Cape Elizabeth school library now a 'learning commons'

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Cape Elizabeth Middle School library has been redeveloped and transformed from a traditional, quiet library into a modern “learning commons.”

Library staff spoke with the School Board Jan. 13 to present the progress that has been made with the updated library system, especially at the middle school. Renovations to the middle school library were funded by a $28,000 grant from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation.

Amanda Kozaka, the middle school library and instructional technology specialist, said the idea of creating a learning commons came about after asking questions about how libraries can be relevant in the 21st century.

“How do we value libraries?” she said. “How do we show our worth?”

Kozaka said when library staff made a presentation to the board last year, “we relied on one way of showing our value in a traditional sense.” Jonathan Werner, a library and instructional technology specialist who works at both the middle school and high school, said they have since learned to “rethink literacy, rethink tech integration.”

The learning commons still has a large number of books, but now focuses on technology, too. The space isn’t as quiet as a typical library, but instead encourages group work and collaboration. In addition to using computers for research, students are also able to work on audio and visual projects and presentations.

“Instead of the library being fundamentally a place where we store books, it is fundamentally a place where students go to learn,” Kozaka said.

She said this creates a much different atmosphere than seen in a traditional library.

“It’s very active, very vibrant,” Kozaka said. “It’s not a quiet space.”

Kozaka said some students are still getting used to not having to be quiet in a library. She said students are learning what “the change in the space means for a change in our behavior expectations.”

Kozaka said the change ultimately benefits everyone involved in the learning process.

“It’s a very active learning space and that is what we know the students and the teachers need,” Kozaka said. 

Another aspect of integrating books and technology is that the learning commons lets students check out electronic books using their school iPads. Werner said he and other library staff recently attended a conference in Boston, where they learned about the value of using iPads in a library setting.

Werner said learning new ways to use technology in libraries has helped to shape the learning commons and bring the school up to speed with other libraries in the country.

“As we begin to develop the story of the learning commons, it’s been really exciting to get all the national, and now international, feedback about how our work is mirroring work elsewhere in the country and how it really is dovetailing with rethinking the role of a library,” he said. 

Kozaka agreed, and said the creation of the learning commons shows how far libraries have come and how they need to evolve as times change.

“It’s really an amazing transition and it really speaks to this change in the field of library work,” she said. “Our role (as librarians) is no longer someone who delivers a book or inspires a love of reading. Those are fundamentally still very important parts of our job, but instead we’ve created this space where students can … authentically learn through authentic experiences.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

Cape Elizabeth Middle School librarian Amanda Kozaka, center, works with sixth-grade students Laura Ryer, left, and Charlotte Graham in the recently transformed school learning commons.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.