Libraries as 21st Century Learning Environments

Are you familiar with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills? Also known as P21, it’s an organization that advocates for ’21st century readiness,’ and has developed a framework of skills for 21st century learning (see image). The majority of school and academic libraries are currently highly-involved in the information, media and technology skills elements of the framework. But, if you take a closer look at the bottom of the graph, you’ll see learning environments as a 21st century support system, and learning environments encompass the entire framework!

So, what does this mean for the library as a 21st century learning environment? Here are my thoughts based on the P21 framework:

Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes. Libraries have always supported the core subjects. However, P21 believes the following set of 21st century interdisciplinary themes should be woven into the core subjects: global awareness; financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy; civic literacy; health literacy; and environmental literacy. I see a pattern of literacy here, and believe the library plays a major role in supporting these literacies through resources, programming and partnerships with multiple academic programs. That means venturing beyond the English department.

Learning and Innovation Skills. These are the 4C’s – critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. I believe the library should serve as a model for these skills, and integrate them into the mission statement. This is really the underlying definition of a learning commons. Spaces should be available for students to communicate and collaborate. Likewise, library staff should be encouraged to communicate and collaborate (and get creative too). And these skills should be integrated not only into library instruction, but librarians should also be encouraging faculty to adopt innovative research assignments to promote these skills (e.g. digital storytelling, wikis). This is why we need more blended librarians!

Information, Media, and Technology Skills. I think most libraries are doing a pretty good job promoting information literacy. What about media and technology skills? Media literacy is very closely related to information literacy. I also think it’s a great way to provide IL instruction beyond the traditional research skills approach. Media literacy cuts across the curriculum and is not necessarily associated with research, but with evaluation and critical thinking skills. It’s also the skill needed to create media (e.g. blogs, wikis), which provides another opportunity for encouraging faculty to adopt alternative forms of research assignments. Technology literacy is fundamental to both information and media literacy. It’s important to realize that ‘digital natives’ are not necessarily technologically literate. Make no assumptions!

Life and Career Skills. Most campuses have career and counseling services, but if a library is to adopt P21, these particular skills should be supported through resources, partnerships with the counseling and career centers (are they aware of what resources the library has?), and IL instruction. I think it’s especially important to help students understand that the information, media and technology skills you are trying to teach them are vital skills for the workplace. Partnering with classroom faculty to design research assignments that are meaningful in the ‘real world’ is one way to do this. Another reason to become a blended librarian!

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