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Exciting times: a transformation of media centers, media specialists, and learning: a district's philosophy.

When many of us were in elementary school, we loved going to the library. We'd check out a couple of books, read them, and then repeat the process the following week.

Sometimes our teacher would bring our class in so we could sit in front of a computer, and we'd write a paper, print it, and turn it in. We really had no idea what our librarian did-we just knew we loved going to the library. Years later, our roles as media specialists incorporate broader influence and responsibility. We are also technology coaches, guiding people as they integrate technology into their learning and teaching. Our role is complex and essential to our learners.

The Kettle Moraine School District, located in southeast Wisconsin, has a media specialist in each of the four elementary schools, middle school, and high school. Even though the district is under financial pressure and in a cycle of declining enrollment, administration has seen the value of retaining library media specialists and developing their role. Director of technology Bob Boyd described the philosophy behind this approach:

      At the Kettle Moraine School District, Learning without
   Boundaries is our district vision and the focus for our district
   technology team. As part of an ongoing master facility planning
   process, school sites and building infrastructure that are in
   critical need of change have been identified to better support the
   academic priorities established by the district's vision and the
   school board's charge to transform the educational delivery system
   to better and more efficiently meet the needs of all students. This
   need has resulted in changes to our library media programs and the
   process by which we support technology in our schools. District and
   school administrators are committed to this work and provide
   critical support to technology and library/media staff in pursuit
   of these goals.

The result of the changes in our media centers, both in physical and digital form, is a structure that supports innovation throughout the district. We have embraced a philosophy that encourages our learners to personalize their learning. The changes we have made make this philosophy a reality.

Personalized learning is a model that is attracting national attention. While we all understand our desire to personalize our coffee order, our ring tones, and our social media presence, it is a big transition to personalize our core learning experience. The Kettle Moraine School District seeks to transform learning by creating an environment where the learner is a cocreator in the experience and the role of educator is that of facilitator and coach. Rather than working in a one-size-fits-all paradigm, each student uses his or her own passions and interests to create a unique learning experience. Teachers support each learner's needs using individual interests as a springboard for skill development.


Visitors who come to the media centers at Kettle Moraine will see a variety of environments. Some media centers, like Dousman Elementary, highlight how the physical space reflects changes in how users learn in media centers. There is comfortable seating, curved shelves, and an emphasis on collaborative spaces. Kettle Moraine High School shows a media center in transition. While there has been a welcomed addition of comfortable seating, more open spaces, and an emphasis on collaboration, there is still an old-school library feeling with wooden furniture, rows of book shelves, and industrial lighting. Visitors to the media centers of our other schools may see traditional furniture, flooring, and lighting, but those visitors still recognize a different philosophy of learning prevalent in the media centers: a focus on students' needs, personalized learning, and collaboration. As we make these changes, our collections are being weeded, updated, and rearranged to suit the needs of the people, both learners and educators, using them.

To enable student independence in locating materials, many labels and visuals are added to the space. While each elementary media center in our district is organized mainly by Easy/Fiction and Nonfiction, we are disassembling the Reference as an isolated section. High-interest books are being relocated within the nonfiction section to be accessed more easily and foster interest for circulation. Outdated print dictionary/encyclopedia sets are being eliminated as we advocate for students to access ready reference information online.

Providing open and flexible spaces to support collaboration and productivity is a key to organizing the print collection. Items that are not easily moved to allow for multipurpose use of the space are being reconsidered. Where possible, we have perimeter shelving to allow for flexible floor space and modular shelving with dual purposes for seating and books. Some of the shelving allows students to browse for books in bins arranged by reading level, category, series, and author. We employ a variety of shelving to simplify navigation for a wide age range and reading ability.

Our libraries aim to foster student reading interests and natural curiosities by having them directly involved in selecting their books. At Wales Elementary School, students are independently selecting books and using the self-checkout system. While teachers supervise the students during this process, the media specialists focus on helping learners develop more complex skills.

The greatest changes in our media centers reflect global improvements in learning and communication. We are as much a digital presence as a physical space. Students can read or download books and research through the media centers whenever they have access to the Internet. Our websites have become essential branches of our programs, a transition made by most media centers and libraries. We are developing our virtual collections, providing access to e-books, audiobooks, and digital databases. This shift to digital resources makes our roles as educators an essential part of our district. We teach our users, both students and adults, how to locate, evaluate, and incorporate information into projects that demonstrate new connections and learning. We guide them in developing their own digital products to demonstrate new understanding and creativity. Finally, we locate and provide digital tools for teachers to incorporate into students' learning experiences. Teachers and students continue to come into our media centers to locate print resources, which they read for research or for pleasure, but they are just as likely now to use a device with an Internet connection for the same purpose.


Dousman Elementary

Dousman Elementary was built in 1978, and the architects had the foresight to build an open, centrally located media center. In 2011, the media center was functioning under its original design as a book warehouse. It had also become the home to two desktop labs that used half of the square footage. It was time for a makeover.

We began with a guiding vision before we ever talked about budget. We wanted a space that was not designed around the physical book but the learner. Our big ideas included flexibility, space for collaborative learning, and transitioning to mobile devices that would be housed in the classrooms. We had the good fortune to have Mary Walgren, department chair of interior design at Milwaukee Area Technical College and district parent, work with us to create our design.

The library remodeling project happened over two years. We weeded the collection, so we were buying only the necessary shelving, which was our biggest expense. We worked with all of our stakeholders to gain support. Dousman's principal championed the project and worked out funding and logistical issues of remodeling time lines. The project was funded through a $40,000 fundraising campaign by our PTO and a $10,000 grant from Coca-Cola.

The makeover has transformed how students and staff use the media center. With the reclaimed space from removing the desktop labs, we can accommodate three classes at one time. Groups of students can collaborate and independently move furniture around. A former office was transformed into a flexible learning space. It is a pleasure to work in the new media center, but moving the technology into the classrooms has meant that the library media specialist is just as likely to be teaching with teachers in classrooms and not tied to the media center.

Kettle Moraine High School

Kettle Moraine High School was originally built in 1965. As the building expanded over the decades to accommodate 1,450 students, the media center was converted into an open room. Each expansion fit the needs of the time. Wiring and desktop banks were added in the early 2000s, until the media center housed eighty desktops for students to use. We decided to open the space, modernize the appearance, and swap the desktops for laptops. Mary Walgren again volunteered to plan a new space. Through a combination of Ms. Walgren's efforts and the support of Mr. Jeff Walter, the school's principal, we were able to make significant changes to the physical media center that made it more appealing to our users.

We purchased comfortable chairs, lighter furniture, and modern flooring. Our focus was creating a space that suited the needs of high school learners. The furniture--adult-sized, comfortable, and easy to move--was arranged to create learning spaces to accommodate a variety of learners. Using laptops gave everyone flexibility because they were no longer tethered to a desktop.

In the future we hope to add glassed-in rooms to provide visual privacy for individuals or small groups, move the circulation desk to the center of the media center, and add a student-led technology help desk. We'll also replace the remaining heavy wooden furniture with lighter, comfortable, flexible seating. Finally, we'll continue to focus on providing high-quality digital resources and services to all of our users. The result will be a transformation from a traditional library to a student-centered learning space.

Middle School, Cushing, Magee, Wales

The scope of the changes that will happen are, as is the case in all districts, dependent upon funding. The other four schools at Kettle Moraine are planning similar physical changes to their media centers as funding becomes available. With the support of our administration and parent groups, many of the schools have been making small changes by rearranging the space, reconsidering how the collection is organized, purchasing flexible furniture, and updating equipment. Due to our district support, we are excited to see changes become reality for all library media centers in the future.

While all schools in the district plan for future space updates, we have already transformed our roles. The strength of our library media specialist team is a common approach to update methods and resources to meet the ever-changing needs in education. These changes to our physical spaces reflect the needs of our students and schools. Learners come into our media centers expecting to both research and collaborate. They talk with one another and search both the print collections and the digital collections--relying more on digital resources than print--they are collaborating.


While the Kettle Moraine library media specialist team has always embraced coteaching and technology coaching, we are more determined than ever on making this collaboration our primary focus. We are leading the research, collaboration, and digital learning processes, guiding learners and educators through the digital maze of information that is now a part of learning. We use our unique skills and understanding of information to take up the charge from the school board to transform education in our district. Incorporating Google Apps for Education [GAFE) has helped make this transformation happen. We are in our second year as a GAFE; we media specialists are Google-certified trainers or are working toward this certification, making us the leaders in using these tools to transform learning. One of our goals is to become a Google-certified school district. Media specialists provide learning opportunities for our staff so they, too, can master GAFE. We offer multiple personalized opportunities for teachers to meet their individual technology goals, including sessions before and after school, Saturday workshops, and our annual Summer Technology Academy.

We facilitate student learning by helping to create and facilitate personalized learning environments. Learning is relevant to students when they are able to take ownership of their own learning. As media specialists, we are working with teachers to create personalized learning experiences by curating and sharing resources with both teachers and learners as they construct and express knowledge. For example, the middle and high school media specialists are incorporating digital citizenship curriculum from Common Sense Media ( for all their students. The lessons will be used by teachers to guide students through a wide range of topics that are essential for ethical, safe use of digital information.

While all media specialists in the district support Response to Intervention (RtI) in some capacity, the media specialist at Cushing Elementary has created a personalized learning environment for the learners with whom she works. Learners first need to understand how they learn best. They also set goals based on scores from MAP [Measures of Academic Progress) testing. Once they have this understanding, they have a choice of how and what information they acquire and have a voice in how they express what they know and understand. Through the six-week intervention cycle, the learners decide what they will learn about, and they design a project to showcase their learning. They then publish these projects in their digital portfolios, using Google sites, to share with their peers and teachers.

Another way we personalize learning and creativity in our media centers is through Makerspace technology tools. In some of our media centers this looks like a recording studio for an in-house television broadcast with a multimedia area with a green screen. We also hope to support physical projects, such as Rainbow Loom, 3D Pen, Legos, Snap Circuits/Electronics, and puzzles, in addition to computer projects like Tynker programming, photo imagery, digital portfolio, multimedia, and apps.


Changing the role of the media specialist is an essential step in transforming a school media center into a learning commons. Knowing that remodeling a media center is a massive undertaking, we have suggestions for districts and schools that are making the similar changes in their philosophy and space:

* Create a group of school representatives to gather perspectives from a variety of stakeholders (i.e., administration, parents, teachers, reading specialist, and students).

* Define the collection; keep materials that are essential to best practices. Reconsider materials and simplify sections to be easily maintained (Easy, Easy Reader, Fiction, Non Fiction, Magazines/Periodicals, etc.).

* Curriculum and standards are the driving force behind instruction; technology is just the tool.

* Use social media and personal connections to share the process with your community.

Together, Kettle Moraine's administration and its team of innovative library media specialists have made the commitment to ensure that the district's vision of Learning without Boundaries is implemented with a focus on its technology goals: effective teaching and learning practices, student achievement and support systems, and leadership. In pursuit of these goals, the district's administration and library media specialists have begun the process of creating physical spaces in their library media centers and digital resource spaces that reflect the needs of today's digital students, emphasizing learning and communication that supports the greater global community.

These new physical and digital learning spaces foster personalized learning environments for students, allowing students to take more ownership of their learning. As a result of the new physical and digital learning spaces, collaboration between library media specialists and teachers has significantly improved. The increased collaboration has not only benefited the students but also teachers, by enhancing their individual professional development needs.

Although there is still more work to be done, the transformation will continue to be a powerful ingredient in creating digital citizens who will be ready for the continually changing global society that we live in. The possibilities are endless when school district administrators and library media specialists work together. The Kettle Moraine School District has planted that seed, hoping more districts will follow suit. As a result, students will be better prepared for what awaits them in this challenging yet exciting world.

Editor's Note: The authors have posted two videos on YouTube which provide additional information. The videos are: Library Media in the 21st Century: Physical Spaces & Student Projects, which addresses the transformation of the physical spaces and Library Media in the 21st Century: Technology and Outreach, which addresses how their own roles are being transformed.

Joanne Sobolik, Kettle Moraine High School,

Elizabeth Russell, Kettle Moraine Middle School,

Holli Klatt, Cushing Elementary,

Debbie Thompson, Dousman Elementary,

Kim Jones, Magee Elementary,

Stephanie Wieczorek, Wales Elementary,
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Title Annotation:FEATURE ARTICLE
Author:Sobolik, Joanne; Russell, Elizabeth; Klatt, Holli; Thompson, Debbie; Jones, Kim; Wieczorek, Stephani
Publication:Teacher Librarian
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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