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Ask Slashdot: How To Reimagine a Library? 231

dptalia writes "I'm part of a team tasked with re-imagining my local elementary school's library. Libraries, especially school libraries, are struggling to remain relevant in today's world, when so much reading and research can be done from home. But this school has mostly low-income students who don't have the sort of high-tech resources at home that we all take for granted. What ideas do you have to turn an elementary school library into an environment that fosters innovation and technology?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To Reimagine a Library?

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  • Ask the Students? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScottCooperDotNet ( 929575 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:44PM (#46049115)

    We'll tell you to stock the shelves with Calvin and Hobbes, How Stuff Works type books, and dinosaur stuff. This may be some of what the boys want, but it can't hurt to actually ask all the students what they are interested in. Skip the card catalog, and encourage exploring.

  • by jomama717 ( 779243 ) <> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:49PM (#46049223) Journal
    Get the kids involved in an ongoing operation whereby books are acquired, digitally scanned, and then re-donated to other schools/libraries/etc. Store the digital copies in some offsite database that can be shared amongst other schools/libraries/etc. Provide terminals where the students can peruse the scanned books and allow access to the digital library for students at home.

    Can't think of a better way to keep a library as a place to learn new and relevant skills and be exposed to gobs of information and knowledge at the same time.

    I'm sure this all falls apart when the copyright lawyers get involved, but I would love to see the publicity the publishers get when they sue a school library :)
  • Re:more than books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sneakyimp ( 1161443 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @03:55PM (#46049313)
    Cheap desktop computers running free operating systems. You can install Ubuntu or some other *nix distro free on pretty much any old used computer.

    WiFi access. I would imagine that your internet bill will likely be your biggest long-term expense. You can get some pretty awesome consumer routers, install DD-WRT on them or tomato USB or whatever) and get some pretty fancy functionality. I've been eyeing this one [].

    And maybe the most affordable ebook readers or tablets for checkout. You might get a sponsorship from Google or Amazon -- they are all too anxious to rope people into their ebook ecosystems. I would try to avoid these book ecosystems for cost reasons. You can also get all kinds of amazing old books through project gutenberg []. Maybe OLPC would have a suitable device?

    You might also keep some physical books of historical interest or perhaps large maps or other visually oriented works that resist digitization.
  • by multimediavt ( 965608 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:21PM (#46049683)

    Books! Really people their is nothing wrong with good old fashioned books! We are talking about little kids probably from the ages of 5 to 10 years old. Tools? Technology? Stories, adventure, science, and just fun books is what you need. Get the kids in love with the written word. Most of the ideas I am seeing target maybe the oldest age group but nothing for the majority of the age groups involved.

    I am also in this camp having been in Higher Ed for the past 20 years. There is still a ridiculous amount of information that is NOT available anywhere but in books, depending on the subject. I would turn it into a reading library, perhaps, rather than a research library for most of the physical space. Current science and other research information is online so you will need a few computers with web access, but books still have a lot to offer. I would agree with a post above that said to skip the Dewey Decimal system. I'd suggest implementing a categorical keyword based shelving system, with titles alphabetized within the shelves. It's kind of like an analog Google search. They will still have to sift through false positives to find what they want. There are ways to "re-imagine" a library that make the skills relevant to what they would encounter in the digital world, while building up their literacy and critical thinking skills. It might be a good idea to work with other schools in the district to spread the load of purchasing books and rotate titles through the different schools every semester so each school gets access to the same titles.

  • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) * on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:22PM (#46049691) Homepage Journal

    Yes... based on my university library, I'd actually break down a "library" into 4 distict sections, and size them appropriately: individual vs. group, and "unplugged" vs. tech.

    Library as a cathedral of knowledge and meditation: (individual unplugged) : your "traditional" view of a library, where silence and sensory deprivation is enforced, stacks of books organized into sections, and isolated nooks and crannies with bean bags and desks for reading / study / sleeping. My most productive study space was a hard desk at the end of a stack in the basement of the engineering library.

    Library as a tech center: Need to break out into individual "serious work-focused" computer stations, and collaborative conference rooms. The collaboration environments would need to be scheduled out, but have all the accoutrements of modern conference rooms: wifi, whiteboards (both smart and dumb), projectors, servers and client stations for LAN-parties, etc. But of course encase it in glass so they can be monitored.

  • Advertising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flymolo ( 28723 ) <flymolo&gmail,com> on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:25PM (#46049721)

    Get a display space near the cafeteria or some other place where students go frequently. Put books there that are interesting to the students. Thor comics, Ender's game whatever the media is already advertising for you.

    Talk to teachers and hold classes in the library occasionally so the kids feel comfortable there.
    See if the school will add DVDs to the library's collection.

    Get them there and they'll figure out how to use it, but you have to get them there.

    If they can put meeting rooms in, so clubs can meet there that would be great as well.

  • by twistedcubic ( 577194 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:26PM (#46049739)
    ...if it's not too controversial. Research and find a better system, such as LOC or the like. Find some old smartphones to use as bar code readers with wifi capability connected to a Debian server running MariaDB or Postgresql. Dude! I can't wait to visit.
  • Video games. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JustAnotherIdiot ( 1980292 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:31PM (#46049801)
    When i think back to my elementary school, there was only one reason to visit the library other than to check out books, and that was to play games on the computers.

    We had games like Spellevator [] Math Blaster [] as well as some adventure game that constantly quizzed various knowledges that I can't for the life of me remember the name of.
    (I wish I did because I never beat it and I'd love to go back and do such now)

    The point is, there's many an educational game out there, and it's an easy way to get younger kids learning things they may not otherwise take interest in.
  • by asliarun ( 636603 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:32PM (#46049815)

    Libraries are so often categorized on Victorian assumptions that we are there to do serious stuff - academic pursuits, seeking knowledge, a scholarship, research and such claptrap. Nobody feels, emotes, thinks, imagines, or dreams that way. And nobody reads books that way either.

    Books should be categorized on emotions, imagination, our interests and passions, our quirks, our pursuits and hobbies. Books should also be categorized on *how* we read a book, not always on *what* we read.

    I really don't subscribe to the standard answers of finding technology answers to these kind of problems. Technology only helps us solve some problems better. But we first need to know what the problem is, and how we want to solve it in the first place.

    The problem is that libraries are not aligned with how people think and feel. Libraries are instead aligned with how a certain people once thought that people should think and feel. Which is bollocks.

  • Not quite (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iceperson ( 582205 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @04:39PM (#46049933)

    While your educated upper middle class white guy probably doesn't see much use for a large library there are a lot of people that do.

    I recommend you go to a small town library and see how it's being used. My wife is a librarian at our local library, and I'm always surprised how many people are there when I go in to see her. There are kids using meeting rooms for school projects, people using the computers to fill out applications for jobs, and there's always at least a few people interspersed between the racks just browsing or even sitting on the floor reading something they've found. The local knitters club meets there once a week and last I checked there were about a dozen volunteers for the literacy program teaching people to read at various times of day depending on when their "student" is available.

    Fortunately, our community values our library so she gets a lot of local support, but I'm sure there are people in our community like yourself who see something that they don't/won't use as a giant waste or prime real estate or something...

  • Re:more than books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sneakyimp ( 1161443 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @06:20PM (#46051163)
    I think an underrated component of libraries is the librarians. I think I'm imagining a modern library as more than just a place for the public to connect to information. It's a place where the public can go to learn about something and get help in finding the information. Sometimes having access to the internet just isn't enough. You need to find a *person* who has specific expertise.
  • Re:more than books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Thursday January 23, 2014 @06:59PM (#46051589)
    here's what worked in our low income elementary school libraries: 1. allow children to stay there until after 6PM when a parent could pick them up. this ONE thing was the most popular, and might be extended to 7PM. 2. allow 7AM entry, too. this was hit-and-miss, but where it hit, it was a BIG hit. both the above need a minimum of 3 PAID adult (over 25) supervisors. this is in addition to the actual librarian. 3. then, just stay out of their way. they'll let you know the next direction. in other words: don't guess and hope for change.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham