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How libraries are keeping up with the times to stay relevant to students

August 21, 2013

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Brenna Bolton, 18, of Beverly Hills, spends a summer day at the library to prepare for her upcoming freshman year at Michigan State University.

This back-to-school season, while many students are reaching for tablets, smartphones and laptops, there’s one more device that parents should make sure their kids are slipping into their backpack: a library card.

With all the technology available today, many students forget about their public library — the original hotspot of learning. But teachers and librarians say the old book stacks are a useful resource for students in many ways.

At the Shelby Township Library, Interim Director Diane Burgeson said students will find everything they need for a study session: quiet spaces, free Internet, printers and more. But they’ve also got a little something extra — research experts who would put Google to shame.

“I call the library the original Internet. We all have master’s degrees and we have studied how to assist and research, first and foremost. Even with the adults, we can take them to the books they need, instead of putting them in front of stacks and stacks and stacks of books,” she said.

Guided research, as opposed to blind Web searches, tends to be more efficient and effective, Burgeson said, making better use of parents’ and students’ time.

The library also works closely with local schools to keep up with assignments, like summer reading lists, book reports and other projects. In fact, she said, many teachers are requiring their students to complete projects using library resources, so the younger set can be as acquainted with the library’s tools as they are with their Web browser.

The story reads the same on the other side of town at Baldwin Public Library in downtown Birmingham. Connie Ilmer, head of public services at Baldwin, said the library has been working hard to become a destination for learners of all ages.

“I always say that your library card is your most important school supply. It opens the door for all your information needs to do your homework or your school work. And we’re open when the schools are not, so we are your supplemental resource,” she said.

In addition to the usual amenities, like computer equipment and wireless Internet access, Baldwin has not one but two areas for younger library users. The youth room is filled with books, both fiction and nonfiction, for kids to peruse. Just down the hall is the new Teen Scene, equipped with tables for group work that have outlets built right in so students can keep their devices powered up. A dry-erase board keeps students in the know on different events and meeting opportunities, and the shelves are lined with reading materials geared toward teens.

Baldwin is also in the process of remodeling and updating much of the property, and Ilmer said that effort will likely result in more private meeting spaces where students can study quietly or with tutors. Those areas, she said, will be the only ones with a strict no-noise policy.

“We have a lot of collaborative space, and we want to add more. We have tables in the teen area; we have tables in the youth room. We’re fine with students working together, and we’re pretty flexible. We’re not the ‘shush-shush’ librarians of yore. This really is a gathering place and a place where people are accessing information, however that is,” she said.

An added benefit, Ilmer noted, is the aspect of supervision that the library innately provides by being a public place. While no one younger than 12 years old is allowed to be left unattended at Baldwin, those students who are working can feel comfortable visiting with friends and doing school work without unwanted pressures that might come at other places.

“We don’t often have a problem with bullying, but our staff kind of knows to keep an eye out and intervene if need be,” she said.

About the author

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki covers Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Franklin and Bingham Farms along with Birmingham Public Schools, Oakland County Parks and Recreation and Oakland County Animal Control and Pet Adoption Center. Esshaki has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2011 and attended the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Oakland Community College.


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