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    Jennifer R. Luetkemeyer

    YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) is advocating that public libraries move from the traditional summer reading program to a summer learning program. On the surface, this might seem irrelevant to the school librarian. If we delve deeper, however, we see that this is yet another opportunity to transform the school library.

    Why Summer Learning?

    The idea of a summer learning program is based on the concept of Connected Learning. “Connected learning is when someone is pursuing a personal interest with the support of peers, mentors and caring adults, and in ways that open up opportunities for them.”1 Connected learning is at the intersection of academics, individual interests, and peer culture. As librarians, it’s hard for us to imagine and accept sometimes that reading is not high on the individual interest scale with many students. Because of this lack of enthusiasm, summer reading programs often report low participation, especially once kids reach their tween years.

    The idea that learning is enhanced when the process is enjoyable and of personal interest is not new. In Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media, author Mizuko Ito and the book’s contributors explored the digital lives of youth and discovered that digital media was being used for both work and play, and that kids were not just consumers of digital content, but also creators.2 Tapping into this creativity is at the heart of connected learning, and the move to summer learning.

    What is the School Library’s Role in Connected Learning?

    Public-school library collaboration is often hit or miss, and largely dependent on the staff at each library. When it does occur, it can be of great benefit to students. However, there are things that the school librarian can do, regardless of the level of collaboration, to support summer learning initiatives:

    1. Transform the school library into a connected learning environment. If your school library has a makerspace, or allows time for students to be creative and pursue their individual passions in other ways, then you are already doing this. If not, start small by establishing time before or after school, or during lunch, which is designated specifically for this purpose. Some schools have joined the Genius Hour movement, the purpose of which is to foster this creativity. You can read more about it here:http://www.geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/
    2. Encourage student collaboration and peer interactions. Part of the connected learning philosophy is the idea of peer support in a collaborative, exploratory environment. One way to foster this is to set up library furniture to encourage discussion and teamwork. Although a certain level of order must certainly be maintained, the school library is no longer a place to stoically read and work. Instead, students should feel comfortable enough to engage in conversations with each other and exchange ideas.
    3. Strategically curate resources. When reviewing items for the library’s collection, carefully consider how they might spark creative processes in your students. While you must develop and maintain a collection that supports the curriculum, you can do so with an eye to how that collection lends itself to connected learning. Instead of purchasing a series of books for the 600s section, for example, consider instead purchasing a database or program license that allows not only for learning, but also for creative play. Similarly, many eBooks offer this type of functionality and are updated automatically, rather than needing to be replaced.

    Whether you choose to try one of these ideas, or all three, you are taking a step toward supporting the summer learning initiative. Making the ideals of connected learning familiar to your students could go a long way toward encouraging their participation in these types of programs at the local public library. And, who knows? Perhaps you will end up building a collaborative partnership yourself between your school library and the public library.

    1 “What is Connected Learning?” Connected Learning Alliance.  Accessed March 8, 2017. http://clalliance.org/why-connected-learning/
    2 Ito, Mizuko, Sonja Baumer, Matteo Bittanti, Rachel Cody, Becky Herr Stephenson, Heather A. Horst, Patricia G. Lange et al. Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. MIT press, 2009.

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