Using learner voices to inform our practice ensures that we are delivering the best possible service that is responsive and relevant to student needs.
image used with permission of Lyn Hay
Lyn Hay developed the model above to illustrate the components and interrelationships of the school library as defined and valued by the 5474 students who participated in the Student Learning through Australian School Libraries project (PDF), which replicated the Student Learning through Ohio School Libraries study (PDF) conducted by Ross Todd.
What are students telling us about school libraries?
In both studies, over 99% of students reported that their school libraries had helped them with their learning in some way. In analysing the qualitative data in the Australian research, Hay found the following were key factors:
- seamless integration of ICT between home and school
- access to databases and production software
- access to the library before, after and during school hours
The top three areas that students identified as most helpful in the closed question area of the study were:
- help defining a topic
- planning their research
- finding resources
There is a growing body of published research such as that mentioned above. Libraries can also devise formal and informal ways of asking their users about their needs and expectations. Informally school librarians can solicit feedback from students and teachers. For an interesting snapshot of what students (and their parents) everywhere are saying about school libraries, search "school libraries" in Twitter. More formally school libraries can conduct carefully constructed surveys of their users: students and teachers, to find out what aspects of the library are effective. Asking some open ended questions may elicit some interesting responses about what new service, facility, resources users would find helpful.
The following quotes are from students who participated in the Australian study above, used with permission of Lyn Hay.
" The school library also helps me have a better understanding of assessment tasks and how I should plan my work more thoughtfully." (year 8)
"...the school library was open after school. This was helpful as I could get more help with teachers and have more time on the internet because the internet wasn't available to me at home" (year 12)
"When I was stuck on an assignment and I didn't have enough information, I started to read some of the books and use the computer and I found that doing research is much easier in the library than in any other classroom" (year 9)
"The school library has helped me complete most of my assignments, mainly on the computers. Because the computers have many programs that my computer doesn't, I can spend a lot of time on the library computers getting my work done." (year 10)
"At one point in time I didn't have Dreamweaver and I was doing web design. The school library had this software and through this I was able to do web design out of class until I got Dreamweaver. (year 10)
"...I went into the library at lunch and the staff helped me find great information on my topic. Through their help it resulted in a mark of 97! I was so grateful for their assistance in helping me. I now always come to the library for help on my assignments. (year 10)
" ...I couldn't find some certain information and I couldn't finish the project, but then the school librarian showed and helped me for a great deal of time. We found the information and I was able to hand in my project before the due date. I received very high marks for this assignment thanks to our school library. (year 6)
" I was doing a geography project about whales and the library resources helped me find more information in books and in trusted websites. It helped me get a better mark and I understood better." (year 8)
Futurelab in the UK has launched a tool called Power League which can be used to ask questions and stimulates discussion about any topic. A school can use this free tool to find out what users rate as the most important aspects of their library for the future. There are also existing Leagues on the Power League site. One of these is the New School League which provides interesting insights into students' views on the most important aspects of their learning environment which are very interesting for school libraries. This is ongoing with students continually inputting their votes. The results are therefore dynamic in nature. In early June 2010 the Top 10 changed minimally over a month earlier so some clear patterns have emerged. The top ten most important items for a new school as voted by participating students:
- Wireless mobile devices eg: tablets
- Laptops for all students
- Flexible working spaces
- More Computers
- Better designed spaces: lighter, brighter, saver
- Specialist areas - purpose build studios
- Informal learning areas
- Quiet rooms for study / reflection
- Clean toilets
- Controlling your own curriculum
Learner voices are an important source of information as we work to create relevant and effective school libraries for the future. Librarians and schools as a whole will look both to the published research that accrues as well as to the locally collated voices to inform their planning and development as they create environments that enable deep transformational learning and the creation of new knowledge.