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Modern-day facilities carve out niche

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A typical day at the Columbus North High School media center would have been anything but typical 10 years ago.

Three students on cushioned, coffee-lounge chairs peck away at laptop computers, some for schoolwork and some for recreation. In the attached computer lab, students work on desktop computers as their instructor circulates among them.

The high school libraries at East and North have seen major changes with the rise of portable technology and since the spaces were renovated to make them more user friendly.

Columbus North calls its library the media center, an acknowledgement that the space has morphed from a traditional library. It’s now a full service research center that links students to the world with Internet-ready platforms such as digital e-readers, which allow users to read digital books.

Columbus East continues to call its space the library, although it has many of the same bells and whistles as the North space, including “Bring Your Own Device” technology that allows students to tap into buildingwide wireless Internet capabilities using devices they bring from home.

Of course, both still have books. But the media specialists at each resource center said they have fewer now to allow for a balance of media that can meet the needs and appetites of everyone from the people who prefer the feel of a real book in their hands to the ones who prefer the one-touch responsiveness of an electronic gadget.

Traditional card catalogs? Forget it. Students today navigate the libraries’ collection of materials by hopping onto computers and tapping into a continually updated database.

Angie Wieneke, media specialist at East, said she embraces technology and even keeps about 30 laptop computers for students to use while they are there. She said she buys less nonfiction and reference material than she used to because online databases are updated often and give students access to limitless information.

But Wieneke also continues to buy books, specifically fiction titles. She said students at her school have not begun asking her yet to carry e-readers like at North, preferring instead to use their own devices or borrow books off the shelves.

Toni Held, library media specialist at North, also embraces technology and keeps 52 e-readers that she lends to students. She said the devices save money by allowing each downloaded book to be shared on multiple devices for classes.

But physical books are still considered important, just like they are at East.

The difference is that books today have to be fairly popular among students to remain on the shelves, said Susan Scott, assistant principal at North.

“We’ve thinned our book numbers by quite a bit,” she said.

Mimi Bingham, a North English teacher, said she likes that the North library is located across the hall from the cafeteria.

Students on their lunch breaks can eat, then spend the rest of the period working ahead on homework, relaxing with a book for fun or chatting quietly with friends, she said.

Held said it’s become a place where students love to spend time. It has upholstered chairs and tables, natural light coming through glass walls and wide spaces between bookshelves that leave an airy feel.

“It’s an inviting place now,” Held said.

Syd Uhl, a junior at North, said she comes to the media center as often as twice a day, during lunch and her resource period. She said she finds the center inviting for study or to curl up with a real book, which she prefers over digital books.

Parker Saddler, a North sophomore, said he comes to the center to do homework during his resource period. He said he enjoys the space’s comfortable chairs and inviting nature.

Wieneke said the East library used to be cramped but now has an open floor plan that provides the flexibility to move tables and chairs based on classes’ needs. She said the bookshelves that occupy the middle floor space are shorter than they once were, allowing Wieneke to see students from one side of the room to the other.

“We want kids to feel comfortable here,” Wieneke said. “I don’t care if they talk, as long as they aren’t disrupting things. It’s a place where students can come just to enjoy themselves.”

Like North’s Media Center, the East library is next to the cafeteria.

Jacob Downey, an East sophomore who was downloading a Spanish paper from his laptop computer to a library desktop computer, said that although the desktop units can be a little slow, he enjoys the library and finds it relaxing.

Dylan Thompson, an East sophomore who was using Skype on a tablet he owned, described the library as a “relaxed space” that is user friendly, given that computers usually are available during his resource period. Skype is a computer program that allows people to connect with one another in real time over the computer by way of video.

“The whole function of the library and its purpose has shifted as society has, with technology driving research that kids do there,” Scott said, referring to libraries in general. “There’s a different feel now.”

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