
At lunch, the library also fills to capacity, through there is a tendency for increased social contact, with students often circulating through the library searching for friends, things to do, or places to sit. Much noisier, students move in and out of the space, depending on their activity. There is no food allowed in the library, so students will leave to eat and come back.
During and after school, library usage becomes much lighter. Class time has students spending most of their time in class and the library will host classes who have booked it and any student that would like to access it during their off blocks or spares. Due to our timetable structure, the library is only open until 3:30pm, half an hour beyond the end of a regular school day. Students have voiced frustration about this not being enough time after school, and if they were going to spend time at school for longer, they would rather find someplace else and not worry about moving.
These are important points to notes for reasons that concern our collection. As our library is well used and it is obvious that students are comfortable within its space, the clear majority are using it to work in and not for its resources other than its seating and group-oriented tables. So far this year, library staff have rarely been asked questions regarding the collection or research; questions regarding technology, wi-fi access or printing are the norm.
Historical Use of the Collection
Another consideration is how the collection has been accessed in the past, as this has led to the library’s current culture surrounding teacher usage. Teachers would book time in the library for their class to come in, typically, this would be in connection with a research aspect of a project. Until February of last year, library bookings included space at the 30 available desktop computers that were housed in the library. Library staff would then find relevant material in the stacks and put these books on carts for easy access for the teacher and students. The books were kept out of the stacks until the class’ days of scheduled time was over, then the books were scanned and recorded as checked out for in-library use, before being re-shelved.
While the convenience of this method is undeniable, there was no incentive developed for students to explore the materials housed in the stacks on their own. There was also limited instruction or guidance for students to seek information through our district supported databases. There was also no difference made in the library management system for the recorded circulation of a book checked-out “in-library” or for a student to take out of the library. Therefore, any book pulled gets identified as used, even if untouched by students during their research time creating an inaccurate reflection of the usefulness of the current collection materials.
Of our 5704 books in the collection, the 3901 non-fiction titles are currently housed in three stacks that consist of shelving that is close to 2 meters tall, 2.4 meters to the top of the framing, 5.5 meters long, and only 81 centimeters between them for passageway and browsing (see Figure 1). These cramped, darkened areas are not very inviting spaces for our students. This, combined with our historical use of the library, gives reason as to why we have not seen a student enter the stack willingly on their own in the past month of school.
Before last school year, there was very little in the way of formal instruction regarding the library database selection or the library catalogue, which is Follett Destiny. Students can use their school-based username and password to login and access all the features of this system, including the database features. While instruction is offered and has been provided to a few willing classes, the majority of searches for materials comes through Google first.
Our circulation statistics confirm the observation of low usage of the collection. Out of 1293 circulations as of October 8th, laptops, which can be checked in and out for a class block at a time and typically not allowed out of the library, have been circulated 812 times. Circulation of non-fiction materials is an even 100 since the beginning of the year, but as mentioned, policy has remained that they are checked in and recorded for
May 2018 saw the weeding of over 1200 books from our physical collection, using the criteria of books that were over 10 years old and not circulating in the last three years. As mentioned above, due to books being marked as circulated if they have simply been pulled from the shelf for class use, accurate usage tracking in this way remains problematic, as books will be tracked whether a student used it for reference purposes or not. Even after such efforts, our collection, in all non-fiction areas, remains old and in time-sensitive areas, such as technology, applied sciences and social sciences, this remains problematic. Currently, our non-fiction collection has an average age of 16 years. This analysis also indicates that the average reading age of the materials is at a grade 6 level.
In Relation to the Science Curriculum
Regarding the identified concern of the IB sciences internal assessments focusing on this section would be prudent. We need to also take into consideration that in the evaluation of our school by the IB Organization, the library was identified as an area the school must address for school improvement within the next year. Within this report, our self-study portion indicated that “the library and resources in it are not sufficient to adequately support the implementation of the DP,” with the response being that the school is to ensure that “the library is equipped to offer the DP, and there is a plan to keep on building its inventory” (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2018, p. 2).
Our science section, Dewey classification of 500-599, constitutes 5.42% of the overall collection and 6.3% of the non-fiction collection at 245 books. While the three IB sciences taught directly account for over 50% of this science collection, the chemistry selection (540-549) is woefully under-represented at only 9 books. This portion of our collection also shows to have an average age of 13 years, with our chemistry books having and average publication date of 2004.
Considering that this section constitutes 5.43% of the total circulation numbers and only 4.30% of the collection there is an obvious need for more materials in this section, especially considering the point raised a number of times previously that materials are tracked as circulated even if not used by students. On the positive, this statistic demonstrates that there is at least an effort to make the materials that we have available for students to use.
Recommendations to Improve the Collection
Among our strengths are the fact that the library is a well used space and students are obviously comfortable there. There is a group of teachers that have come forward as dedicated proponents to be a part of the shift from the traditional library to that of a learning commons. We also have a great deal of support from the district to bring about such a shift. To do so, however, means to break it down into manageable pieces so that successes could be used to solicit more participants.
Physically, our collection stacks need to become more inviting. They are counter to the bright, open spaces that are identified with a school library learning commons. Removal of these and opening the space to better display the resources would be a significant step in encouraging students to browse and access the materials. Three of the six are marked for removal, with lack of a place to house our books the reason why all are not coming out.
Clearly bringing the physical collection of science materials would be a mammoth undertaking, especially as it is currently under-accessed by students, at least on their own accord. Attempting to provide all the possible material for students to access for their individual internal assessments would, by the very nature of the assignment, be as limitless as the interests of the students.
Focusing on the material already accessible by our student users would be an appropriate place to begin, namely the databases that are available. Planning instruction and delivery of on-line access would be straightforward to implement through planning and coordination between the teacher-librarian and instructors of the science courses. Teachers could also access the databases and curate a list of applicable journals to assist students in finding information within specific topics.
Other entry points for effective development of the science collection were discussed with two science teachers. Moving more toward idea generation for students and not worrying about trying to provide all possible content would allow for this process to become manageable. Magazines would provide more recent investigations within a particular field and the articles are long enough to read relatively quickly and perk interests, encouraging ideas. Teachers generating lists of “hot topics” that have historically been written on by students for their internal assessments would also help guide the initial selection of material to bolster the collection.
Having books accessible for students that illustrate a collection of the best writings within a subject field may serve to help students understand the mechanics and scope of scientific writing. This would also lend to supporting the extended essay written by all our senior IB Diploma students. Non-fiction that is readable may also allow students to see how the application of science works, not limited to the raw data and information. Authors such as Bill Bryson, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Mary Roach are best selling authors, proving that science topics can indeed be enjoyable and interesting to read. Books with instructions and demonstrative “how to do science” qualities were also identified as an entry point to assist student in coming up with ideas and experiments for their internal assessments so that they can broaden the topics that they would be comfortable in taking on.
Moving our non-fiction collection forward to a more up-to-date and usable selection is daunting. With support from interested teachers who are willing to put forward ideas to help in building and curating the collection within their subject areas will make it a much more manageable process. The results in student learning and performance are sure to show, particularly in the range of topics explored as greater support in topic choice and development at the beginning of the process will lead to increased independence toward the end.
Ekdahl, M., Zubke, S., & Contributors, B. (2017, May). From School Library to Library Learning Commons: A Pro-Active Model for Educational Change. British Columbia Teacher-Librarians’ Association. Retrieved from https://bctladotca.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/from-school-library-to-library-learning-commons.pdf
International Baccalaureate Organization. (2014). Diploma Programme Biology Guide: First Assessment 2016. Cardiff, Wales: International Baccalaureate Organization (UK) Ltd.
International Baccalaureate Organization. (2018). Evaluation Report for Port Moody Secondary Schools (Programme Evaluation) (p. 33).
TitleWave.com. (2018). TitleWise – 1 October 2018 (School Library Collection Analysis) (p. 3). Port Moody Secondary School. Retrieved from https://www.titlewave.com/titlewise/dispsingle?caid=3168496
 This is a 25 minutes period before Block 1, offered Tuesday through Friday and is considered instructional time. Students have a choice on how and where to spend this time. Officially, students are encouraged to spend the time with a teacher that they have a class with in the current semester.