Cardboard boxes teeming with workbooks and other publications line a corner of Aliamanu Elementary School’s library, a colorful, retrofitted classroom that has that classic musty smell of aging paper.

The boxes, a few of which are also scattered across large wooden desks, contain brand-new McGraw Hill materials that will be distributed among the school’s 760 or so children this fall to help them meet the Common Core standards. 

Patty Louis, the school’s longtime librarian, apologizes for the mess as she sits next to a cluster of bright-white iMac computers with headphones suspended from them. But she’s quick to point out that school libraries these days aren’t the silent, stodgy places they used to be. 

“The library of today is not always this ‘quiet place,’” says an enthusiastic Louis, describing it instead as a hub where students collaborate, conduct research and do projects, a “makerspace” where kids get together and create all kinds of stuff. “It’s more like organized chaos.”

Louis, 48, expects that trend to continue as the state fully implements the Common Core standards, universal math and language arts benchmarks that are upping the ante on what kids are expected to know to succeed in college and their careers.

The standards, which are going into effect in 42 states and Washington, D.C., emphasize research skills and the ability to use explanatory texts to answer all kinds of questions. The standardized tests, which will assess how well Hawaii’s students are meeting those expectations, are going live this coming school year — and with high stakes attached to them. Student performance on the computerized tests, which are all conducted online, is slated to affect teacher pay and schools’ rankings, among other things.

This tectonic shift in public education could make access to campus library resources all the more critical for students, says Louis, who until recently served as president of the Hawaii Association of School Librarians. Libraries connect students with the information needed to advance their learning: not only books, of course, but also computers and other high-tech equipment for research.

The state requires school librarians to have degrees in both teaching and library science. Librarians bring with them the background of a classroom teacher and the savvy of a technological resource specialist, Louis says, proudly noting that she created the school library’s website years ago and enjoys keeping up to speed on Twitter.

Go To Civil Beat

Photo Credit: PF Bentley of Civil Beat