(Boys) Reading as a social activity

As I wander around my library during recess and lunchtime, before and after school, I realise more and more than reading is not the solitary quiet activity that it’s usually purported to be. I’ve taken to trying to capture this by photographing the communal reading that is going on – which takes me to an article that I’ve been reading that I think is quite important when thinking about boys’ literacy pursuits – “Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices” (Blair & Sanford, 2004).




boys2 boys1









Who can relate to this in their school libraries?

  • A cluster of boys sitting around a boy with the Guinness Book of Records – pointing and chatting and oohing and aahing about some record or another, followed by a debate about if it has been surpassed, and grabbing the next years book?
  • Two or 3 boys sitting with a Minecraft or lego book trying to find out how to do something?
  • A couple of younger boys reading the same graphic novel (usually squish or lunch lady) and turning the pages at the same time or waiting to turn the page so they can read the same thing at the same time?
  • Requests for books that tell them how to progress in computer / online games
  • Needing books about the 2nd world war because their grandfather or great-grandfather fought in it?

Blair and Sanford (2004) relate boys’ reading to their need to acquire social-cultural capital – i.e. they read as long as it enhances their peers and their own view of themselves as “acceptable masculine beings” and creates connection, collaboration and camaraderie between themselves and their friends. The authors refer to “team-like literacy” involving participation and interaction that is purposeful.

In terms of the kinds of texts that engage and fulfil these needs, the “rules” are simple

  • action > relationships
  • excitement > unfolding characters
  • need to suit personal interests / fact finding / purpose / sharing information
  • humour and fun ++++ important

I would suggest that the literary market / publishing is NOT catering for these needs adequately or at all in fact. Let’s take “Jets” for example.  The current obsession of the Grade 1 / 2 students in my school at the moment. The available books we have are dumb. They’re not information rich enough and the publishers cater to their reading level rather than their interest level. They’re dated before they even hit the shelves. They want elaborate up to date images with lots of numbers and facts – never mind the silly narrative “here is a pilot” “this is the instrument console”.  Ditto Lego – I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it again. There is nothing inbetween the little books “castles, towns, 101 things to make” and “Lego StarWars” that is so big and bulky and hard to take home.  Make each chapter into a book FFS. How much time do publishers even spend walking around school libraries and talking to boys? (or even librarians? or teachers? or parents?).

This type of article also explains why our “Blokes with Books” and “Readers’ Cup” clubs work so well at school. Connection, affinity, literacies growing out of relationships.

Now to make sure we leverage that in the classrooms and at home.


Blair, H. A., & Sanford, K. (2004). Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices. Language Arts, 81(6), 452.


OER textbooks and the potential for multicultural environment

For the longest time since I stumbled on the Hapgood blog I’ve been intrigued by the ideas of Mike Caulfield on OER and it’s taken a little time and a lot of reading around the concepts of digital scholarship, and in particular the lack of the multicultural viewpoint / input / adaptation of educational resources in general (those global educational companies are scary) for me, after re-reading his article on “Choral explanations and OER” to try and understand just what was so appealing and for it to finally click.

It was this paragraph :

The idea of choral explanations in OER is that the textbook becomes an operating system on which multiple parallel community-provided explanations run. From the student perspective, the text branches off into multiple available explanations of the same concept, explanations authored individually by a wide range of instructors, researchers, and students. You can keep reading until you find the explanation that makes sense, or you can start with simpler explanations and work your way to nuance.” (Caulfield, 2016, para 63I think – hard to count!)

And then I had to think back to a presentation given by some of the international students at UWCSEA when I was working there.  They were showing how they were using their Korean / Japanese textbooks side-by-side with their ‘Western’ – BANA (British, Autralasian, North American) textbooks  in order to master the required material. Note – it was not ‘just’ a language issue. It was the fact that information was presented differently. Presented not just in the sense of how the words and diagrams were physically placed on the page, but also the conceptual pedagogical understanding as to how information should be summarised for example, what the assumptions were on how students learnt and what they needed (Kim & Mizuishi, 2014).  I still have a feeling of dread when I think back to the response the presentation got. There was a serious lack of deep understanding. A lack of curiosity. Of empathy. Of interest.   And a surfeit of what Tim Hartford so succinctly refers to as “The God Complex” . As educators we have a duty, a responsibility to educate students so that they can claim their part in intellectual conversations.  When doing my reading I came across this quote and wrote it on a page of its own with a big question mark because I wasn’t sure what to make of it:

“The goal of education should never be directly to change students psychologically or culturally any more than educators would want their own children to join a cult” (McCarthy, 2007, p. 112)

Wow. If I was a professor of education I would set an assignment on that question. Just that quote and “discuss”.  3 years in a Chinese immersion school in Hong Kong DEFINITELY changed my daughter psychologically and culturally – but is it inevitable? My thesis is yes – if you want to learn in that environment. My son didn’t embrace the culture and psychology of chinese education and he didn’t learn Chinese (or much else) in the two years he was there.   Now think of all the millions of students partaking in an “international” education in their own countries or abroad, and think of the unconsidered enforcement of a western dominated cult of pedagogy and psychology we enforce … and that’s before we even start to think about the damages of non-mother tongue instruction (read all the UNESCO research for more on this).

Ok, that was a long aside – but back to the original point – multi-lingual, multi-cultural OER choral explanations in a student accessible textbook system is the cool aid I’d be happy to drink.


Caulfield, M. (2016, July 12). Choral explanations and OER: A summary of thinking to date [Web Log]. Retrieved 27 August 2016, from https://hapgood.us/2016/07/12/choral-explanations-and-oer-a-summary-of-thinking-to-date/
Kim, M., & Mizuishi, K. (2014, December). Language and Cultural Differences and Barriers in an International School Setting – Personal Experiences and Reflections. UWCSEA-East.
McCarty, S. (2007). Theorizing and realizing the globalized classroom. In A. Edmundson (Ed.), Globalized E-Learning Cultural Challenges: (pp. 90–115). Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub. Retrieved from http://services.igi-global.com/resolvedoi/resolve.aspx?doi=10.4018/978-1-59904-301-2.ch009

Rambling thought organisation

I need to write an interpretive discussion paper. I’m trying to organise my thoughts. My first and foremost thought is that writing this paper is in direct contravention to the topic of the paper, which is “Digital scholarship in education, in the context of interdisciplinary knowledge and research” – because my digital scholarship is leading me down all sorts of other avenues and thoughts which definitely do NOT fit into the marking rubric. I’m also immensely frustrated at being a distance learner and not knowing who in the zoo to discuss these thoughts with. I’m tired of rehashing the articles that all say the same thing about the evolution from web 1.0 to 2.0 to 3.0 and the fact that we all can be producers and not just consumers, open access (OA), MOOCs, twitter, blogs blah blah.


What are my thoughts right now – on the exact topic?  In the first place that digital has not been transformative enough to scholarship.  Yes in theory, no in fact. The digital spaces I see in education have been highjacked not by scholars but by self-promoting practitioners of the twitterati. There is a lot of anecdotal rather than research based evidence. And they’re echo-chambers of white middle-class educators, often male. I need to expand my networks, and I’ve been making a concerted effort to follow people who are publishing real peer-reviewed research – some of which are on social media and some of which aren’t.  Some who tweet about their research, most who don’t. Or just refer to conferences they’re talking at or have talked at, or their followers enticingly frustratingly refer to such presentations. The thing is that for all this to be transformative it also needs to be heretical. And heretics are not welcome in institutions. Because they threaten the control and status quo of institutions, and by definition are persona-non-grata and there are pathways of recognition (leading to tenure at which point hopefully you’d be entrenched enough to say what the damn you please but by then you’d probably be entrenched enough to buy into the status quo and have a stake in maintaining it). Yes they are clever. Who runs the MOOCs? Who feeds them, who controls them, finances them and their content? – the institutions.  And the money. Yes, always follow the money. All those wonderful digital tools. Those databases, those journals, encyclopedias.  My gold standard for testing anything a salesman throws at me as a school librarian is looking up “socialism” and “communism” in their search engines. Try it. Just try it.

What is education for?  I’ll buy the ‘transformative’ bit on the micro individual well-heeled personal level, – but take it local or regional or national and you have the ‘productive literate citizen’ emerging. What do we want from the 21st Century learner? Link looks great doesn’t it.  Global citizens and all those skills (not content or facts), and then you click on “pricing” and you can clone plans. I repeat. You can pay to clone plans.  You can pay someone else to do your thinking and planning for you can you can teach to that plan and create clones of every other global child whose school or teacher can afford this.  It’s so slick it’s so nicely designed, it’s so intuitive and easy.

Confrontational and Challenging

Easy. Am I a puritan that I think things have to be a struggle and difficult? Not really, I like Vygotsky and the ideal of proximal development.  I don’t like when kids are proximally developed to be led by the nose or to follow the breadcrumbs to the cottage in the woods made of candy only to find out that they’ll be trapped by the witch of educational debt in a cage that is not of their making.  No, I think that education does not really have so much to be difficult as in inaccessible and alienating, but I think it needs to be difficult in that it should be confrontational and challenging.  And education dominated by packaging – of textbooks, of websites, of learning platforms, of learning plans – created by big corporations and big non-profits cannot be confrontational. It can only be nationalistic or capitalistic or serve the needs of the society in which it finds itself. Or the version of what that society thinks its needs are.  Good productive (national) citizens. Because often being a global citizen is at odds with being a national citizen. Because then you might just want to open the borders and let the refugees in.  You may not vote for the hawks. You’d want to leak confidential documents, hack into university databases, give maternity & paternity leave, free education, a minimum wage, universal health coverage AND WHO WOULD PAY FOR ALL THAT? Huh?

Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

So the digital. The open borders, the open access. The flat earth. Where a researcher / research at the other end of the world is at the touch of a button or a click of a mouse. As long as you both have the internet. And speak each other’s language (or preferably that current god of all language, English), as long as that research is in a bundle paid for by your institution. As long as you’re part of an institution, because paying $39.95 per article for research that may or may not be relevant, may or may not be any good is no joke for the casual dilettante. And when you leave formal education, when you graduate and lose access to all that body of formal knowledge, lose your writing on fora and institutional blogs, when the gates to the ivory towers slam shut? Are you no longer a scholar? Are you an ex-scholar? A practitioner? I think about this a lot as I reach the end of this degree.

Language and culture

Coming back to the whole language thing.  According to Ren and Montgomery (2015) from 1996 to 2012 – 2,680,395 scholarly articles were published internationally by Chinese authors, 35% of which have never been cited, and the average citation per publication is 6.17 versus 20.45 for an American author. 95% of its most important research “are now published by foreign commercial publisher and locked behind pay-walls” (p. 397).  Most scholars do not have the English proficiency, there are not enough translators and therefore the research remains trapped in Chinese repository systems.  The article is a fascinating glimpse into the profundity of linguistic barriers, cultural and ideological differences in writing, research and performance metrics that are seldom if ever mentioned in the jubilant digital scholarship literature.


As a fairly recent migrant from the world of commerce and industry to the world of education, one of the other articles I read was cause for inner ironical chuckling. Interdisciplinary. What does that mean? That you stay in your academic ivory tower but build bridges to other towers in the same academic village, or even across the pond to another tower where there are English speakers? And you interact only with the grubby world of business when they sell you OLP (online learning platforms) and data analytic systems and student interfaces and lesson plans and databases. But do you consider that you may be able to learn from that world? Even within business schools, the frenetic search for pertinent case studies is to inform and guide practise by current or potential business people.  And so I turn to Siemens and Burr (2013) – who I must say I have a huge amount for respect for, because they are talking, reading about and DOING  research in international research teams. They are grappling with linguistic and cultural barriers. And I read their article and the whole time I’m thinking – you’ve got to be kidding me. Yes, you’re probably breaking new ground in your context, but global companies have been doing this for decades. For eons. Your average wet-nosed graduate in a developing country working for a multi-national could have told you of all these challenges AND how they’re resolved in commerce and industry. I have to wonder, when a paper cites Hofstede – 1980 * if they’ve read and understood it’s context (Shell oil company), why they don’t think – heck – those multinational companies must know a thing or two about this – let’s go and ask them how to resolve this rather than us having to reinvent the wheel. Just pop over to your local business school or track down a travelling salesman with a passport to find out more.

I realise I’ve nearly written 1,500 words right now, and I don’t even begin to cover all the ground that I’d want to cover but can’t. I’ll just end by referring back to Gee and Hayes (2011). The first six chapters are a great read to understand the context of current education, language and literacy as part of a continuum of education across the ages – and they can express this background so much better than my amateur fumblings.  And after giving a context what is the future?  It would have to be in machine translation. In non-affiliation to a single academic organisation or nation. The return of the professional amateur, of “royal societies” that are not royal or national.  Different pathways of legitimisation and accreditation. More cooperation and collaboration but also more confrontation. Assignments that are conceptually bound but content liberated.  Radically open access to both published and rejected research, with commentary as to the rejection – a bit of meta-cognition anyone? Access to assignments with grading. Plagiarism is only an option in a closed rigid system with unimaginative content related assignments.  And those do nothing to further scholarship, digital or otherwise.

(And apologies to all those authors and researchers who are not cited but who are informing my thinking, but were not read in the last few days).


Gee, J. P., & Hayes, E. (2011). Language and learning in the digital age (1st ed). New York, NY: Routledge.
Ren, X., & Montgomery, L. (2015). Open access and soft power: Chinese voices in international scholarship. Media, Culture & Society, 37(3), 394–408. http://doi.org/10.1177/0163443714567019
Siemens, L., & Burr, E. (2013). A trip around the world: Accommodating geographical, linguistic and cultural diversity in academic research teams. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 28(2), 331–343. http://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqs018

(* As a side note, Hofstede was taught to me as an expat 101 in the early 1990’s before my husband and I left on our first international assignment in Brazil. There is an updated version of his book – co-written by his son and Michael Minkov. Should be read by every ‘global’ educator and student interested in global collaboration and cooperation :

Hofstede, G. H., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: software of the mind: intercultural cooperation and its importance for survival (3rd ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.)


Fortunate coincidence

After our leadership meeting this week I asked our principal what she thought of my various options for my case-study and which would be most beneficial and meaningful for the school.   By happy coincidence the senior leadership is looking at a number of things that tie in nicely with my ideas of what would be a viable case-study

  • Using the cumulated data we have on reading scores from the last few years in an interpretive and meaningful way
  • Examining a small section of students to see if anything can be extrapolated to the wider student body and inform teaching and learning
  • Raising the “bottom” – i.e. looking at our struggling students in a holistic way and seeing how we can help them on their learning journeys

In our conversations we also discussed how struggling students can influence the whole ambiance in a classroom, both in the student body and in the teachers response to the individual student and the class as a whole.

The question of course is what is ‘success’ and how do you measure it?  Must it be an improvement in reading or other academic measureables? Something ‘concrete’? Or can we think about the more ‘fuzzy’ aspects of learning that are harder to pin down.  Like affinity and belonging – nicely spoken about in this (non academic) article. Certainly we know that students who have (excessive) stress have difficulty learning. But is it skill, is it motivation that starts the negative spiral? And who can help? Is it a bootstraps issue, is it parents, peers, teachers, mentors, siblings?  What formats and genres?

I’ve just downloaded hundreds of articles around these themes, so it’s time to start digging in and try to get a research question out of it all.


This book should die …

Our library has just received a big shipment of books and I need to make some space so that the new books don’t get lost.  On Friday I therefore did a little exercise with my Grade 6 students that I called “this book must die”.

Since many of them had either read “The Hunger Games” or “American Sniper” or seen the movie, we discussed it in terms of “what are the survival skills needed” by a book to ensure it’s continued existence on the shelves and “which books are a library / librarian / students’ friends and which are enemies“.  The students came up with some great ideas, and showed real insight into the dilemmas and choices facing a librarian.  It was also wonderful to see how much more “literarily” mature they had become, with groups of students arguing that books such as the “Rainbow Fairies” and “Horrid Henry” series shouldn’t be in our collection, that they were formulaic with no qualities, and with other students equally passionately defending them – including some boys arguing that their younger sisters loved Rainbow Fairies and had the right to read them until they knew better!  I wish I’d video’d them to show to parents who enter long convoluted arguments with me about introducing more “classics” (i.e. the books of their book deprived youth) at a younger age to my students.  They proved the case of “free voluntary choice” of books for students and that if you trust your students they’ll rise to the occasion.

Although I asked them to focus on fiction, a couple brought some very outdated nonfiction books to my attention (think moustachioed librarians straight out of the 80’s), and one even brought a more recent book on scuba diving where all the information wasn’t current anymore to my attention.

I also let them had a go at the “hallowed hall” of literature circle kits – they did ask.  And there definitely were a very strongly felt sentiments about text that they were expected to read either as a class or in small groups.  Luckily the “class texts” passed muster (I suspect because the teachers have actually read them – either with the students or independently or even as a read-aloud), but the smaller sets of 4-6 books had three books that will need to be eliminated.  The “deal” I made with them is that if even one student came to the passionate defence of a book, it would stay.  We had a long discussion about whether or not “award winning” books had any kind of immunity from weeding – again I loved their perceptive comments about the fact that most of the awards originated in America and this didn’t necessarily reflect their world view, interests or priorities.

Besides arbitrary titles that weren’t particularly important, the following ‘text set’ books, some of which are award winning by “important” authors were condemned:

Stowaway – Karen Hesse.  60 students unanimously said they’d struggled through it hating every minute and that it had no redeeming features whatsoever in their eyes.

Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins – they found it boring, found no connection to their lives

The Heaven Shop – Deborah Ellis – I promise I didn’t say a word about this. But their sentiments echoed my privately held sentiments exactly.  It was superficial, it was written by an outsider, it had too many coincidences so they felt they could no longer suspend belief.

After 3 exhausting but exhilarating classes the exercise was completed.  Then yesterday my Grade 5 classes came for library class and their first question was ‘Ms. please can we also do “this book must die’?” – don’t you love it when a library lesson echoes in the school hallways?


if you name it will it come?

One of the questions I have about diversity in literature is “who does it serve”?  I know the “mirrors, windows, doors” argument but sometimes I wonder how much my relatively, well probably actually absolutely privileged mainly expatriate international school students buy into it all.  Or for that matter any student of privilege.  My “Iqbal” or “Fatima” will never have seen the inside of a sweat shop carpet factory and there may even be the risk that their parents, family or friends do own one or know someone who does and that a cognitive dissonance arises as they know these people to be “nice” or even “good” in their understanding of that word.

As much as I read “Cry the beloved country” and “Triomf” or any other book of fiction or nonfiction or where the two entwined, it never struck me that this was my reality, my country, my people until I had left South Africa and taken a physical and emotional distance that allowed the intellectual and factual truth to sink in and shatter who I thought I’d been. Even now 25 years ago, I wonder at how little I wondered and how my questions were stifled. A chance remark in a conversation with an old friend of how her mother was involved with the Black Sash. She was my friend at the ages of the students I’m teaching now – up to the age of 13 when she relocated. I had no idea. Do they have any idea of the political consciousness or ideology of their parents?

At what point does having diverse literature fulfill more of a function that is the equivalent of having dolls and toys of colour and different ability?

Then I think about my collection of “third culture kids” – an identity that only really was named with the publishing of the book of the same name in 2010.  TCK is not yet a “genre” like LGBTQ, although books are emerging on booklists as “suitable” for this market. Many are “moving / relocation” repurposed books and the original source ones don’t look very professionally produced.

I wonder what the lag between naming a group and the creation of a literature to fit it is in years?  Perhaps someone has done a study on this.


Communicating across cultures: cultural identity issues and the role of the multicultural, multilingual school library within the school community

Dr. Helen Boelens

School Library Researcher and Consultant, The Netherlands

John M. Cherek Jr. MSc

Project Manager, Zorgboerderij “De Kweektuin”, Mijdrecht, The Netherlands

Dr. Anthony Tilke

Head of Library Services & TOK Teacher, United World College of South-East Asia (Dover Campus), Singapore

Nadine Bailey

United World College of South East Asia (East Campus), Singapore




The arrival of increasing numbers of refugees and immigrants has caused large increases in multicultural school populations.This interdisciplinary paper describes an ongoing study which began in 2012, discussing the role of the school library in multicultural, multilingual school communities and offering suggestions about how the school library could become a multicultural learning environment. It provides information to help school library staff to look closely at these issues and to provide help and useful suggestions to the entire school community.  The prime objective is to help the school community to safely and constructively deal with the dynamics of a multi-cultural society, using the school library as a base.   Safe facilitation requires “trained” leaders from the school community.  An e-learning program for school librarians is being adapted for this purpose.


Keywords: multi-culturalism, multi-lingualism, languages, cultural identity, global literacy.




At the IASL Conference 2012, a paper discussed the role of the school library in multicultural, multilingual school communities and offered suggestions about how the school library could become a  multicultural learning environment (Bloelens, van Dam and Tilke, 2012).  Since 2012, various factors have affected multicultural school populations in many different types of primary and secondary schools in countries throughout the world.



Limitation of this study


This paper seeks to understand how learning experiences of multicultural, multilingual students can be accommodated in the school library. Boelens and Tilke (2015) recently described relevant trends and ideas which posits the role of the library in multicultural/lingual school communities from different areas of study: education and pedagogy, library and information science, psychology, sociology and anthropology, and linguistics.


Educational trends


Some international organisations have indicated educational trends. UNESCO’s statement on global education provides a set of objectives for international education until the year 2030. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recommended that schools support both “the identifiable needs of today, and the uncertain demands of the future” (OECD, 2005); schools should provide an environment that will support and enhance the learning process, encourage innovation, foster positive human relationships – in short, be “a tool for learning”. The term “learning environment” suggests place and space: a school, a classroom, a library. However, in today’s interconnected and technology-driven world, a learning environment can be virtual, online, remote – it doesn’t have to be a physical place at all. Perhaps a better way to think of 21st century learning environments is as support systems that organize the conditions in which humans learn. How does this affect the school library?


Library and information Science trends


How do these changes in educational theories and expectations affect the school library? Commentators in North America have suggested that the library has now become part of the school learning commons (Canadian Library Association, 2014; Loertscher et al, 2011; Loertscher et al, 2008). Educuase (2011) considers that learning or information commons has evolved from a combination library and computer lab into a full-service learning, research, and project space. … In response to course assignments, which have taken a creative and often collaborative turn … learning commons provides areas for group meetings, tools to support creative efforts, and on-staff specialists to provide help as needed. The strength of the learning commons lies in the relationships it supports, whether these are student-to-student, student-to-faculty, student-to-staff, student-to-equipment, or student-to-information (p. 1)


Can the needs of multicultural/lingual learners be specifically supported in a Learning Commons environment? Osborne (2014, p. 7) states that “more and more schools … are committing to provide physical spaces that align with, promote and encourage, a more modern vision for learning” and asks “how might the library act as a ‘third place’ to provide unique, compelling and engaging experiences for staff, students and community that aren’t offered elsewhere?” (p. 8)


Furthermore, librarians are co-teachers within multicultural/lingual school communities (Medaille and Shannon, 2014); co-teachers are “two equally-qualified individuals who may or may not have the same area of expertise jointly delivering instruction to a group of students” (Curry School of Education, 2012).


Racial, Cultural and Ethnicity issues (Psychology, Sociology, and Anthropology)


Key factors are:

  • Students cannot start learning until they feel safe, seen and valued;
  • Learning is diminished and/or does not occur without addressing equity and diversity topics;
  • Equity and diversity topics are intertwined with academic achievement.


This paper will also discuss subjects such as “diversity” and “difference” in multicultural situations within the school community and how these matters affect the school library, not only in developed countries, but also those which are located in emerging and developing countries (Boelens and Tilke, 2015, p. 2). Students from diverse cultural backgrounds, who differ from mainstream students in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic status and primary language, are entering schools in growing numbers. The education which these students receive needs to address multicultural and intercultural issues. Intercultural education relates to culture, religion, cultural diversity and cultural heritage and respects the cultural identity of learners through the provision of culturally appropriate and responsive education, which focuses on key issues and interrelationships (UNESCO, 2006). It concerns the learning environment as a whole and impacts many different aspects of the educational processes, such as school life and decision making, teacher education and training, curricula, languages of instruction, teaching methods, student interactions and learning materials. (UNESCO, 2003a)


Language acquisition


Based on international research, practice and comment, Della Chiesa, Scott and Hinton (2012) identified strong connection between language and culture(s), looking for future benefits in human endeavour, partly as a result of recognizing that language acquisition and use does not develop in isolation from socio-cultural and indeed brain development.   International understanding is perceived as a desired social outcome of such interventions.


Features of language learning assist teachers of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Learners learn a language best when treated as individuals, experience authentic activities in communicationg in the target language and see teaching as relevant to their needs. Learning should be relevant to their needs and they benefit from seeing strong links between language and culture. They also benefit from having helpful feedback on their progress and where they can manage their own learning. (Vale, Scarino and McKay, 1991)



Background information

Demographic shifts, i.e. changes in the demolinguistic situation, have taken place. Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including immigrant and refugee children, are entering schools all over the world; changing demographics will alter both school practices and policies (Center for Public Education, 2012). Features of experiences for students in various countries include:

  • Culturally and linguistically diverse students in Australia typically come from a wide range of language, socio-economic, cultural and religious backgrounds. Up to one-fifth of such students are newly arrived in Australia and with a language background other than English; even if some students are born in Australia, they may enter the school system with little or no English language. (Department of Education of Western Australia, 2011). Australian schools may experience large populations of immigrant and/or refugee students (Ho, 2011).
  • The USA too has seen changing demographics in schools. Forty-seven percent of children younger than five belong to a racial or ethnic minority group, and “trends in immigration and birth rates indicate that soon there will be no majority racial or ethnic group in the United States” (Center for Public Education, 2012). Implications for such trends may include needs for qualified bilingual teachers, preschool programms, concerns over drop-out rates from mainstream education, and other resource issues in schools.
  • There were similar issues in Canada, where students did not have language skills in the main languages used for teaching and learning, though differences in educational performance reduced as students progressed through the school system (Statistics Canada, 2001).
  • The United Kingdom too experienced similar issues, where a focus on educating significant numbers of students who spoke English as an additional language (EAL) (British Council, 2014).
  • Looking at countries where English is not the main or major language of teaching and learning, the European Commission (2015) reported very similar issues for schools and for students, not least for asylum seekers.



Important identity issues in the context of the school community

This paper posits that the school library must be a safe space that welcomes all questions, perspectives and backgrounds. School libraries offer valuable resources (in both traditional and digital format), information, knowledge and insight. In a school context, a library space is one where students can explore their ideas and ask questions. Librarians provide specialised support within this domain and have a responsibility to support the growth of their students. Such healthy development of students can have a strong impact on self-esteem, academic performance and feelings of cohesion. In a multi-cultural school setting, issues of race, ethnicity and culture play a central role in the identity of the school and its students. Celebrating our differences is one way of acknowledging the diverse backgrounds of members of the school community, though such diversity can be overshadowed by a dominant culture and its narrative.


As professionals in education, it is our responsibility to develop competence in the areas that matter to our students, including our own understanding of race, culture and ethnicity, to ensure that young people receive targeted guidance and support they need in order to explore a healthy sense of self.




Central to identity formation is the “challenge of preserving one’s sense of personal continuity over time, of establishing a sense of sameness of oneself, despite the necessary changes that one must undergo in terms of redefining the self” (Harter, 1990). Adolescence is an important and formative period in life that influences many parts of identity development (sexual, racial, ethnic, gender, etc.). Identity development is a dynamic process that plays a central role in developing our relationship to the self, the other and our social environment. It is especially during adolescence that we play around with multiple identities, experiment with “the rules” and test the institutions around us. As a result of this process, parts of our identity are kept and nurtured, while others are briefly worn and discarded.


Much research about racial and ethnic identity development has focused on adolescent and college age individuals. (Helms (1990) in Phinney, 2007, p. 275) This makes sense because self-reflection is an important part of collecting data. It does not necessarily imply that younger children do not have the ability to reflect, but their process of reflection may be different. For example, younger children tend to describe themselves in a more simple, less sophisticated way, according to their perception of personality characteristics — “I am nice”/ “I like to make other people feel good”/ “I like to help people”. This is less about their relationship to things (toys, food) and more about their understanding of certain qualities (both good and bad). For example, “I am good at writing and bad at soccer”. This relates to ethnic identity development, when children become aware of good and bad qualities about their ethnic group. Understanding why society deems these certain qualities good or bad is perhaps one way to help prepare them for dealing with a multi-cultural environment with dominant ideas that are not their own. Ethnic identity has been studied largely with reference to one’s sense of belonging to an ethnic group, that is, a group defined by one’s cultural heritage, including values, traditions, and often language (Phinney 2007, p. 274). Finding interactive and “fun” ways to help children explore or even explain their understanding of these things is one role the school library can play; by facilitating access to information, librarians can guide students through relevant books, movies and other multimedia tools.

Adolescence is a developmental stage between childhood and adulthood when individuals experience biological, social and psychological change. According to psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (1968), ego identity versus role confusion. It is the psychosocial stage of personality development that adolescents encounter when faced with the question, “Who am I?”. A healthy resolution of this stage can lead to strong ego identity. Unhealthy resolution of this stage will contribute to role confusion. Role confusion challenges our ability to build connections and participate as members of society. Here, adolescents create and recreate meaning to provide themselves with a sense of connection. When a lack of connection exists, the ego struggles to build a foundation for fidelity, based on loyalty. If adolescents lack fidelity, they might encounter, in extreme cases, a future of social pathology, crime and prejudicial ideologies. These negative characteristics can manifest when the individual participates as an adult, for example, in religious, athletic, national, and military rites and ceremonies (Engler, 2014).

Racial, Cultural and Ethnic Identity


A healthy racial and ethnic identity can help youth establish a consistent view of themselves. Many aspects of adolescence are transient and changing. One day we love the color yellow and the next day it is the color red. Thus, by creating a permanent anchor from which to develop, we give our students a better chance at achieving positive outcomes; without these anchors, many young people may identify with a completely different culture which has nothing to do with “who they are”.



Identity issues and their importance in the school and the school library


The feeling of belonging is critical to every child’s well-being and helps him/her to fulfill his potential in many different areas of development: physical, social, emotional and cognitive (Welcoming Schools Childhood Education Program, 2015).


Cherek’s 2015 research is concerned with ways that students can develop a healthy racial and ethnic identity and improve their understanding and vocabulary around race and ethnicity, therefore contributing to increased cultural competence; this contributes to higher self-esteem and healthy development.  By using these essential skills, students have the opportunity to take ownership over their ideas and are encouraged to examine the world around them — at home, school, work and in the media – thus preparing them to thrive in multicultural environments.


Essentially, children who feel good about themselves may be more successful, not only at school but in different aspects of their lives (Tough, 2012). Identity is not something that individuals automatically have. Identity develops over time, beginning in childhood, through a process of “reflection and observation” (Erikson 1968, p. 22) Important questions to ask about a child’s learning environment is does he/she see other teachers, parents or students in the school who represent his/her own culture or heritage? Who do these children identify with? Who do they see as a reflection of themselves, e.g. public figures?


Using these factors, the school library becomes a safe “public” space where a healthy and proactive sense of diversity encourages deep and meaningful conversations with all members of the school community about stereotypes such as  discrimination and racism.



Involvement of the school library/ian in multicultural, multilingual education


Ultimately, the aim is that students, teachers and librarians are prepared to safely and constructively deal with the dynamics of a multi-cultural society. Safe facilitation requires “trained” leaders from the school community.


In larger schools with academic disciplinary silos, it may be difficult to create positive messages about mother tongue and cultural identity and pride across to members of the school community as a whole – school leaders, teachers, students and parents. The EAL (English as an Additional Language) teacher is most concerned about getting the students up to speed and may inadvertently give the wrong message. The teaching of the student’s (minority) language may not be part of the school language policy.


The Welcoming Schools Childhood Education Program (2015) suggests that children who are motivated and engaged in leaning are more committed to the school. By providing books, information and other resources, the library can “provide an important mirror for children to see themselves reflected in the world around them”. Here, library resources “also provide a window to the lives of others. … [and] students also find positive role models through literature”; benefits from such activities are best seen when coordinated in the school community. The library can provide a stable permanent base for the length of the student’s school career.

Research (Bedore and Peña, 2008) indicates that bilingualism can only be sustained if there is at least a 30% input in the less dominant language. If the less dominant language is not a language which is used and taught within the school community, then the library can provide access to relevant materials. This is an intellectual process of proving the benefit and a practical exercise of resource collection, curation, access, promotion and marketing. These can be very simple, such as the creation of displays of books about diversity, multiculturalism and multilingualism and about national days of the countries which are represented by children at the school, and reflecting their cultures.


In any event, the school library is a helpful environment where students can reflect on these issues. It can highlight resources, or profile individuals relevent to various ethnic groups. This can be achieved by exploring literature authored by indivudals from their ethnic own group or by reading about the history of their own ethnic group. Additionally, the library can give students the basic skills to find or locate this information.



Multicultural, multilingual school libraries


In 2012, Boelens, van Dam and Tilke focused on various aspects of multicultural and intercultural education, identifying a symbiotic relationship with school libraries. It reported on support needs for both children who were immigrants, i.e. those permanently moving from one country to another, as well as more geo-mobile children, known as Third Culture Kids or Global Nomads. Various relational features were identified: literacy, language, bilingual education, world languages.


Krashen and Bland (2014) have identified the need for second language learners to develop competencies in academic language acquisition. Before that, self-selected recreational reading habits were partly dependent on a varied, indeed wide, selection of reading matter. In itself, this reading matter did not provide access to academic language acquisition, but it prepared children to do so. This reading stamina also had an effective domain, in that it motivated students to become readers, and arguably gave them confidence.  For some children who use school libraries in multicultural education environments, the digital age was not wholly relevant, as ebook use was associated with affluence. For children whose socio-economic experience is that of poverty, libraries represent the only stable source of access to reading materials, especially in developing and emerging countries. The provision, promotion and use of such reading materials is a feature of the work of (school) libraries/ians in these countries. These libraries/ians support students and teach them to to navigate abundant sources of information. Such skills and aptitudes are commonly known as information literacy skills. Sometimes, the prevalence of information literacy skills is pervceived as being a main role of the school library/ian, however the teaching of these skills and the provision of reading materials need to be symbiotically linked.


Smallwood and Becnel (2012) identified various factors in successfully providing library services in multicultural settings – accessing and reaching the clientele; provision of appropriate materials; consideration of use of space; focusing services on linguistic and socio-economic needs; appropriate technology; professional development and awareness-raising amongst school librarians. Indeed, Welch (2011) promoted the idea of the library collection having an aim of influencing student behavior, in terms of increasing tolerance and sensitivity in a multicultural setting.


Whilst not substantially different from good practice elsewhere, the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO or IB) has identified good practice in library support for multilingual learning environments (International Baccalaureate, 2012). Schools that offer IB programmes comprise state or government schools, semi-independent, independent and international schools. When a school adopts IB programmes, it needs to also take ownership of IB philosophy, including a holistic approach to language and international-mindedness (Singh and Qu, 2013). There is, therefore, a symbiotic link between language and intercultural education approaches in schools which may (or should) experience  strong ESL (English as a Second Language) support (Carder, 2014), though the IB stance is that every teacher is a teacher of language (International Baccalaureate, 2011).


Therefore, the literature has identified a need to develop competencies in academic language proficiency and a resource/information role for (both public and school) libraries, especially for children, sometimes immigrants or refugees, who are affected by poverty. Therefore, libraries may be part of scaffolding strategies to support children who need language support, and which include resources and facilities (space). Thinking and planning for such library services and support needs to be holistic and wide-ranging (from facilities and plant to professional development), all based on an understanding of the needs and concerns of targeted client groups.



Focussing services on the needs of mutlicultural/ingual students


The librarian needs to establish the current and future users of the school and its library, and user demographics (i.e. how many students come from which minority or language group). Library collection and services should then be related to such information.


School libraries have roles related to literacy and reading, and teaching and learning of information literacy skills. To support this, resources – mainly physical – have been curated to serve a mainstream interpretation of students’ needs, often curricular, and in the dominant language (often English). This role could be broadened to meet the needs of the multicultural/lingual school community.


The library collection should contain books and information (in traditional and digital format) which reflect the diversity of the children in the school. The library exposes the entire school community to many different cultures and languages. This collection can help students to understand that while their families are unique, they share many common values, beliefs and traditions.


The collection should contain literature in the native language of students, and link to digital international children’s libraries and also digital libraries for children from relatively small indigenous groups. This could include online links to songs, poems and stories from many different cultures and in many different languages. It should also contain current information about student countries of origin. Parents could be asked to help the librarian with this task. (Smallwood and Becnel, 2012)


Using these guidelines, the school librarian can strengthen the collection, and then present this information in attractive ways to the entire school community, so that it becomes aware of the extent ot their library’s resources.


Librarians can provide an enabling portal function for immigrant, refugee and Third Culture Kids. They may be hesitant to assume this role, perhaps due to mono-lingual experience or lack of expertise in the creation of digital personal learning environments (PLEs) or personal learning networks (PLNs).


The librarian may consider applying principles of information ecology to the school library. This multi-disciplinary emerging field offers a framework within which to analyse the relationships between organisations, information technology and information objects in a context whereby the human, information technology and social information environment is in harmony (Candela et al., 2007; Wang et al., 2015).


Steinerová (2011) and Candela et al., (2007) looked at features of digital libraries and suggested that librarians examine where value integration can take place between the library service, technology, scholarship and culture, adding value through new services or contributions to learning, user experience, research productivity, teaching or presenting and preserving cultural heritage. Applying these ideas to the school environment, constituents of the eco-system include teachers, teacher librarians, students administration, parents and custodial staff (Perrault, 2007).  Elements of the system will co-exist but also compete and share, converge and diverge in a dynamic interactive, complex environment (García‐Marco, 2011). The role of the library is such that information ecology needs to be understood in order to support information-seeking behaviour and thereby discover zones of intervention and areas to leverage to optimise advance information-seeking, usage, creation and dissemination within that eco-system and beyond. In response, curriculum, content and subject delivery can be collaboratively reshaped and constructed according to changes in the environment or needs of students (O’Connell, 2014).


Different kinds of resources and adaptive technologies can optimally support students with special educational needs (Perrault, 2010, 2011; Perrault & Levesque, 2012). This type of thinking can be adapted to considering the needs of bi- and multi-lingual students who are part of the school’s information ecology, but have linguistic and cultural learning and informational needs.  These can be seen as a potential zone of intervention for collaboration between the teacher, teacher librarian (TL), family and community.


Literature intended for school librarians generally discusses cultural diversity in materials and the building of a world literature collection in response to student diversity or as part of language and humanities curricula (Garrison, Forest, & Kimmel, 2014). Some schools build a “Languages other than English” (LOTE) collection.  To do so, schools may try to recruit bilingual or minority TLs or ask for help from parents; schools can also provide training in competencies in multicultural education (Colbert-Lewis & Colbert-Lewis, 2013; Everhart, Mardis, & Johnston, 2010; Mestre, 2009).


The main educational and social issues within schools are to ensure students acquire the official language of instruction so that they can adapt to the new learning environment without loss of educational momentum, while maintaining and developing their mother tongue (Kim and Mizuishi, 2014). Carder (2007) and Cummins (2001; 2003) suggest that even though there is evidence that supports the maintenance of mother tongue (the most effective way of supporting such students), schools place most effort and resources on the official language of instruction of the school. Evidence now presented above suggests that by doing so, children may lose some of their own healthy cultural and ethnic identity.


School librarians may be aware of geographically dispersed personal learning networks (PLNs) in order to create a personal learning environment (PLE) using various technological tools (McElvaney & Berge, 2009; O’Connell, 2014), and could assist different individuals throughout the school community to make use of a PLE. For instance, the International Baccalaureate (IB) allows students the option of guided mother tongue self-study if the school does not teach that specific language. Figure 1 below describes a PLE of an IB self-taught language student.



 PLN language
Figure 1: PLE of an IB self-taught language student


A training program about multicultural/lingual issues for the school community


In 2015, Boelens and Cherek examined the possibility of creating a personal development training program for the entire school community, facilitated by the school library. This is an attempt to help teachers, school leaders, librarians and parents to better understand problems being confronted by the multicultural/lingual school community, especially immigrants and refugees. This program would be made available through the school’s electronic learning environment.


The first part is a 24-minute video that provides an open conversation about race and ethnicity between professionals and young people. Here, participants listen to different perspectives about race and ethnicity, and appreciate why these topics are important to both caregivers (teachers, social workers, child welfare professionals) and young people. Finally, with the help of a study guide, participants explore the possibility of integrating racial and ethnic identity development into daily practice.


The second part is an eLearning course that provides participants with necessary tools to develop a deeper understanding of issues related to racism and discrimination. The content is specifically designed so that professionals (adults, educators, caretakers) develop a vocabulary for discussing race and ethnicity with others who are interested in and concerned about these subjects. A constructive vocabulary is an essential tool when discussing identity development, as it enables participants to safely address issues of racism and discrimination. Finally, participants can further integrate this deepened knowledge into daily practice. This is an important part of the training because it prepares participants for a facilitated in-person learning event.


The third and final part of the curriculum is a two day in-person learning event. In this face-to-face meeting, trained facilitators guide participants as they begin to incorporate their new skills into daily practice. The most effective and powerful events occur when both young people and professionals are present. The training is highly interactive and challenging. Participants are encouraged to openly discuss the impact of stereotypes and the social influences that affect their own racial and ethnic identity.


A similar training program is by The Welcoming Schools Childhood Education Program (2015), which provides a starter kit for a personal development training programme for members of the school community, relating to equity, school climate and academic achievement.


Tapping into the experiences and communities of practise (COP) of distance education, massive open online courses (MOOCs), school librarians could be trained to facilitate this training program through PLNs and PLEs, Training programs would be available at any time and in any geographic location providing internet access is available. Initially, a pilot program would be tested with one language group, and could later be extended to other groups.


This training program will help to establish a multicultural/lingual school community based not only on academic achievement but also on a healthy climate with regard tp racial, cultural and ethnicity issues. It will also contribute to a school´s goals of equity in teaching and will require the support and involvement of the entire school community. Since library staff will be facilitating this program, their reputation will be enhanced, and be perceived as integral members of the school community.




This paper has discussed a developing role for the school library in the multicultural/lingual school community in 2015. It promotes a training program for the entire school community which will be facilitated by the librarian. Because of their involvement in the school´s learning commons, the librarian is already involved in interdisciplinary activites related to the multicultural/lingual nature of the entire school.


While all aspects of identity development are valuable, one area that is often ignored, especially when talking about young people who are detached from their culture, is racial and ethnic identity. Along with ever-changing realities of society, demographics and politics, the impact of race and ethnicity have never been more important.


With an increasing number of migrant and immigrant students, the acute reality of living in multiple worlds becomes more apparent. Social norms and values become entangled. Home life, school life and street life compete for attention. Without proper guidance and support, alienation that occurs when individuals feel split between dissonant forces results in a confused sense of “Who am I?”. Addressing these issues in an educational setting means that we as educators have the power to create “safe spaces” for our captive student audience. Thus, students can be prepared to effectively deal with the realities of a multi-cultural society while at the same time developing a healthy sense of racial and ethnic identity.


As a result of the proposed training program, students at the school will learn more about `who they are`, especially those who come from an immigrant or refugee background. With the support of the entire school staff, they will some to terms with their own cultural identity and ethnicity in their new school and in their new place of residence, and have positive feelings, with an expected corrolorry that their academic achievement will increase.





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Biographical notes

Helen Boelens (PhD) was awarded a Ph.D. degree by Middlesex University, School of Arts and Education in 2010. She now focuses her work on the development of and assistance to hundreds of thousands of school libraries in developing countries. She is the former co-ordinator of the Research SIG of the IASL (International Association of School Librarianship). She is also one of the founders of the ENSIL Foundation (Stitching ENSIL).

John Martin Cherek Jr. (MSc) received a Master’s in Political Science from the University of Amsterdam in 2009. His thesis examined the post-reintegration needs of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Before moving to Amsterdam to study at the UvA, John worked Casey Family Programs. As the largest operating foundation the U.S.A dedicated to improving outcomes for children in foster care, John developed programs related to life skills education, identity development and child welfare policy. Originally from the United States, John holds a degree in Psychology from Seattle University (2004). He works primarily with vulnerable populations and specializes in education, mental health and youth & child development.

Anthony TIlke (PhD) has spent nearly 20 years in the international school sector, in Asia and Europe. His doctoral thesis (from Charles Sturt University, Australia) focused on the impact of an international school library on the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, and which subsequently fed into his book about the Diploma and the school library/ian. A common feature of his work is supporting mother tongue programmes in schools, and he has contributed to an IB document “An IB educator’s story about the role of librarians in multilingual learning communities”.

Nadine Bailey (MPhil, MBA, MIS) has lived and worked internationally for 20 years, in Africa, South America, Europe and Asia. Her area of interest lies in language and identity particularly related to students educated in a third culture environment. In an increasingly digitised educational environment she argues that librarians play an important curation and leadership role in guiding and enabling students to create personal learning networks in and for their mother tongue language. In that way libraries are both a safe physical and virtual space.


INF536: Assessment 4 – Part A: Applying spatial changes and design thinking to middle school reading– a three phase collaborative approach


There is a long history of research into the value of and elements contributing to the success of classroom libraries. They have an important role in ensuring accessibility of written works to promote fluency and skill in literacy and thereby contributing to academic achievement. But the literature appears to concentrate on elementary schools (Hopenwasser & Noel, 2014; James, 1923; Jones, 2006; Krarup, 1955; Powell, 1966; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010; Todd, Gordon, & Lu, 2011; Worthy, 1996). Although partnership and collaboration with the school and/or public library and librarian is recommended, the literature often deals with the two spaces in isolation. Further, the problem of aliteracy in middle school – whereby students can read but don’t want to – is well documented (Kelley & Decker, 2009; Krashen, 2004; Lesesne, 1991; Sheldon & Davis, 2015; Worthy, 1996). This case report will show how the two environments library and classroom, can successfully be seen as extensions of each other through the principles of design and design thinking and explicit cooperation between the language humanities (Eng/Hum) teachers, literacy coach and school librarian in order to promote voluntary reading.

Case development

United World College South East Asia East (UWCSEA-East) is a K-12 international school located in Singapore. It commenced operations in 2008 and took occupancy of a purpose built campus in 2011. In this campus, the secondary school library initially served around 500 middle school students – see table 1. It now caters to three distinct communities, middle school, high school and the International Baccalaureate (IB) – see Table 2.

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Despite consultation with the librarian in the planning phase, certain spaces of the library were designated different functions than agreed upon and furnished accordingly by the architect and building manager. One such area was upstairs overlooking the main school plaza with purpose built magazine racks. The idea was it would be a well-frequented showcase area for magazine reading. In reality a number of factors prevented this from being realised:

  • The furniture design didn’t accommodate its purpose as it was not deep or high enough and the storage area didn’t fit back copies
  • The zoning of the library post occupancy meant that materials affording quick casual reading such as graphic novels and periodicals were better located in the “noisier” and fast turnover area which allowed food and beverages, i.e. downstairs.
  • The trend in libraries is to move away from physical magazines and periodicals towards online providers including online databases and aggregators such as PressReader that provide the same product at a lower cost and without delays and issues with cataloguing and maintenance.


The question of what to do with the space was resolved by noticing that as the secondary school reached post occupancy capacity the lowest students in the pecking order i.e. middle school students were increasingly marginalised with students of higher sections taking over the prime library real estate (students are visually distinct due to different coloured polo shirts for their uniforms). In addition, middle school students no longer had library visits planned into their schedule. Furthermore, the large influx of new students and teachers meant that reading books in the classrooms were unevenly distributed both in terms of volume and quality without any structured form of classroom library, which the students had become accustomed to in the primary section. Finally, Eng/Hum teachers were noticing a decline in voluntary reading as students moved up through middle school.


These issues were addressed initially through collaboration between the librarian and Eng/Hum teachers and more recently by the new literacy coach over a period of three years as follows:

  • The conversion of the magazine area into a middle school reading zone
  • The establishing of a core library for each of the three middle school grades (Day, 2013b)
  • The creation of middle school classroom libraries in a formal and structured manner with materials integrated into the library catalogue (Day, 2015d)
  • The integration of informational / nonfiction texts into both areas

This is an on-going process and worth a critical analysis to examine the choice process, latent or existing attitudes and assumptions, exterior pressures and design constraints and collaboration and communication.

Critical analysis

Choice of process

The spatial change in the library was conceived and led by the teacher-librarian (TL) with the Eng/Hum teachers joining in the collaboration as the process evolved. Since the TL has experience in design thinking (Day, 2013a, 2015a, 2015c) the process followed the design thinking cycle of inspiration, ideation, iteration and getting to scale (Brown, 2008; IDEO, 2014).


This was achieved by:

  • Agreeing on a “core library” of 30 titles per grade for grades 6-8 which were prominently displayed
  • Adjusting shelving to accommodate front facing books
  • Relocating books of interest to this age group from the fiction collection
  • Using large posters to highlight the favourite books of middle school teachers in the library and class corridors and classroom walls
  • Ensuring multiple copies of books, by using class and literary circle sets
  • Adequate lighting, comfortable furniture and the creation of a private space


The above steps and final spatial design incorporated the elements that are recommended as enhancing school library spaces (Cha & Kim, 2015; Elliott-Burns, 2003; La Marca, 2008; A. McDonald, 2006; Serafini, 2011).


The design elements that contribute to successful classroom libraries are not dissimilar and include:

  • Sufficient space which is a focal area but partitioned and private
  • Comfortable furniture
  • Variety of material in range of complexity including different literary genres and informational texts
  • Category organisation and shelf labelling
  • Combination shelving allowing for quantity of books and display (front facing)
  • Advertising by means of posters and notices on whiteboards
  • Graphic organisation either thematic or by connections
  • Involvement of students in selection, organisation and maintenance (Fractor, Woodruff, Martinez, & Teale, 1993; Hopenwasser & Noel, 2014; Reutzel & Fawson, 2002, cited in Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010)

Discussion and research on the elements predominantly come from the elementary school environment, and the adoption to middle school requires some adjustments to account for the fact that students do not remain in one classroom, lessening the sense of ownership of a space on the part of students, and teachers needing to cater to multiple classes with different profiles and interests. Learning spaces are also typically smaller relative to the size of the students.


The creation of the library and classroom reading spaces and populating them with books is “necessary but not sufficient” (McGill-franzen, Allington, Yokoi, & Brooks, 1999). Other components of encouraging reading include training teachers to enhance their instructional routines to incorporate the material, and to ensure that teachers are familiar not only with their literary canon, but also the latest in good young adult fiction (Day, 2015b; McGill-franzen et al., 1999). The school has invested in training with Penny Kittle to assist in the instructional routines (Raisdana, 2015), while the librarian is working with the teachers on the latter.

Latent or existing attitudes and assumptions

An international school is blessed with diversity in cultures, languages and backgrounds both of their students and teachers. This results in a context of people coming from different systems with different attitudes, assumptions, beliefs and experiences around education, reading and libraries. In just the middle school, teachers come from Australia, United States, Philippines, Ireland, Canada and the United Kingdom, each with their own literary core. In addition, there are personal preferences and beliefs, for example around young adult literature (see Raisdana, 2014). Teachers may not be used to or have experience of collaboration with the TL, the benefits thereof, nor aware of the ways in which libraries have evolved (Gibbs, 2003; Montiel-Overall, 2006, 2008; Sullivan-Macdonald, 2015). And naturally there are assumptions around what constitutes an ideal learning or reading space and the balance between the two (Elliott-Burns, 2005). In a meta-review of access to print and educational outcomes, Lindsay (2010) concluded that limiting choices with a larger distribution interval led to more reading, particularly if it was accompanied by activities such as training and book talks. This is in contrast to the assumption that collections should be as large as possible. It also suggests that rotation of materials leads to better outcomes.

Exterior pressures and design constraints

The creation of the complementary spaces faced a number of constraints, design and otherwise. These included a small budget, limited time and variability in the reading level of students. In design thinking the presence of constraints is seen as a positive force that encourages creative solutions and exploring options that would not otherwise be considered, and this proved to be true in this case study (Brown & Katz, 2011; Hill, 1998; Ness, 2011).


Naturally budget was an important constraint that shaped the way in which the space was converted and books and furniture was acquired or moved and repurposed. As discussed earlier, the librarian was involved in the “fuzzy front end” (Sanders & Stappers, 2008, p. 6), of the secondary library design and once the space was completed it was not possible to change the space, only to adapt its purpose. In the classrooms the availability of furniture in the room to hold the books and the available space for the classroom library vis-à-vis other learning spaces determined how many books could effectively by stored and displayed. In this respect creative design thinking was deployed, for example by taking the doors off built-in cupboard space both in the classrooms and in the library, creating additional shelving. Comfortable furniture was either acquired by donations from the community or purchased to ensure equity between the classrooms.


Although the library and classes each have a budget for the acquisition of books, both wanted to ensure that existing resources were not wasted – for example the books already owned in multiple copies. However their repurposing had to be examined within the constraints of the reading level of the students and the curriculum themes for each grade.

Collaboration and communication

Collaboration and communication between the TL and teachers has received a lot of attention as has the ways in which spatial design and design thinking can enhance collaboration (Avallon & Schneider, 2013; Ferer, 2012; Gibbs, 2003; Knapp, 2014; Montiel-Overall, 2006; Williamson, Archibald, & McGregor, 2010). Enhancing collaboration between the TL and the Eng/Hum department has occurred on a number of fronts, both physical and virtual – such as book chat mornings to book talk new books, encouraging teachers and students to be involved with the selection of books for the Red Dot Awards (ISLN, 2015), processing and cataloguing the books, and the creation of a virtual space for the books (Day, 2015b).


Given time constraints and curriculum pressures, additional moments for collaboration and communication have had to be designed into the process. For example teachers can book the reading zone space to conduct lessons, and invite the TL to book talk new or noteworthy books. In addition the library receives supervision assistance from teachers during lunch, recess times and after school. The Eng/Hum teachers have first priority in requesting this duty, creating the opportunity for the important “casual conversations” that result in informal learning and information exchange (Oblinger, 2006; Somerville & Brown-Sica, 2011).


The process can neither be criticized for its efficacy nor results. Teachers, students and the librarian have largely viewed the change positively. Due to making small iterative changes to the spaces, starting with a small budget and a limited number of books in the first year, and subsequently adapting the choice of books, the selection and weeding process based on experience and feedback, the combined library / class library spaces appear to have grown organically despite a lot of “behind the scenes” work on book processing, cataloguing and making books classroom / shelf ready.

There are five main recommendations arising from the analysis of this case study, all which can be tackled through employing design thinking rather than further changes to the current spatial design:

  • Balance the contradictory forces of novelty and familiarity through how books are selected, displayed and rotated
  • Focus efforts on the most efficacious element of encouraging reading – book talks
  • Expand the space to include the home environment, particularly in the case of bilingual students
  • Increase involvement of students in the spatial design and change process
  • Quantify the benefits of this spatial / design thinking collaboration through evidence based research.

These will be elaborated in the next section.


Balance novelty and familiarity

Students like and respond to novelty in display and a constant supply of “new” titles, they would also possibly benefit from choice limitation (Iyengar, 2011). This can be achieved by a rotation of titles between spine and front facing, and through a rotation between the books in the various classes (Lindsay, 2010). At present the core and class libraries are refreshed annually and the class libraries are not rotated between classes or teachers. It is recommended this be considered to prevent staleness. The class library placement of books in bins rather than shelves with a mixture of front and spine facing, allowing changes is display is not best practise, nor is having all books available simultaneously (Fractor et al., 1993; Lindsay, 2010; Sanacore, 2000; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010).

Book talks

The importance of teachers’, librarians’, students’ and the community’s increasing exposure of diverse books in all genres by book talking can’t be overstated (Bentheim, 2013; Gallo, 2001; L. McDonald, 2013; Serafini, 2011). But, as examined in the analysis, a number of barriers stand in the way of regular book talks. In addition, requiring reading related tasks from students runs the risk of resulting in unfavourable associations with reading and further reluctance (Eriksson, 2002; Gallo, 2001; Miller, 2009).


Many practioners have described how digital innovation and the creation of virtual spaces can enhance and augment traditional book talks as well as expand transliteracy skills of students (Dreon, Kerper, & Landis, 2011; Gogan & Marcus, 2013; Gunter & Kenny, 2008; Ragan, 2012). It is recommended that students be given ownership of exploring the potentials of the digital realm in this respect as a guided design thinking exercise.

Mother tongue material and the home environment

Access to mother tongue materials continues to be a weakness in the library and even more so in the classroom library. There are logistical and financial constraints including the wide spread of languages, the undervaluation of low status languages, and misinformation and misunderstanding on the value of reading in the mother tongue amongst students and parents (Bailey, 2014a, 2014b, 2015; Boelens, Cherek, Tilke, & Bailey, 2015). This is an area that would benefit greatly from increased collaboration between the college and parent body where previously “unknowable” resources could be tapped into through utilizing the analytical and process skills of design thinking (IDEO, 2014; Landis, Umolu, & Mancha, 2010; McIntosh, 2015).

Student involvement

While literature indicates collaboration by all stakeholders is essential for acceptance, particularly in learning environments (Hamilton, 2013; Jones, 2006; Sanders & Stappers, 2008), this has largely been a librarian / teacher initiative with some student involvement in book selection. Moving forward, the virtual or digital sphere is an area where students can also be encouraged to carve out a presence and take ownership with teachers taking on an enabler role as use of all seven learning spaces are maximised (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; McIntosh, 2010; Thornburg, 2007; Wilson & Randall, 2012).

Quantify the benefits

Despite numerous hurdles in providing data and making analysis founded on circulation figures or student attainment records, there is considerable value in documenting and providing evidence for practises – not the least that it supports budget requests.


Circulation records do not provide a complete record or necessarily correlate with reading because:

  • Books may be read in library / class without being checked out
  • In affluent multi-cultural communities, students may have access to large personal libraries, including books in their mother tongue
  • Students may be borrowing books from the public library

Despite this, circulation is still the best proxy for reading. The decentralised nature of the class libraries results in less control over book checkout. Even in the library, that has no exit barriers, at the end of 2014/5 academic year roughly 20% of returned books had not been checked out of the system. While this can be lauded as an indication of the high moral and ethical standards of the students, it does pose difficulties in creating any evidence based data on the actual impact of either separating part of the library or decentralising the collection to class libraries in terms of increases in circulation.


It is recommended that both current and longitudinal research be carried out to see if there is any correlation between increased access to text, the amount of reading / circulation and other objective measures of attainment such as the annual PISA or TIMS tests. This will take the initiative beyond transformative individual anecdotal stories to evidence based research. The CLEP (Classroom Literacy Environmental Profile) (McGill-franzen et al., 1999; Wolfersberger, Reutzel, Sudweeks, & Fawson, 2004) and more recently the TEX-IN3 (Hoffman, Sailors, Duffy, & Beretvas, 2004) tools have successfully been used in the evaluation of elementary school class libraries and could be adapted for the middle school environment.


The recent inclusion of informational (nonfiction) texts in both the middle school zone and the classroom libraries is also one worth further investigation. Whether the expansion of the collections has impacted on the space, the ability to choose, and the completion of summative assessments in the individual subjects can be investigated in the light of the existing literature on the matter (Hopenwasser & Noel, 2014; Ness, 2011; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2010; Young & Moss, 2006; Young, Moss, & Cornwell, 2007).


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Are we there yet? No … and this is why – an appeal to database owners and academic libraries

I’m about to write another assignment.  This must be about my 40th serious assignment of over 1,500 words requiring academic research, looking for good peer-reviewed studies, reading through 1,000’s of pages to try and distill exactly what is being said, whether it is of relevance (directly or tangentially), and once I’m finished that to pause and think and think and think and try to come up with some new insights, some different ways of applying the theory, some critiques that go beyond the obvious.

As I’ve written before, (unfair advantage, / how I used to write) the true work isn’t in the procuring of the articles, it’s in discerning their relevance, it’s in rejection rather than reading.

So why am I, Anno Domino / Common Era  2015 STILL spending so much time on the library database doing silly work. Honestly, those who lead academic libraries and who run academic databases please tell me why this isn’t easier, faster, more streamlined?  Is it me? Am I doing something fundamentally wrong?

Yes I know how far we’ve come and how much easier this is than 10-15-20 years ago. Yes I also studied in the days of micro-fiche where you didn’t even bother finding articles because it just went into the box of “too hard”.  But we do have the tools now and we have progressed further so there should be no excuse as to why the “stupid” work is taking up so much of my time.

Right now I’m looking for good literature on “Classroom Libraries” as opposed to “libraries” in the use of space and resources.  I put in a federated search. At the same time, I search Google Scholar.  I open tabs of dozens of potential articles, reject many, decide to proceed with some.

As you all know by now I’m a huge fan of Evernote.  I put my entire life, but particularly my academic life into Evernote.  And as I stuff it full of articles, I also at the same time put the citations straight into Zotero, (my citation manager of choice – yes I know there are other new ones like RefMe that everyone is raving about, but Zotero has served me well and they’re very responsive to comments and suggestions).  But WHY oh WHY is it still such a pain to get an article in a PDF format, a citation into a RIS format and both tucked up securely into the bedding of choice?

Time for some pictures … follow the captions for what I’m trying to say

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Primo Search – CSU Libraries



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Google Scholar (with the addition of the CSU library link)

Google Scholar (with the addition of the CSU library link) makes things much easier – I confess I’d rather click on a dubious link than the library link because it will take me straight to the article / pdf. It does make citation a bit more of a pain without the citation tools, but at least I can accept or discard it more quickly. On the other hand – there are way too few limiters for Google Scholar … as a distance learner, I don’t usually want books that I cannot access or where no eBook is available

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.20.34 amThe open tabs in my browser once I get searching for articles … and that’s on a slow day

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delivery.ris? out? blah blah, how about downloading me some meaningful names?

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When I click on an article, if I’m lucky I get something nice and neat and tidy like this

But it’s only after a year or so of using databases that I built up experience in knowing which would get me the article most efficiently and with the least number of clicks and doubts

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.20.03 am

If I’m not so lucky I get this –

Did you see all those tabs open on my browser – I don’t even have any idea what on earth is article was, so I just stab for my favourite database and hope for the best. If it goes wrong and I need to do an advanced search … expletive time

 Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.20.52 am

So I ask you nicely for the pdf. But then it just opens in a new browser window and I STILL have to click “print” and then “print to pdf” and then if I’m lucky it will retain the title or author as file name, and if not it will be “out/pdf” or “23489038” or “gobblydy gook got you there” or even worse “something.html”.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.22.07 am

The extra steps in getting a pdf onto your desktop and then into Evernote, don’t press “SAVE” because then you get an HTML file which is pretty useless!

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.20.59 am

Such a short life, so many choices. And so many of them don’t actually provide what you think’s on offer. Cite? Sounds good – no that just means you copy and paste the citation into your document. Which makes it “dumb” data – You actually need “export” and then you need to click through a couple of times until you get the RIS file in your downloads

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 11.21.08 am

Riddle me, Riddle me Rhy,
which of these options should I try?

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Zotero – Yes I do want to import, otherwise I wouldn’t have clicked on the RIS file in the first place – why make a one click step into a 2 click process. (But don’t fret too much you’re not the worst of the redundant click club)

Files waiting for transfer

Files waiting for transfer

Phew … A subselection of files, tabbed and colour-coded waiting to be put into the correct notebook in Evernote.

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 12.28.01 pm Just drag and drop and then the real work starts – roughly an hour or so for 10-15 articles and their citations … if you don’t get sidetracked by writing a blog post on the whole process!

NOW … If I ran the circus …

Let’s be completely impractical and totally utopian. See the top photo in the top left column?  I’d add two buttons to each entry:

* One click *.pdf download (with tagging allowed)
* One click *.ris download

because you see, as long as I can get the article, I don’t give a &*^*&^ (insert expletive of choice) which database it comes from. Just give the me the pdf.  With a sensible name like the title. And believe me, I don’t have the time or patiences or hard-drive to keep articles that are of no use for me, so I read the abstract and  delete.

Another circus I’d like to run – those learning modules.  I’ve been around the block a bit, and I’ve seen inside libraries.  A certain academic library that shall not be named in a town that shall not be named has a whole department dedicated to copying articles for coursework for their students who then get a bundle. Hard copies. Trees dying.

At CSU we judiciously just add links to the articles in primo, which the student then has to click on and go through the whole rigamarole highlighted above. Oh for heaven sake, just stop the pretence and put the articles into subject reserve in pdf form.  Who are we kidding that this is meaningful work or adding to knowledge? And then the links that don’t work, and instead of everyone going off and sleuthing how to find the article and thereby actually learning something, there is just a host of complaints on the boards that the article isn’t there.  Finding coursework articles that have been pre-selected by a lecturer does not a good student make. And we’re foolish to pretend it is so.  The success is in the seeking out of related material from other fields and dimensions that may not be thought of, in finding links and relationships, and then seeking those articles and selection and casting aside and applying that to the task at hand or real life that is the mark of the better student.

So now I’ll get back to the boring work.  And just as an aside mention – the databases that do it half ok?  ScienceDirect I always like – clean and easy and good with recommendations on related articles.  Proquest isn’t bad, and I like their little sidebar extras like seeing how many articles in which years / decades so you can see the rise and fall of fads.  EBSCO and JSTOR you’re ugly and clunky and too-many clicky and I avoid you as much as possible.

And here’s an open invitation – if all this is my own  stupid fault because I have nary a clue what I’m doing, please comment and tell me so and let all of us know a better way.