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The Role of School Libraries in a Digitalised World

JIS librarie

Jakarta Intercultural School emphasises the importance of media and information literacy

Libraries are often described as the heart of a school, having for centuries served as a literary haven, as well as a centre for research. But with the rise of the digital era placing a seemingly infinite trove of information at our fingertips, the relevancy of libraries has come into question.

I remember questioning this myself 10, 15 years ago,” says Matt Schaeffer, the middle and high school head librarian at Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS). “Why do we need libraries when all the information in the world is in our pockets, our phones, and laptops?”

While the internet has made it possible for students to study and learn from the greatest minds, texts, universities, and museums, he adds, it has also pushed them into an uncurated world of misleading information, bias, and opinions valued over facts. The results can be harmful to a generation already overwhelmed by the vastness of the world wide web, which means libraries and librarians are now needed more than ever to step in and provide skilled guidance in the search for knowledge through media literacy.

JIS libraries
JIS libraries from Elementary to High School carry more than 100.000 titles combined.

A key part of 21st-Century Learning, media literacy is defined by UNESCO as a “set of skills, attitudes, and competencies” that ensures the ethical use of information and media products, providing ways to critically search, analyse, use, and spread “content wisely, both online and offline.”

Letting students loose on the [internet] and telling them to ‘go research’ is like turning them loose in the Wild West,” Schaeffer explains. “[The modern library] is all about media literacy and students of today need to be well-versed in the language of multimedia.”

When students come to a library, he adds, they can expect to find support and materials that put their learning needs first — all in a safe space designed to uphold the values of intellectual freedom, education and social responsibility.

Schools around the world — from the elementary level to universities and colleges — are utilising the digital revolution to overhaul their libraries, turning them into comprehensive information hubs that are first and foremost, objective and reliable. They are dynamic and innovative, using literature and technology to bring communities together.

The modern school library teaches students to be responsible users of technology, how to conduct purposeful research, and how to use their critical thinking skills to stay objective while analysing information from credible sources,” says JIS Interim Head of School Maya Nelson. “This is especially crucial at a time when misinformation is rampant on the internet, especially social media platforms.”

At JIS, students, teachers, and even parents have access to four extensive libraries on its three campuses: one each at Pattimura Elementary (PEL) and Pondok Indah Elementary (PIE), and two at the Cilandak campus for JIS Middle School and High School.

JIS libarie
JIS libraries from Elementary to High School carry more than 100.000 titles combined.

Each comes equipped with a diverse selection of fiction books for both the casual reader and most ardent bookworm, as well as leading-edge facilities available for various methods of research and presentations.

JIS High School, meanwhile, recently celebrated the reopening of its library after 22 months of extensive renovations. The new High School Community Library is now a modern, two-story building boasting both eco-friendly features and state-of-the-art facilities. The first floor, with 2,457 square metres of space, includes multipurpose rooms, a cafeteria, a student lounge, an IT help desk, a central atrium that looks up to a skylight, as well as an auditorium that can accommodate 251 people. Measuring 1,854 sqm, the second floor is home to thousands of book titles (both fiction and non-fiction), a gallery, two collaboration rooms, a silent study center and a mini theater.

Yes, the High School Community Library was designed to fully support our students as they develop their media literacy skills. However, it also aims to bring the JIS community together with a bright, welcoming space that encourages discussion and expression,” Nelson says. “The need for quality education and 21st-Century Learning continues, but as the past year and a half have shown us, communities are stronger together. Our new library is a wonderful way for JIS to uphold all of these values.”

For Schaeffer, the building is a cohesive blend of all the best features of a traditional library and an ultra-modern research centre.

“We designed it to be a wonderful space for students to snuggle up with a book, […] where everyone can sit down and get some silent work done, and where people can get together and talk about cool things,” he says. “I can’t wait for the whole community to see and celebrate this wonderful space.”

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