By Yvonne Dennis (246)
The internet, with its three-to-five second ability to school us on anything from Ancient Greece to zodiac signs, can make it easy for people to believe that they don’t need libraries anymore.
Especially for many people coming of age when internet answers are as close as their phones, their tablets and even their watches, libraries aren’t sexy.
But old-fashioned research skills, physical books, a scholarly environment and the trained professionals at the front desk are essential to helping students parse the vast amounts of digital information that is available to them today, believes Central High School’s new librarian, John Lobron.
“The lack of research skills is a primary deterrent to college kids finishing their first year of college,” said Mr. Lobron, whose higher education includes masters degrees in education, and library and information sciences. “So we’re trying to nip this in the bud. We have to help the kids learn how to do college-level research now, not in college.”
Mr. Lobron taught history, Spanish and psychology at Central before taking over as librarian this school term from the retired Loretta Burton. With physical card catalogs no longer in use, basics such as how to find a book among Central’s 25,000 volumes via a digital catalog have to be taught to many students first.
“How do you find a book? That seems so simple but sadly just about every elementary and middle school in the Philadelphia school system has closed its library.”
The School District did not respond to an interview request.
Central is one of the fortunate few schools able to employ a full-time “cybrarian,” as some people refer to the modern job. He says he has three primary responsibilities:
- maintaining a clean, scholarly environment for the 800-900 students (about a third of Central’s student body) who come into the library space per day
- giving bibliographic skills to kids so they can find books–“What traditionally was in a file cabinet, there’s a digital version of that, the Online Public Access Catalog.”
- teaching students how to use digital resources responsibly, either one on one, in small groups or by entire classes getting instruction in how to access web-based resources.
“ProQuest is a database vendor that offers us four subscriptions to four databases: History Study Center, Learning: Literature, a database dedicated to general academic research called eLibrary and SIRS-Researcher,” said Mr. Lobron. The use of another premium database has been donated for school use by the father of two Central students.
Mr. Lobron also stresses to students, teachers and parents that the Free library of Philadelphia offers access to 141 databases of music, podcasts, research, literary criticism, newspapers, genealogy and hundreds of other resources. He has also been communicating with Free Library of Philadelphia Teen Services Coordinator Ann Pearson about getting Free Library cards for all Central students who don’t have them. The School District carried out such an effort district-wide in 2014.
“We were very excited to receive the request from Mr. Lobron to help the students at Central High School obtain library cards,” said Miss Pearson. “The Free Library is engaged in several initiatives to get library cards to all students in Philadelphia.”
Many people, of course, depend entirely on libraries or other public facilities for internet access.
Central senior Emily Wilson has a Free Library card but fellow 276er Christian Gatmaitan does not. Still, they both see the value of the Barnwell Library’s offerings.
“Freshman year I didn’t really go because I thought, ‘Oh, library’s boring,’ ” said Emily. “But then I had to start using it for class. When I came here with my classes I realized it’s actually really peaceful and nice and I can print stuff out and everything is really organized.”
Christian said he learned how to find books when Social Studies Department Chairman Thomas Quinn and Mr. Lobron gave a demonstration to his class. Knowing how much his older brother used Temple University’s library when he was a student there has helped Christian appreciate the skills he’s getting at Central. “I feel like getting to learn all this stuff is definitely helping.”
As Mr. Lobron works with school department heads on formalizing library instruction, retired librarian Miss Burton continues to be a mentor. Non-teaching assistant Tamika Ball and alumni volunteers Alan Bronstein (218), Burt Fogelman (204) David Kahn (220) and Harvey Steinberg (209) come in regularly to help serve students and faculty.
Central Assistant Athletic Director and health-education teacher Rich Weiss says the video offerings and lesson plans available through the library databases make it easier to drive home important life lessons to kids.
“I used the current online info-based learning like marijuana, drugs, ecstasy, heroin videos on the library content page and they have lesson plans on there. Kids can write essays from there,” said Mr. Weiss, who has been teaching for 27 years. “They tell life stories of real people. It’s not just the teacher lecturing. It’s this family had difficulty with heroin.”