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Media center changes mean fewer books

MERIDEN — As students and teachers get ready to move over into new spaces at Platt and Maloney high schools, one way they’re lightening the load is by leaving behind close to a combined 8,000 library books.

Teachers and administrators at Maloney, which houses a roughly 15,000-volume collection, and Platt, housing roughly 13,000 volumes, will have to pare those numbers down to 10,000 — downsizing that’s made possible by moves to make works accessible online.

“It’s no longer a matter of needing to have everything physically in your hands,” Maloney media center specialist Rose Cassello said.

At both schools, the process of weeding through the books begins with looking at how old they are.

On average, books at Maloney date back to 1995, with some reference materials going back to 1988.

Cassello said those reference books are most likely on the chopping block first. “I mean, it just doesn’t make sense to have Encyclopedia Britannica volumes that are dozens of years old when we can access that information on a search engine,” Cassello said.

The school also subscribes to wider online databases of scholarly works students can use for research: for example, the Connecticut Digital Library, ICONN, administered by the state library; as well as JSTOR, an online collection of academic journals and other published research.

In addition to ICONN, Platt High School has subscriptions to Grolier Online Encyclopedia, the Library Reference Service Database and a video database available to students online.

The bygone books won’t go to waste, however.

Platt Principal Robert Montemurro said that they’ll look for books that are “damaged, out of date, in poor condition,” or that “haven’t been checked out in years.” They’ll try to donate as many usable ones as possible to either bookstores or the city’s public library, recycling the rest.

Both schools plan to open it up to teachers first, however.

Cassello said, “If a math teacher wants a geometry book for their classroom, they’re welcome to it,” she said. Then she hopes to donate some to the Meriden Public Library, and some to the “Third Annual Gently Used Book Drive,” which is working in conjunction with New Haven Reads, whose mission is to increase literacy in the Greater New Haven area.

The book drive has partnered with numerous other literacy groups in the New Haven area with the goal of collecting 50,000 books by the end of August.

Assistant Attorney General William Bumpus is leading the crusade and said that receiving some books from the city’s high schools “sounds wonderful.”

Some of the donated books might end up in the waiting rooms of the state’s correctional facilities, for children to read while they’re waiting to visit their incarcerated parents.

“We have a lot of at-risk children in urban areas in this state, and by that I mean at risk of not becoming productive members of society,” Bumpus said. “Statistically, children of inmates are even more at risk, and to reduce the probability that these kids are ending up in prison I want to encourage them to read.”

Part of the motivation behind downsizing the number of physical books in the new media centers is that students and teachers are using their school libraries increasingly in different ways.

Cassello explained that students are working more collaboratively on projects that they’re researching online, or using computers to catch up with work from classes posted online.

A small area in the back of the media center where a handful of tables and chairs are set up has become one of the most popular places in the room — it’s where teachers can conduct short lessons, staff can hold professional development, or receive training in small groups — all evidence, Cassello said, that the current media center set-up isn’t necessarily meeting the needs of its users.

Montemurro outlined a similar change occurring at Platt.

It’s a trend that’s reflected at the Meriden Public Library as well. Karen Roesler, the library’s director, said earlier this week that increasingly patrons are checking out digital materials, and using the library’s online resources.

“We’re busier than ever, but people are using the library in different ways,” she said. Cassello and her team will have to start moving materials into the new media center in October. Although a daunting task, she and Maloney Principal Jennifer Straub said it’s an exciting change.

“It’ll be nice to be in a space that’s designed for our needs now, instead of using one that we’ve retrofitted to work,” Straub said.

Montemurro said, “These are media centers designed for the 21st century. We’re not calling it a ‘library’ anymore; it’s a media center.” (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal

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