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Clearing the dust: How libraries are changing in the 21st century

Posted January 3, 2017
Story by Rachel Campbell, Reprinted from InterCom
Photo 1 provided by Jennifer Tazerouti: Children enjoying the reading nook at E.P. Todd Elementary School in Spartanburg. 

Photo 2 provided by Joy S. Rohrbaugh: Technology Loung at Fisher Middle School in Greenville


Forty years ago, if you walked into a library you would see students hovered over the microfiche or using the Dewey Decimal System catalog to find the book they needed for a report. If you were lucky, you might have witnessed a librarian giving a tutorial of the new massive computer that was just purchased. Today, libraries are completely different. Instead of tutorials on how computers work, you can see how a 3D printer works. Libraries are acclimating to the 21st century by becoming a modern destination to learn and create with friends.

Media specialist Joy S. Rohrbaugh runs a mostly digital library at Dr. Phinnize J. Fisher Middle School in Greenville. “It’s pretty much like having a regular library, just with less time spent on shelving and repairing books,” she said. “The eBooks are checked out for two weeks and then return themselves automatically, so they never get lost or damaged!” All of the students have either a laptop or a Chrome book funded by the Greenville County School District. As a result, they are able to go paperless on many projects throughout the school, such as assignments, tests and research

“The care of the student devices also comes through the media center, so we spend a great deal of our time keeping all the electronics up and running,” Rohrbaugh said.

Rohrbaugh earned her MLIS at USC in 1995. “I worked as a graduate assistant in the reference department of the Thomas Cooper Library (and) I was able to learn firsthand what was required of librarians and I realized how necessary a librarian’s help is to a student who is searching for information,” she said. “Looking back, I can see that the classes I took at USC prepared me well for my career.”

Rohrbaugh defines a makerspace as “any space in a library or school which gives students a place to be creative through projects. They are free to make mistakes, and learn through the creative process. They range from high tech, like working with a 3D printer, to low/no tech, like origami and designing jewelry.”

Due to a grant from their PTSA, the library will start a no-tech makerspace for children to try “origami, Zentangles, found poetry, and finger knitting, among others.” Rohrbaugh says that parents hope that this makerspace will allow children to relax and have some fun. Overall, Rohrbaugh says makerspaces “give students the opportunity to learn and grow through alternative projects that they would not normally get a chance to do in a classroom. Because they are relaxed and open, they can develop new skills without really realizing they are learning.”

... a great library is an essential place of learning and often loud with the sounds of activities and conversation.

R. David Lankes

Makerspaces are places for children to get the best of both worlds.

They can play around with technology but also participate in hands-on arts and crafts. It is the perfect balance for children in the 21st century.

In order to keep people coming to the library, librarians are looking at new, fun ways to attract people. At EP Foster Library in Ventura County California, librarian Deya Terrafranca, a SLIS alumna who received her MLIS in 2015, spices things up a bit and rents group rooms for $25. “This room has great acoustics, so it can host concerts and even operas!” The room’s nontraditional use has led to talk of a Coalition area, where groups who don’t necessarily mix can share their expertise and help each other out with throwing shows,” says Terrafranca. The library, like many others, is “jumping on the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) train with a makerspace, robotics events, and wifi hotspot lending.” Hotspot lending is a new trend where people can borrow wifi from libraries to use throughout the community.

In order for libraries to still thrive, librarians need to work together. Organizations, such as the South Carolina Association of School Librarians, help librarians connect with one another and exchange ideas and opportunities for libraries.

Jennifer Tazerouti, a librarian at E.P. Todd Elementary School in Spartanburg, and SLIS alumna who received her MLIS in 2008, believes “sharing and collaborating with others is crucial to keeping libraries relevant. I make sure to attend conferences or workshops and follow a variety of library professionals on social media. Sharing what we learn at conferences and workshops and what excites us is very important to keeping libraries relevant. We have to talk to each other."

She loves how libraries are adapting to the 21st century but still believes that students benefit from curling up with a good book. “I have to say that I strongly believe that today’s students need printed books more than ever,” she says. “They may not need as many printed books, but they do need them. The amount of screen time our students have each day makes a good argument for time with good old-fashioned books, which can provide more focused, deeper reading experiences.”

Tazerouti fondly remembers her time at Carolina, and teachers who made a lasting impact on her. “USC provided me with the degree and credentials I needed to become a school librarian, as well as the confidence I needed to put them to good use. Some of my USC-SLIS professors even continued to provide me with support and guidance after I graduated.”

In our instant access society, librarians are working hard to make sure they have state of the art technology and new and exciting ways to get people to show up at a library and keep coming back. As Dr. Lankes, the director of the School of Library and Information Science, says, “People used to think of libraries as quiet places of reading — now they are seeing a great library is an essential place of learning and often loud with the sounds of activities and conversation.”