Libraries teach students to be technology smart

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Vic Vela
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Ryan Livingston didn’t need to pull a rabbit out a hat, or locate a quarter from behind a child’s ear to amaze a group of befuddled second-graders from Lakewood’s Patterson Elementary School.

“These are called encyclopedias,” he said with books tucked under his arms, right after blowing the dust off the covers during a recent instructional period.

“Look at the date on here,” Livingston said, pointing to the large “2002” one of the books.

The students responded with a drawn out, “Whoooa.”

Livingston wasn’t trying to get the children to thumb through massive – and, their case, archaic – texts to get information for their biography assignments. Rather, he was demonstrating how much easier it is to use technology to access the things they’re looking for – without having to lug around books that weigh more than they do.

But, wait a second. Livingston is a ... librarian, isn’t he? Shouldn’t he be all into books?

“We’re not librarians anymore, we’re teacher-librarians,” Livingston said. “Honestly, I never take a book out and sit and read to the kids. That’s not my role any more. My role is about teaching and technological literacy.”

Patterson’s library looks like ... well, a library. The walls are plastered with water color-painted masterpieces that pay homage to “The Fat Cat Sat on the Mat” stories. Below them, tempting book titles like “An Adventure with Polly Polar Bear” and “Tracking and Taming Dragons” sit inside easy-to-reach bins.

But away from the books is Livingston’s world: The computer lab, where he’s not reading Dr. Seuss to a bunch of sleepy children.

He’s overseeing interactive lessons, where students sit in front of computer monitors and watch cool videos that teach them how we use tools to change phases of matter.

“It’s fun to watch,” said 9-year-old Mira Mizda, who took a break from bobbing her head up-and-down while watching an on-line video of dancers singing songs about matter. “I learn better by watching the videos.”

Gone are the days of the card-catalog shuffling librarian with the pencil protruding out of her blue hair. Many of today’s school librarians are much more. They are teachers of technology, and they are invaluable parts of modern day schools.

“A teacher of students and a teacher of adults,” said Patterson Principal Beth Larson. “If Ryan is gone for a day, you just cross your fingers and hope for the best.”


Facing challenges

But it was as recent as last fall when principals like Larson around Jefferson County came close to having to deal with budgets that were about to be ripped apart with chainsaws.

The school district was faced with the very real prospect of having to slash more than $60 million from its 2013-14 budget, as a result of state funding losses. That would have meant layoffs, and it would have greatly affected teacher-librarian positions at schools like Patterson.

In Livingston’s case, the cuts would have required him to split his time between Patterson and another school, meaning he would serve as a part-time teacher-librarian to 900 students.

If that would have happened, Livingston – who is also the school’s International Baccalaureate coordinator – said he would have gone back to teaching in classrooms, leaving big shoes for Patterson to fill on the technological front.

“It was scary,” Larson said. “If he was here half time, teachers would have been fending for themselves. We’d need a lot more district support. And they don’t have the manpower to do that.”

Then, taxpayers came to the rescue. In November, voters approved two mill levy increases, including ballot issue 3A, which pumped $39 million into the district’s budget.

The money allowed schools like Patterson to hold on to full-time teacher-librarian positions.

And that’s a very good thing, seeing as how children these days were born into a digital world that requires technological guidance from people like Livingston.

“It is a virtual world,” Larson said. “And students are using computers a lot more. And not even PowerPoint; they’re beyond that. They’re so far beyond that I can’t tell you 100 percent where they are because they are so much farther than I probably ever will be.”