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Florence 1 Schools Media Specialists Explain Library Role in 21st Century Learning

The job of a librarian, oftentimes now called a media specialist in the school setting, has changed a lot over the years. Several Florence 1 Schools libraries/media centers were recently on display during a visit by a University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science cohort. During the visit, media specialists and other members of the district staff talked about the changing face of the library and the role that it and its caretaker play in education today.

Deborah Daniels talks in the library at Lucy T. Davis


Dr. Karen Gavigan, a professor in the School of Library and Information Science, led the group.

“We have a cohort here with eight librarians who are in our program at the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science,” Gavigan said. “We designed this day for them to showcase the libraries in this area.”

While touring the media center at South Florence High School Doug Brown, Coordinator of Data Integration and IT Support for Florence 1 Schools, spoke about the partnership between media specialists and the district IT department.

“The media specialists are really an extension of the technology department; in most of the schools they are the first line of contact for teachers when they have technical issues,” Brown said. “The media specialists really help us keep our finger on the pulse of the school and are an asset to us. I have seen the transition from librarians being someone who catalogs books to them being someone who tracks information across various channels. This is a constantly shifting, non-stable platform on the edge of the market and I really respect the media specialists for everything that they have to keep up with.”

South Florence media specialists Heather Gaston and Dana Turner showed off the in-process transformation of their media center, a perfect example of just how vastly different libraries are in 21st century schools.

“We have taken out all of our stacks and they are creating a video production room and a control center in that space,” Gaston said. “Our school is an arts magnet school now so they are upping our video production. We lost about 11,000 books but they were all non-fiction and they were dated. What we ended up doing was curating small collections. We kept our fiction, we kept our biography section and our graphic novels. Then we pulled a STEM collection and an arts section, special collections for teachers.”

Turner said that as a one-to-one school, each student has their own Chromebook, the physical space for books in the library is not needed as much as it used to be.

“We have been one-to-one for three years so we have seen our library environment change completely,” Turner said. “A lot of our resources are now digital content and they go wherever in the building the students are.”

Gaston agreed.

“For our library there is a lot of opportunity for growth and training. Instead of classes coming in here, I will go to classes a lot more. We look at it as the whole school is the library now; we need to be out there with them.”

Gaston and Turner said that a large portion of their day now revolves around the Chromebooks, from answering questions to submitting help desk tickets to the IT department and ordering a short-term replacement while one is being repaired.

Marianne Gaskins and Deborah Daniels, media specialists at Royall Elementary and Lucy T. Davis Elementary respectively, shared with the group how they structure the time students use the library, from storytime with younger children to teaching older children how to use resources to conduct research. Their media centers are more like what people expect when going into a school: brightly colored seating, stuffed animals of favorite book characters and lots and lots of books. Even their spaces are changing though, with Gaskins saying that her students prefer using an iPad rather than a computer to look up a book. Daniels’ space has a room specifically for students to record morning announcements; that room also has an iPad for students to use, this time as a teleprompter.

Nathaniel Marshall talks during the stop at Royall Elementary

During the Royall Elementary School stop, Chief Personnel Officer Nathanial Marshall talked about the important role media specialists play for students.

“I remember having librarians back in the day who would do storytime and put on crazy hats or play the banjo or put on the silly costume,” Marshall said. “That got me engaged in the story that they were reading. I am not a reader, I never have been, but I loved going to the library when I was a kid because of that. I think it is still important, as we are changing into having a lot of technology and supporting technology in our classrooms, that we are also building the foundations of reading and still making reading fun for our students.”