Why Students Still Need Community Libraries
By Dwaine Millard
Community libraries have always been a place where children could go to meet with friends, work on school projects, or simply be with themselves and explore their hobbies and interests. Many of us grew up using the library for all these reasons and more.
Arguably, these spaces are more important for our children today than in prior generations. Technology continues to mature and evolve as an integrated part of our lives, but it also allows us to isolate as a society.
From my own childhood, I can still fondly remember those powerful moments in which the community library not only intersected with my learning journey but also friendships and new lived experiences. Below, I explore three learning milestones for all children that can be found in a community library.
Finding new interests that spark curiosity beyond the assignment
When I was in middle school, teachers would recommend having homework buddies, which meant you were assigned a random partner to work with on projects and assignments. As preposterous as this sounded to us as kids, the intended consequences are now easy to see. Through this, I was able to form bonds with my classmates that impacted my life experience growing up.
One bond was with a fellow student in my class. I knew little about him aside from his first name, that he was on the basketball team and a year older than me. We were assigned as homework partners for a project, and, not knowing each other, we chose to work on our project at the local library. Meeting at the public library not only removed some awkward moments, but we also had endless resources in a friendly environment.
Our assignment was to research how habits form. During this joint investigation, we both became infatuated with terms such as ‘operant’ and ‘classical conditioning’ and how they applied to our love of playing basketball. We found ourselves researching beyond the assignment and looking for more information about this intersection of habits and sports.
We then began practicing during school lunch time in the gym. We now were bonded and our circle of friends became more closely connected as we would analyze each other’s basketball skills during lunch free time at the gym, yelling out ‘operant’ and ‘classical.’ Eventually people caught on.
Connections to new cultures and experiences
During a group project in 6th grade, I was connected with children from a variety of backgrounds. Some from the Midwest, some from first generation immigrant families, all with a variety of social economic backgrounds, nationalities, and educational levels. We had different lived experiences, perceptions, expectations, and beliefs. We had a mix of tastes in music, movies, entertainment, social language, and everything in between.
This type of mixing in a non-controlled yet safe environment, such as our community library, allowed us to proceed while we all learned social skills and strategies to create norms for our group. To successfully complete our project, we needed to create understanding through healthy dialogue and debates.
After getting to know the kids in the group, we all had new bonds to explore. This introduced me to different cultures, beliefs, languages, and of course foods. These new connections offered opportunities to share different music and movies, hobbies, and simply new and different conversations collectively.
Exposure to technology increases curiosity and innovation
When you think of our children today, things have changed, and yet they haven’t. I remember when the first Apple computer, the Macintosh, came out in 1984, long before it was the norm to find computers across many households. The original advertisement is still a trendsetter and rooted in literacy with the landmark book 1984 by George Orwell serving as its inspiration.
Now, transformations in technology continue to happen before our eyes with brands like Tesla and the forthcoming mass adoption of electric vehicles. For many children in our nation, our community libraries are the first access point to technology and a conduit for more learning opportunities.
In my neighborhood, and in many others, the library was designed at the center of community with other destinations sprawling in all four directions leading us to parks where we could play sports, malls with our favorite retailers, or venues to hear music and explore other arts.
The library also became a great meeting point for my friends and me to explore magazines that had computer gaming codes to try out. My own love of technology started around this time and was fueled by the computers available for use in the library.
At my library computer, I would create games, simple ones, such as maneuvering a stick figure man skiing down a mountain slope. It may not have been as sophisticated as commercial video games, but I was a part of this creation, so it was special. I was producing something, not just consuming whatever technology others chose to make.
Our children today want the same access to what we wanted back then. While their situation is contemporary, they feel the same root desire. Today, children are often using technology for consumption. However, most of the content in their social media is produced by their peers.
Kids today not only dream of creation, many are using software to produce music, various motion visuals, video and podcasts, and digital art. As they pursue these activities, they may find an aligned interest in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and exploring the intersection of neurology and computing.
Their curiosity today may help shape the future. Every kid should have opportunities to explore and create in these ways, and our community libraries are an essential resource in seeing that they do.
Our children are learning social norms that often come with confusion when they are solely formed through social media and virtual encounters. One collective goal of educators might be to encourage students to embrace the wonders of technology while also understanding the need to balance our interactions with organic human face-to-face experiences.
This balance allows us an opportunity to improve access to resources while not losing touch with the human interactions that shape our social learnings, benefiting all. And just to be clear, our community libraries are one important place where our children can realize this benefit.
Dwaine Millard is the Senior Vice President and General Manager for Literacy Initiatives/Family and Community Engagement (FACE) at Scholastic. He works with stakeholders to provide students, parents, and communities with literacy and engagement opportunities. Dwaine is a graduate of Morgan State University and previously taught middle school Math and English and worked for several technology companies.