To the editor:
My wife, Jo Ann, and I have been Cranbury residents for the past 17 years. I served as the Chief School Administrator of Cranbury Township School District from 1989 to 2001. We are proud of what makes our town unique: a National Blue Ribbon School, an exceptional police department, a volunteer rescue squad and fire department, as well as dedicated municipal departments, commissions and boards, all working hard to deliver the best possible service to Cranbury.
However, over the years – and especially during my time as the Chief School Administrator – I have witnessed the challenge of a shared school/public library. I believe the need for a new public library is clear, and I have recently joined the Library Foundation to help make this project happen.
Since 1967 the school library and public library staffs have made the shared space work. However, as the needs and scope of the library program have changed, I believe now is the time for us to build our own stand-alone public library to better meet the needs of our school and community. The new public library will complement the school’s library, and everyone in the town will benefit.
There are only a handful of shared school/public libraries left in the U.S., and Cranbury has the last shared K-8/public library in New Jersey. There is a reason for separating school and public libraries: when combined, they simply do not work effectively. The goals and standards of a quality school and quality public library cannot be met effectively in a shared space.
In most schools, the library media center serves as the center of the school; that has never been the case in the combined Cranbury school/public library space. A school serving both elementary and middle school populations needs to provide detailed formal full-class research skills instruction, while providing opportunities for upper-grade students to use the library at will as directed by the classroom teachers. Since the Cranbury School students must be escorted in and out of the school library, they cannot have free access to the school library for research projects.
A shared space has led to many compromises, for both the school and the public:
(1) Only one class can visit the school library at once.
(2) Teachers cannot hold specialized events, speakers, or curriculum-themed activities in the library.
(3) The areas for books, technology and gathering spots is limited by the overall space.
(4) Adult and children’s spaces are not sufficiently separated to allow for different noise and security levels.
Today’s school library/media centers need to provide flexible instructional space and furniture. The media center should provide teachers and students with opportunities to work in both small and large groups, while providing opportunities for them to participate in inquiry-based learning activities. A high-quality 21st-century school curriculum must provide opportunities for students to master skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creative problem solving. This type of learning often requires teachers to design projects and lessons that require cooperation, collaboration and research among the students. This cannot happen in a space shared with a public library.
I believe that a new public library will allow for the school library and the public library to complement each other, to the benefit of the school and the broader community. In the school-only library, I can envision:
– Better programming of school-wide activities.
– Better use of technology.
– Space for cooperative learning activities.
– Improved library skills and research instruction.
– More inquiry-based instruction taking place.
– Space for team teaching.
– More collaborative student activities.
– More curricular-themed programs presented in the library.
– More flexibility and efficiency in the overall school schedule.
– More child-centered library programs.
A stand-alone public library will be better able to offer community-themed programs for the general public, as well as a better collection and improved resources for the adult and teen populations. A stand-alone public library will also attract more teens to use the library in the evening, weekends and during the summer months. It will also eliminate scheduling conflicts between the two spaces.
A top-notch school such as Cranbury School deserves a dedicated school library that can teach students 21st-century research skills that students need to be successful in their future careers and a top-notch community like Cranbury deserves a place to gather, read, and learn together.
Let’s face it, after nearly 50 years of sharing a library with the school, it is time for our community to have its own public library. I hope you’ll join me in the final phase of the campaign to make this a reality.
Dr. Robert J. Bartoletti
To the editor: