School libraries replaced with 'learning commons'

Spacious, wireless and largely bookless; that's the direction of the modern library at the local Catholic School board.

Spacious, wireless and largely bookless; that's the direction of the modern library at the local Catholic School board.

The former library at St. Pius Catholic Elementary in Tecumseh  is one of the first libraries in transition to its new role as a 'learning commons'.

The empty bookshelves will soon be replaced by whiteboards. And the room will soon have wireless internet for individual work and presentations taken from the internet.

Most of the books have been moved from the library to classrooms throughout the school.

"We've kept reference materials here (in the library)," school principal David Lozinsky said. "That will help the teachers when they come to a certain point in their curriculum."

An adjoining room is now a computer lab. In it, Rob Murphy teaches students computer skills. The former library will complement his lab, he said.

"Whether they're working on research, iPads, let's face it, it's a digital world now," he said.

'Let's face it, it's a digital world now.'—Teacher Rob Murphy

Today`s students are tech savvy. Some, like Grade 8 student Patrick McNamara, think books will one day be eliminated.

"Everything in the school, like books will be online, so there might not be a need for books anymore," he said.

At Holy Names Catholic high school, a similar transformation from library to learning centre is underway.

The only books in the school are the text books that remain in the classroom.

Students there say they use the Internet, not books, to research projects.

'Books are outdated'

"Many of our books are outdated and it's hard to upgrade those on a daily basis," said media arts and math teacher David Broad. "The Internet has that information, fresh and new, and our kids can have access to it on a daily basis."

The school formed a partnership with tech retailer Future Shop, so the learning commons at Holy Names will be well-outfitted.

The room is being designed as a place to socialize, do academic work and view multi-media presentations.

Local Catholic schools haven't had teacher-librarians for a decade. They were replaced by library technicians and they are now called learning commons specialists. Last year there were 39. Now there are 20. It doesn't sit well with the teacher's union or some parents.

"We believe the board is fully funded for library teachers. Therefore, they should provide them," said Al Anderson of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association. "Books are an important part of education. Kids look forward to taking books home."

Holy Names Principal Kevin Hamlin isn't so sure. He thinks the school and board made the right decision.

"There was only one of 25 students, in May, when I talked to them who had signed out a book, so we're really confident that we're moving in the right direction," he said.

Parent Heather Sawyer started an online campaign to fight for the return of books to her daughter's school library.

"You can have the internet, Wi-Fi, we don't care. We want the books in there," Sawyer said.

Sherri Zorzit, of the Holy Names Parent Council, has embraced the change.

"When Mr.. Hamlin first presented it to me, I was a little skeptical because we didn't know what was involved,`she said. ``But now that we've seen it taking shape, I think it's wonderful."