Scholastic Administrator


Not Your Father’s Library
It’s your students’ portal to information. So how does your library stack up? These three librarians manage 21st-century facilities. So can you.

By Matt Bolch

Let’s face it. The librarian we all remember, studiously stamping and shelving hardcovers according to the Dewey Decimal System, stopping only to shush a group of rowdy students, is officially a thing of the past (if she ever actually existed in the first place). School libraries are adapting to a changing landscape as the wealth of information available digitally grows. The sheer volume of it and its varying levels of quality and accuracy require new thinking about how students locate and process data. The librarian’s alter ego, the media specialist, is leading the way. Media specialists are essential in any school that wants to turn out research-savvy students who can identify and analyze quality information. Here are the stories of three librarians boldly blazing the trail. As Janet Williams of Charlotte County (FL) Public Schools says, “The school library is not dying, but it’s changing. Libraries fashioned like 20th-century facilities will die.” How healthy is your library compared with these three?


NAME: Joyce Kasman Valenza
TITLE: Library Information Specialist
DISTRICT: Springfield Township (PA)
STATISTICS: 2,000 students: 83% Caucasian, 15% African-American, <1% Latino, <1% Asian

THE FACILITY: With 80 workstations, access to Internet2, databases, streaming media, SMART Boards, projectors, and three presentation areas, this library is fully loaded. And that makes Joyce Kasman Valenza very happy, because she needs all the help she can get turning her students into expert researchers. “High school students are not the information gurus the popular press suggests,” she says.

That’s why Springfield’s Virtual Library helps students develop a better understanding of the way information is organized online. It links learners to a huge collection of age- and content-appropriate databases, search tools, streaming media, and open-source software alternatives. The site also functions as a knowledge management system, hosting collaborative online lessons, handouts, research guides, and curricular and professional development materials.

Over the past year, students have used Internet2 to teleconference with university experts, students in other classrooms, museum staffers, authors, and French-speaking graduate students. They use Web 2.0 to transfer journal projects to blogs. “The kids learn more than facts from these events. They learn how to organize and moderate online conferences.”

It’s not just students benefiting from Valenza’s library. She just established two faculty wikis: one to discuss professional development issues and the other to allow teacher-librarians all over the world to collaborate.

Valenza is also working with Temple University researchers and to explore the value of digital audiobooks in the curriculum.

Valenza says that information on the Internet can be good, better, or truly excellent, and one of the biggest challenges for a new librarian is to help students realize the difference.

ADVICE FOR DMINISTRATORS: “Hire the right person. Your librarian should be your information technology scout, your trainer, your visionary. Your librarian should be your partner in furthering your community’s learning and professional development goals. Make sure that person comes equipped with a dedication to teaching and learning, as well as 21st-century teaching and communication skills.”


NAME: Hazel Peterson
TITLE: Librarian, Molina High School
DISTRICT: Dallas (TX) Independent
STATISTICS: 161,972 students: 62.5% Hispanic, 31% African-American, 5.4% Caucasian, .9% Asian-American, .2% Native American

THE FACILITY: Wireless Internet access is step one in getting Hazel Peterson’s mostly low-income student body acclimated to the digital landscape. “The majority of our students do not have access to the Internet or to a computer at home, so our library is the key to their world.”

In the library, students have access to the EBSCOHost database, Gale Group databases, World Book Online, Grolier Online, Questia, ABC-Clio history and geography databases,, AccuWeather databases, and netTrekker d.i. Through Dallas County Schools, the school has access to the Digital Curriculum and Power Videos.

There are eight LCD projectors for short-term checkout, and students are encouraged to use them to prepare multimedia presentations.

Two projects in the works are great examples of how students are integrating library resources into the classroom. The first is a yearlong research project for English II PreAP classes. Using Questia, students in one section are researching mental illness (based on The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gilman) and how the patients were historically viewed and treated.

Others are researching Jim Crow laws and the effects of slavery on the United States. Formal research papers will result, using Modern Language Association citations.

The second project involves the English III classes that are researching the Civil War. Students are using primary source materials (letters, journals, newspapers, etc.) to find out what life was like during the Civil War. The final products will be compiled into bound magazines, one for each class. This project is being done by three teachers with six sections of English III each, so the opportunities for collaboration abound.         

ADVICE FOR ADMINISTRATORS: “The librarian should be involved in extracurricular activities as a way to meet students in a different environment. I sponsor the pep squad, coordinate the Academic Fair for our feeder schools, and attend as many school activities as possible.”


NAME: Janet A. Williams
TITLE: Director of Media
DISTRICT: Charlotte County (FL) Public Schools
STATISTICS: About 19,000 students: 80% Caucasian, 9% African-American, 2% Hispanic, 2% Asian, 7% other

THE FACILITY: Students and staff at Charlotte County schools can access their library materials from every classroom as well as from the media center through Follett OPAC (open public access catalog) software. A dozen online databases are available 24/7 for students and staff on campus and off.

Charlotte was the first district in Florida to have a completely wireless Wide Area Network. All data are beamed from campus to campus. That allowed Charlotte to be up and running as soon as power was restored after Hurricane Charley hit Punta Gorda on August 13, 2004. That storm destroyed six school sites. All are now fully operational in modular buildings until new facilities are completed.

Classrooms and library/media centers in the new spaces will be equipped with enhanced sound, a ceiling-mounted multimedia projection device, a document camera, and digital access to instructional materials as well as multiuse furniture and movable bookshelves.

“I want the media centers to be viewed as an extension of the classroom and central to student learning and student success,” says Williams.

ADVICE FOR ADMINISTRATORS: “Your librarian should be passionate. She should communicate with you on a regular basis. She should present a needs assessment and fact report for funding requests, while also realizing that money isn’t always the solution but that creativity can be the answer.”