Learning Centers: A dynamic take on traditional libraries

The traditional libraries in our schools and in our communities have evolved over time and their role has deeply expanded. Gone are the days of quiet rows of books and stern tables aligned in silence. Here at ASF, the learning centers, – a new name adopted three years ago –, do so much more than offer books for reading. Today dynamic spaces are home to collaboration, innovation, imagination and so much more. Moreover, the role of the librarian has evolved. The demands of the 21st century have expanded the libraries’ role within the community likewise the learning centers here at ASF.

With the new year well underway, each ASF learning center is poised to further deepen the connections and impact it has on their communities. With an impressive four learning centers nested centrally in each building, ASF is openly promoting the importance of literacy. Over time, each library has seen slow deliberate changes as smaller collections of books make room for maker spaces, technology labs, reading rooms and media rooms. Curriculum is central to each, as experience and seasoned librarian and media specialists analyze current collections to ensure not only popular titles are available, but resources that speak to the content of the classrooms.

Leading the charge at the ECC Learning Center is Karen Choan. Taking the open position left by Ms. Connie Brown, who retired at the end of last year, Choan moved from the Lower School Learning Center to the ECC. She was eager to return to her roots. She has experiences in three international PYP schools on three different continents. However, working with the ECC was a chance she wasn’t going to pass up. “My first job was as a reading and writing teacher for grades 1 to 5 in Seattle, and I bought a ton of books for that school. It had no library. That was the most fun ever. I love books.” she shared. When considering the direction of the ECC library this year, she is looking for more seating that is adaptive and comfortable – especially in the Early Childhood Library. She is also exploring interactive storytelling during classroom visits.

However, this time of year she is simply playing and reading with the kids to build language skills. Choan is also excited about offering maker space activities similar to the ones she developed during her time in the LS Learning Center. When asked what is most special about the ECC library for her she gushed, “It is full of tiny human beings who might be the cutest things on the planet.” Choan is assisted in the ECC Learning Center by Ms. Edith Herrera who has been with the library for 20 years. The duo is a strong force and balance the demands of a bustling school.

At the Lower School Learning Center, two other dynamic librarians head a frenetic schedule with grace and ease. Mónica Zetina and Leonah Arroyo lead the Lower School Learning Center. Zetina is entering her 9th year as a librarian for the LS. While Arroyo joined the library this year. She describes her first impressions, “I was impressed by the collection… and I was really impressed that each school had its own library.” Zetina attributes the collection development to the various influences of the librarians on the collection, “I was very lucky to work with six different librarians from New Zealand, Australia, the United States. Each one of these librarians have brought a different piece of what the library is right now.”

The Lower School Library is a colorful space with open seating that boasts a collection of 20,000 resources and welcomes a schedule of classes where teachers bring their students down for reading and library time. Over the past few years, Zetina, and now Arroyo, are working to bring the collection and resources of the library to the classroom. Through designed lessons and library programming, it isn’t rare to find Zetina or Arroyo in the classroom, teaching research skills, wheeling up books and other resources to assist with lessons, or planning with teachers. Zetina explains, “We pull out books for each Unit of Inquiry. Before, the books would get dusty on the shelves. Now they are in the classroom.” By doing this the librarians have effectively opened up the collection because as Arroyo reports more teachers are coming and seeking support.

While both librarians are proud of the LS library’s growing usage, both wish they could create more space. Arroyo explains, “We are so popular. From the moment we open the doors in the morning, we have 50 kids in here. Teachers are bringing down classes and it gets crowded.” Nevertheless, the teamwork of these two make it work.

Across the black top at the Middle School, Lilia Caballero is the Head Librarian. Coming from an architect background, Caballero began her 12-year career at ASF; she started as the librarian assistant. She uses the reference section as an example how the library is changing, “This used to take up all the bookshelves. Now it is shrinking because you can find this online.” Pointing to two other bookshelves, “We are trying to convert our spaces for different uses. This is now our maker space.” Caballero, like other librarians, are adapting spaces and resources to meet the shifting demands on the library. Another space they have “liberated” is on the second floor that has been turned into a recording studio where students can create podcasts and record videos. She also sees opportunities for creating a collaborate space and charging stations between two columns in the main space of the library.

Over the past 12-years, Caballero has refined the collection. She shares, “I love this library because it is so focused on Middle School. You can go to any part of the library and you will find a specific book for the age.” She, like other librarians, align the collection to the interests of the children and the enriches the collection to the curricula of the school. Because of her dedication and experience, she too works closely with teachers and is often teaching research and digital literacy skills. She stated that she tailors her lessons by inserting research skills into a teacher’s lesson. She has library programming on plagiarism, developing citations, and how to evaluate sources. Caballero is assisted by María Páramo.

The largest library space is located in the Upper School Learning Center. Led by Librarian, Moctezuma Carlos, Librarian, Marc Smith, and Assistant, Javier Campos. Carlos has been with ASF for seven years, starting as the Library Assistant and is pursuing his master’s degree. Currently, Campos holds the assistant position and is finishing his undergraduate degree. He has been there for three years. Gabriela García is the campus-wide cataloguer who oversees each libraries’ inventory and has been with ASF for 20 years. Smith joined the team last year in his first international placement and has 20 years of teaching experience. He holds an Educational Specialist degree.

The LC, a moniker slowly being adopted, is a dynamic space that is, like other libraries on campus, adaptive. Carlos explains, “Our spaces are used in a variety of ways. Students move chairs and furniture to meet their what they need. Parents and teachers also use our space in different ways.” The LC consists of The Café, The Lab, The Fiction Room, The Hub, and the Mezzanine. According to Campos, there are cozier spaces that exist but these are the main areas available for reservation and usage by students and teachers and the community at large. “We are always busy during brunch and lunch, but we are starting to show how teachers and students can use our spaces and its working.” Smith explained. Because of the adaptive spaces, the LC is used campus wide from Parent Association book clubs, to faculty and departmental meetings, to poetry nights.

Like other ASF libraries, Carlos and Smith are actively seeking opportunities to work with teachers by offering library programming in academic honesty, searching databases, evaluating resources, and digital literacy. The LC staff is keenly aware of the role it needs to play. “We ask our teachers what they need, but we also are always looking for books and resources to align with what is being taught in the classes.” Carlos explains.

With a large collection of well over 25,000 resources, the collection is going through a period of adjustment. When a librarian starts to consider the value of book to the community and collection itself, that is call weeding. With large shifting changes in the LC, Campos led the charge by weeding the reference section and switching it with the fiction section. Under way this year is a collection refinement. Carlos explains, “What we try to do is align the curricula of the IB AP, and UNAM/SEP and the collection with the most up-to-date resources.”

The librarians in the LC have been developing plans and proposals to update the environment. Working closely with US administration, the LC is asking for big capital changes that would modernize the LC. Smith explains, “We are doing a lot with what we have. But we could be doing so much more. With these capital budgets requests approved, we can move this library into the 21st century.”

Each of the four learning centers serves the entire ASF community. Like students, parents can access all of the resources of each library. A parent of a LS student can access all of the content in the LS library as well as the US library. Most of the resources can be accessed online through the libraries’ websites.

All four Learning Centers are unique and have differing demands placed on them by their communities they serve. However, there are shared commonalities to them all. They all are actively engaging their teachers with programming focused on literacy and research. They all see growth as a priority. They all hold literacy as a key to opportunity. They all love the community they serve. They all love books.

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