21st century learning in the library

How to get started updating library programs to prepare students for their future — includes lesson plans and technology tools.

Librarian? Stereotype?

If you ask someone to create an image in their mind of a “librarian,” many people will see the stereotype of the elderly woman with a scowl, holding a finger over her lips to demand silence among the stacks of books.

Well, erase that picture right now, because today’s 21st century school librarian guides students to collaborate and share ideas as they engage in innovative learning experiences with students in another part of the world. The library is no longer a bastion to silence, but is at the hub of students practicing leadership and critical thinking skills as they follow the engineering design process to solve a real world problem. In other words, it’s no longer your momma’s library experience.

Life today is exponentially more complicated and complex than it was 50 years ago. This is true for civic life as much as it is for work life. In the 21st century, citizenship requires levels of information and technological literacy that go far beyond the basic knowledge that was sufficient in the past. (NEA, 2012)

In order to ensure students are meeting these new levels of literacy, the National Education Association helped establish the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21). P21 included teachers, education experts (including the American Association of School Librarians), and business leaders, working to develop a framework to define the skills and knowledge that students will need to succeed in today’s world. They established four major outcomes that students need to master: 1) core subjects, interwoven with 21st century themes; 2) learning and innovation skills; 3) information, media, and technology skills; and 4) life and career skills (AASL, 2009, 9). These outcomes are detailed in the infographic below:Framework for 21st Century Learning: Student Outcomes
Librarians have a very important role in ensuring students are learning the skills that are detailed in the Framework for 21st Century Learning. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) gives this direction:

As a guide, risk-taker, expert at learning how to learn, and information specialist, the school librarian must work to create an environment where everyone is a teacher, learner, producer, and contributor. Patrons of the school library are now collaborators who interact with resources and with each other. Technology is woven throughout this framework, influencing every aspect of teaching and learning (AASL, 2009, 10).

As a certified school librarian you have unique skills and training to help meet the educational challenge of providing students with a 21st century education. You understand online searches, copyright laws, and information literacy skills. You are a technology leader and know that when “done well, technology integration can transform classes and enhance learning. The right kinds of tech give students experiences they never could have otherwise” (Miller, 2015, 71).

Think about how students are using technology when they visit your school library. Are they passive consumers watching videos, or are they creators crafting vibrant informational presentations that can be posted on YouTube? If you are not actively planning lessons that incorporate technology in a meaningful way, you need to rethink the work you are doing. Moving your teaching into the 21st century, and utilizing technology in your lessons, is a daunting task to undertake. Without a prescribed curriculum, where can a school librarian begin?

It is important that you understand some of the basics of 21st century learning. You can start by reading up on some of the different topics:


21st Century Learning: online articles

The 21st century classroom – where the 3 R’s meet the 4 C’s!

by Melinda Kolk

Global Competence

by Anthony Jackson

Digital Literacy Fundamentals

by Media Smarts

Helping Diverse Learners Succeed

by Todd Finley

Project-Based Learning: Real-World Issues Motivate Students

by Diane Curtis

5 Strategies to Deepen Student Collaboration

by Mary Burns

Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs

by American Association of School Librarians

I would also recommend the following publications. They provide a good foundation of knowledge to get you started thinking about technology and 21st century learning opportunities in the school library:


21st Century Learning: print


Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs

by the American Association of School Librarians


Ditch That Textbook

by Matt Miller, Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015

What is the most important thing you need to keep in mind as you begin to incorporate technology and 21st century skills into your lesson plans? Matt Miller gives the best advice in Ditch That Textbook when he says, “Take your time…Create the class you want by committing to take one step at a time, and persisting over the weeks, months, and years” (2015, 214).

I have included some lesson plans that incorporate technology and provide 21st century learning opportunities for students. Feel free to use these in your school library:


Don’t Use It, Until You Peruse It! (a lesson in website evaluation)


Read Around the World – Global Read Aloud 2016


Creating a Community of 21st Century Readers and Creators


Novel Engineering: Using the engineering design process to solve problems found in literature


American Association of School Librarians (AASL). (2009). Empowering learners: Guidelines for school library programs. Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians.

Miller, M. (2015). Ditch that textbook: Free your teaching and revolutionize your classroom. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

National Education Association (NEA). (2012). An educator’s guide to the “four Cs”: Preparing 21st century students for a global society. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://www.nea.org/tools/52217.htm

Image of librarian: “Librarian? Stereotype?” by Schu is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Fake” image: “FAKE Rubber Stamp” by SalFalko is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Computer/book image: Hand Holding Book by George Hodan on PublicDomainPictures.net

Book image: Pixabay

Internet image: Pixabay

Globe image: Pixabay

Catapult image: Mang2 by Rpanjwani3 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Infographic created with Piktochart

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