Mrs Kristine Cooke, Director of Information Services
In a world abuzz with electronic information, Brisbane Girls Grammar School has embarked on a major new building project, the Research & Innovative Learning Centre. This new five-level building that will house research, library and classroom zones is designed to make a significant and positive impact on the learning experiences of the students and the academic environment of the School. Metaphorically, it is a ‘tree of learning’ reflecting and embracing the Moreton Bay fig — the centenarian that stands so proudly at our Gregory Terrace front fence. The new building will have a glass façade that will allow students to feel as if they are ‘sitting in the branches’ and will also permit the public to see the engagement with scholarship that this School has embraced for almost 140 years.
Some may agree with Geoff Hanmer (2013), who asserted in The Australian Financial Review that, because ‘anyone can find out virtually anything using Google or Wikipedia on their smartphone, the relevance of the traditional university library has been sharply reduced’. There are those who believe this is also true of school libraries; indeed one large Queensland Government high school of almost 1,000 students announced the closure of its library at the end of last term after forty-five years of service to the school community.
Our new research centre is not being constructed to ‘allow the library to keep books that (we) should have the courage to throw out’ (Hanmer, 2013); it will allow the professional staff of the library the opportunity to develop an integrated and strategic approach to research and information gathering: an approach that blends books, digitised information, the traditional Dewey system, and modern apps. Indeed, the Beanland Memorial Library was an early adopter of technology, introducing a computerised catalogue in 1983, and pioneering our intranet in 1995. In 2013 it subscribes to twenty-four external databases.
Librarians are not technophobes; rather we have embraced the online environment and do not run ‘towards the edge of the digital cliff crying “Google and Wikipedia will save us”’ (McKerracher, 2013). Professionals in high school libraries understand that many adolescents often take the easy research option. Their first, and sometime only, information decision is Google and in a results page using this search engine, the first hit is generally Wikipedia followed by YouTube. Optify, a digital marketing organisation, has shown that only 2 per cent of searchers work down to click on the last item on the first page. If they navigate to page two, the hit rate is down to 1.2 per cent by the fifth item (Optify, n.d.).
Many students are more than adept at the ‘cut and paste’ method of task completion, relying on the first page of Google hits to rank, sort, and evaluate for them. All too often this proves unsatisfactory as the information can lack sophistication and specificity. This behaviour is validated by a survey of almost 2,500 teachers by the Pew Research Center (Purcell, et al., 2012). The heart of any genuine research is astute inquiry where students create their own questions, make discoveries, think critically, manipulate information, draw reasoned conclusions, and become knowledge creators. This does not happen without a clear supporting research philosophy. The Guided Inquiry instructional design model developed by Carol Kuhlthau, and one endorsed by this School, provides a process for targeted teacher intervention to furnish students with the procedural skills necessary to become confident manipulators of information and producers of knowledge.
Library staff and teachers collaborate to offer more effective strategies than Google. The aim is to enable students to understand and validate their background knowledge, explore by developing their own questions, work through conflicting information, and engage with a diversity of ideas. These skills will allow students to become critical thinkers and evaluators of information. Thus, the library supports a judicious blend of books, database searches, journal articles, and internet exploration.
In the later stages of last term, a Year 11 biology student was looking for reliable and balanced information on her allocated ‘disease’. A library staff member was able to direct her to comprehensive books on pathology written by experts in the field and an authoritative and comprehensive medical dictionary. She returned two days later pleased with what she had learned, saying ‘now I can check for online information because I understand more and will be able to judge the validity of what I find with greater confidence’. Sometimes it is not a matter of either books or digital, rather it is the judicious blending of both.
Even before the first clod of earth was turned for the new building, it was easy to be consumed with the number of power points, floor finishes and furniture, but it is the underlying philosophy that must never be lost: the Aspiration of the School must always be the touchstone for the design process.
Visitors to Oxford University are immediately aware that, even if tourists, they are immersed in a whole community that has, for centuries, been involved in learning and scholarship. Touring the Bodleian Library is a concentrated, distilled experience. When walking through rooms with a history and a culture of scholarship, it is as if your being is infused with something intangible in each breath you take — just by being there.
Dutch architect Francine Houben designed Europe’s largest public library in Birmingham, England, a beautiful building that has just opened. Houben has described her concept of the library in the twenty-first century, asserting that libraries are ‘the most important public buildings, like cathedrals were many years ago’ (2013). She explained how the Birmingham building was designed as a ‘people’s palace … We wanted it to be very inviting and welcoming, not just about books. It’s not just for the rich or the intellectuals, it’s for everybody’ (2013).
This inclusivity is foundational to the way in which the new Brisbane Girls Grammar School research centre is being developed. While perhaps not in the same league as the Bodleian or the Birmingham library, the Beanland Memorial Library also aspires to enthuse its students with an atmosphere and resources that inspire scholarship — because excellence should not be an unattainable goal but an everyday habit.
Hanmer, G. (2013, August 5). Last hurrah for the traditional university library. The Australian Financial Review, p. 30.
Houben, F. (2013, August 29). Libraries are the most important buildings. Dezeen Magazine. Retrieved September 5, 2013, from http://www.dezeen.com/2013/08/29/libraries-are-the-most-important-public-buildings-francine-houben/
Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L. K., & Caspari, A. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Connecticut, USA: Libraries Unlimited.
McKerracher, S. (2013, September). Libraries are early adopters, not lemmings. Incite, p. 5.
Optify, Inc. (n.d.). Digital marketing: SEO and search marketing. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from http://www.optify.net/
Purcell, K., et al. (2012, November 1). How teens do research in the digital world. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Student-Research