Lowell — The Library of Michigan has awarded qualified status to the Lowell High School library program for meeting key benchmarks in the Michigan School Libraries for 21st Century Schools (SL21) program.
The achievement recognizes the commitment and work of school library program staff in promoting information literacy. SL21 assists K-12 libraries by setting standards in areas including student achievement, technology, staffing, curriculum development, budget, advocacy, instructional materials and more.
“I’m really excited, really happy about this,” Library Media Services Director Christine Beachler said of achieving qualified status. “It’s fun to see all of the new changes and have things always evolving when it comes to library services, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to keep up with everything, keep our collection up to date.”
Beachler is in her 34th year at Lowell Area Schools, where she oversees library and media services at all six district schools. She first taught accounting and computer classes but now has more than 20 years of experience (plus a master’s degree) in library services.
‘The difference between a Google search and the information you can find from credible resources is huge. So we really work on trying to teach (students) how and where to access information, how to make sure you’re finding factual information, and teaching them that not everything that they read online is true every time.’– Library Media Services Director Christine Beachler
One of her first library tasks some 20 years ago was to pull together statistics on the collection at one of Lowell’s elementary schools, she recalled. In doing so, she discovered the average age of a book in the collection at that time was around 40 years old.
That experience, along with others, she said, spurred her determination to work closely with district administrators to not only upgrade, but continually refresh library services to maintain a quality environment that’s conducive to learning.
“We have a process of continuous improvement, so I’m always trying to find other new, different things that a media center can offer,” she said. “Sometimes they are just minor things, but they all add up to make it more of a robust resource for our students, and everybody, to utilize. And we have a lot of administrative support to be able to do that.
“But I think we’re careful about it, too,” she added. “I don’t think we jump on a lot of bandwagons. We try to do our research and make sure that the decisions that we’re making are good ones, research driven, and (make sure) that we know we’re not going to be wasting money on things.”
Where Kids Want to Be
At the high school, some of those resources include laminating, Scantron and die-cut machines available for use; white boards for tutoring or small-group lessons; supplies like poster board and fadeless paper (for bulletin boards) for both teachers and students; interlibrary loans between school buildings; and a partnership with Kent District Library to provide access to more than 20,000 e-book titles for free.
On the administrative side, Beachler and her staff are in charge of all the textbooks and technology in the building, giving input on materials to use for curriculum development and weighing in on decisions like the move to 1:1 Chromebooks for students. They provide professional development, set up technology for meetings in the building and collaborate with teachers to make sure everyone in the building knows how the library can support instruction.
On the student side, Beachler highlighted the work of library staff in helping students learn how to find credible sources when doing research and other classroom projects. They learn how to use the Michigan eLibrary, or MeL, a Library of Michigan service offering access to credibly sourced articles, books, images and other research information.
“(MeL) is a wonderful resource—just outstanding,” Beachler said. “You won’t find Wikipedia on there, or something like Vox.com. The difference between a Google search and the information you can find from credible resources is huge. So we really work on trying to teach (students) how and where to access information, how to make sure you’re finding factual information, and teaching them that not everything that they read online is true every time.
“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges, because there’s so much misinformation out there these days. But that’s why we teach these skills—they need to know the difference between opinion and fact, because those are two totally different things.”
The physical space of a library also impacts learning, Beachler said, and to that end she’s proud of the welcoming atmosphere a recent renovation at the high school library has created. Food is welcome in the tiled open space at the entrance, which attracts students to congregate during lunch times and other free periods. The library is open 45 minutes before school and an hour after school for student club meetings, private tutoring, Chromebook repairs, reading and just to hang out.
“I want this to be the place (where) kids want to be,” she said. “I want the teachers to want to bring their kids here. It’s really, really important to not just me, but my whole staff, our principal, our superintendent, that people feel really welcome in here, and also feel like we offer useful materials that they can find or that we can help them find.”
Information They Need
Principal Steve Gough said he’s seen the impact of Beachler and her staff thanks specifically to his son, a sophomore at LHS. When the Goughs came to Lowell a few years ago, he said his son wasn’t much of a reader. But having a library staffed by people eager to help, he said, has transformed the teen into a regular bookworm.
“At his previous school, there was a library but nobody to go to, to find what he needed,” Gough said. “Here, he knows that they’ll find (a book) and get it for him, even if they don’t have it right now. That’s how you increase the interest of students—when it serves their need. And when you have somebody who’s monitoring what people need and meeting those needs. From a parent perspective, that’s the value of a library.”
Gough also said the process of applying for the SL21 status reaffirmed to him how much the library and media program serves Lowell High School.
“It was a good review process, because you look through all of the categories that (the Library of Michigan) goes through (during the evaluation), and to be proficient in all of those categories is pretty daunting,” he said. “I think one of the critical evaluative pieces in this (SL21) process is how the program is functioning in terms of educating not only our students, but our whole building, to develop informational literacy—knowing how to access information in an instructional way. … Our program needs to support all learners in a way that allows them to access the information that they need, not ‘information I like’ or ‘information I think is good.’ And I think that’s something that we do very well.”