Submitted by the Orcas School District.
Remember your old school library? Summer reading lists? The Dewey decimal system? Silence? Things have changed in the world of school libraries. No longer just a place for reading and research, the best school libraries are now active instructional programs targeted towards teaching content and skills. New school librarian, Vicki O’Keefe has that goal in mind as she reshapes the Orcas Island Public School Library.
“I want to say right off that the school has a well-established library, with a remarkable story collection. Those who came before me did a wonderful job,” said O’Keefe, who started her new position this fall. Prior to Orcas, she worked in Seattle as a school tech specialist and community service coordinator. This background informs her innovation within the library. O’Keefe has also brought in art from her home.
“They are a great conversation starter,” she said. A lovely rocking chair is now situated in a reading area, and a row of Evergreen Award-winning books line the front desk, enticing students to read them.
“I want the library to feel like a bookstore. Darvill’s is my inspiration,” O’Keefe said.
But beyond its feel, O’Keefe turned to the most obvious resource in front of her – the students – for inspiration. She noticed some students would use the library in unconstructive ways (i.e. creating negatively charged political memes or gaming on the computers). Her task: get them to connect to something more meaningful and positive.
Her first idea was based on a simple notion: keeping students’ hands busy. O’Keefe created a knitting program. Now, students can knit in the library or check out knitting projects to work at home.
Then, using her tech background, O’Keefe began working to expand the library’s technology programming. With a grant from the Orcas Island Education Foundation, she created a coding club. O’Keefe is now looking for adults with coding experience to volunteer to work with students.
“It is a misunderstanding that children can sit at a computer and learn on their own. They need adults,” she said.
A corollary to the coding club will be an “Inventors’ Cart.” Stemming from the “Makers Movement” which emphasizes creating physical objects that solve real-life problems, the “Inventors’ Cart” will be equipped with projects to inspire the creativity of elementary and middle school students. For younger learners, how fun will it be to apply circuitry to a banana so it can play music? Older students will work with “Raspberry Pi” devices (a small CPU).
Yes, silence is still golden in the library. But O’Keefe loves the girls who hang out in one corner talking about their day, or the art students who work on portfolios left on a table; she doesn’t mind that elementary students don’t line up before entering — in fact, she is thrilled they are running to come to the library. All of this gives her the opportunity to learn about the students, and their interests. And when she thinks she has a handle on what they may like, she does what all great librarians do — she hands them a pile of appropriate and interesting books.