Meet Tacoma's Library of the Future

The hub of innovation

11/22/2016 | TACOMA, Washington

If you envision a quiet room filled solely with books when you picture a school library, than you haven’t seen the "Library of the Future." 

In the Library of the Future students tinker with engineering tools in makerspaces and learn how to best use digital resources to conduct research. Librarians join teachers for collaborative lessons on digital citizenship. 

Tacoma Public Schools embarked on a mission last year to transform libraries and librarians from a traditional model to a Library of the Future vision. The quest involves changing the perception of what a librarian can do and what a library can be. 

“This is about leveraging the position of the teacher-librarian as the keeper of knowledge and supporting the largest classroom in the school– the library,” said Dave Davis, district director of Instructional Technology. 

​Jason Lee Middle School students Charlotte Kord (l) and Bridget Nanziri (r)
work with librarian Dawn Baughman during hands-on makerspace time.
Extra support for libraries 
To support libraries, the district moved oversight of the library program to the Instructional Technology department—strengthening the link between libraries and technology—and hired a national expert in library instruction to train librarians.

Librarians participate in extra technology training so they can instruct other teachers and students in their building on tools such as Microsoft Office 365. 

The district also devoted additional funds, giving each school library a COW—“computer on wheels” cart with laptop computers—and allocated $26 per student to purchase new books. Librarians could also apply for $200-$5,000 grants from the district to purchase items for makerspaces—places within a library where students can unleash their creativity through hands-on, do-it-yourself projects. 

Dawn Baughman, librarian at Jason Lee Middle School loves helping her students explore their interests. She opens the library during lunch and before school for students to use a makerspace and helps students sort through the vast amount of information available to find the best sources. 

“The Library of the Future is not necessarily a quiet place,” she said. “It’s a dynamic environment of learning where there might be 3D printers, tinkering items, makerspaces, Lego robots. It provides opportunities for students to learn at their own pace, with their own styles

Library as idea incubator 
In a Library of the Future, libraries serve as spaces where students not only get help on research projects, but where they discover their life interests. 

“We need to give kids time to explore the library’s resources and hone in on what makes them tick,” said Suzanna Pantor, district instructional facilitator for libraries. “The library needs to be that kind of incubation place, like an entrepreneurial zone, where students can discover their passion.” 

To foster the natural curiosity of students, librarians encourage students to ask deep questions that spark curiosity and nurture the student’s own desire to find answers.

The Library of the Future also provides more opportunities for collaboration between teachers and highly-skilled librarians.

​Jason Lee eighth-grade student Steven Reynolds celebrates after programming
a Lego robot to turn in the library makerspace.
Librarians work with teachers to help students learn high-level research techniques and how to use online databases for richer learning. Lessons by librarians on digital citizenship touch on topics such as safety online, plagiarism and copyright ethics, and how a student’s digital footprint from social media posts remains for future college admissions counselors, employers and friends to see. 

Effort paying off 

Tacoma’s Library of the Future initiative has drawn state praise. The Washington Library Association recognized the leaders of the Instructional Technology department as Supervisors of the Year for school libraries in Washington state. 

Mount Tahoma High School librarian Margie VanDyke submitted the award nomination on behalf of all school librarians in Tacoma.

“Libraries have had tremendous support,” since the start of Libraries of the Future,” she said. “We’ve shown that a well-run, well-funded library program can do amazing things for kids and families.” 

The district's ability to invest in libraries of the future could not have happened without voter support in 2014 for a technology levy that raised $10 million a year for new technology investments.