The ABC of Education: Why Libraries Matter

  • by Maggie Jacobs

    As I recruit a team of educators for The New York Public Library’s rapidly expanding Education Department, I consistently hear from candidates about how formative the public library was in their childhoods. Most of us remember after-school and weekend trips to the library to check out books, and the great feeling of hanging out in a space devoted to the quiet pursuit of reading and lifelong learning.

    Today’s libraries, however, are more than just a space to read. They are undergoing a metamorphosis in their support of literacy and education across all stages of life, and should be added to the ingredients of educational success that NBC News Education Nation has identified during its fourth annual summit, which convenes world thought leaders and experts to discuss issues of education.

    Here are but a few of the ways that NYPL can further contribute to the success of our children and their teachers:

    Common Core Resource Support—The Common Core State Standards require teachers to integrate non-fiction materials across subject areas. NYPL has one of the world’s richest repositories of non-fiction books and literature, primary source documents, maps, prints, photographs, videos, databases, etc., and the curatorial expertise to match. We can bring history, literature, math, and science to life with authentic and engaging materials. Through ourMyLibraryNYC program, we are supplementing the resources of City schools through the provision of library cards and on-site book delivery, including Common Core-aligned teacher sets. We are also building a community of education professionals creating best practices for Common Core teaching. Finally, we are planning to link our resources to popular curricula, publish resource lists, and improve the discoverability of our resources online.

    Informational Literacy Support—The Common Core standards emphasize higher order thinking skills, many of which involve identifying, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating different sources of information. This is what libraries do for a living, and since information is increasingly disseminated through technology, we have much to contribute through media and other technology spaces, in-house workshops, facilitation of educational software and database use, the provision of our own online resources, etc.

    After-School Support—There is a growing national recognition of the significance of after-school hours for educational enrichment. NYPL has launched a free series of structuredafter-school programs across our three boroughs. Our programs provide one-on-one tutoring and related skill-building through educational software, technology workshops that hone informational literacy, college prep, and paid internships for high school students who coach early elementary students in reading. Our programs have rigorous curricula, but engage students in hands-on learning that looks and feels different from the school day. For those who want a less structured commitment, we also provide multi-session workshop series in science, technology, creative writing, and other popular pastimes.

    The merging of our branch circulation and programming with our research functions through the 42nd Street renovation symbolizes the breakdown of a false dichotomy between researchers and other library users. The demands of a global, technology-based economy, as well as increasingly rigorous education standards, now require us to be smart consumers of information across disciplines and professions. As a centuries-old purveyor and explainer of information, The New York Public Library has a central role to play in this evolution.