The hundreds of students who visit the Kathleen D. Smith Library at Cherry Creek High School on a daily basis have plenty of ways to access information.
The space features all of the staples one would expect at any large-scale municipal library. Thick encyclopedias, textbooks and reference tomes line shelves throughout the "West Wing," a section dedicated to research and instruction. Thousands of fiction, non-fiction, biography and history titles line racks spread throughout the library, and the latest magazines, newspapers and other periodicals are easy to find. Carefully designed displays spotlight materials tied to a specific theme – for February, shelves throughout the library offer content tied to Black History Month. A massive globe greets visitors as soon as they walk through the door.
But these physical resources are only part of the much bigger story at the Kathleen D. Smith Library and at other award-winning library facilities across the Cherry Creek School District. E-books, online academic databases and other digital resources are vital aspects of any typical high school student's academic life. Preparing for college and careers in 2017 means building skills as a savvy and discerning information consumer; it means learning to intelligently navigate a largely digital library of information.
“A majority of our students have smartphones and have Google at the touch of their fingers. For us, it’s teaching them about databases and reliable, academic sources for information that they can turn in to teachers ... It’s also teaching them to search smartly and safely, to find sources that they know they can trust.”
-- Hollie Hawkins, teacher librarian at Eaglecrest High School
Considering the sheer amount of constantly shifting resources available online, that's not always an easy task. Specialists like Evelyn Scott, the Kathleen D. Smith Library's award-winning coordinator, are at the front line of giving students the proper tools to deal with an ever-changing digital landscape. Along with her highly trained staff, Scott works to provide students with the proper context to navigate a massive amount of data and become skilled researchers in their own right.
"What we do is teach students how to use technology and online resources in a responsible manner," said Scott, who was honored as the "Librarian of the Year" by The Education Center in 2015. "We teach effective ways of searching for effective information. Information is coming down the pike faster than most people can process; we want to teach critical thinking and responsibility."
Scott and the rest of the CCHS library staff play an active role in those lessons, whether it's working firsthand with students during classes and research time, or communicating closely with parents about curriculum and resources. On a typical school day, for example, it's not easy to catch Scott alone in her office. She's more likely to be teaching a class or helping a student find a specific article; she's liable to be making the rounds through the different sections of the library, keeping an eye on laptop screens to make sure students are staying on task and not playing games.
"Librarians and libraries are more needed, even as technology is changing," Scott said. "Kids are so used to being able to find something with one click. If it takes more, they get frustrated. We teach them perseverance when it comes to research. You can't just Google good information and always get the answer. It takes time and it takes reflection."
Scott and the rest of the crew at the CCHS library aren't alone in stressing those skills. Libraries across the district share a similar commitment to connecting students with cutting-edge resources and databases, all while building critical thinking and discerning search skills.
The Eaglecrest High School Library won the National School Library Program of the Year in 2014, and resident teacher-librarians Kristin McKeown and Hollie Hawkins chalk up the honor to the facility's consummate commitment to "reading, research and leadership."
"A majority of our students have smartphones and have Google at the touch of their fingers. For us, it's teaching them about databases and reliable, academic sources for information that they can turn in to teachers," Hawkins said. "It's also teaching them to search smartly and safely, to find sources that they know they can trust."
The library offers students an extensive network of academic databases, search tools that offer access to the same brand of rigorous, peer-reviewed academic material that's used at the college level. These resources give students free access to a wealth of primary sources and meticulously researched content. Where free search sites like Google only allow abstracts, or summarized versions of this content, the library's databases offer full-length scholarly articles and papers.
"We want students to become familiar with academic searches. We know it's easy to find something adequate with one or two clicks on the free web. But when they go to college, their professors will not allow them to find the information they submit for class from the free web. In some cases, it will have to be peer-reviewed," McKeown said. "We let them know that we are preparing them for their future."
Students aren't alone in building those skills. Teacher librarians are on hand to offer guidance and expertise, and parents or guardians looking to play a role in students' academic journey can access resources through password-protected networks.
The library is more than a place to store books. With its network of computer labs, technology centers and digital media classrooms, the library is a center of 21st-century learning. Whether it's teaching students to properly cite research sources or guiding them through the library's academic databases, teacher librarians like Scott, McKeown, Hawkins and other trained professionals across the district work hard to give students skills that will enrich them long after high school.
"Our first calling is that we're an academic library," Scott said. "We function that way."