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20 Percent Time: How would your students use it?

November 12, 2010 · 10 Comments

In my last post I talked about the library as a “third space” – that space where students congregate to complete homework, chat and otherwise occupy themselves as they relax from the daily pressures of the classroom. In thinking about how to make this physical space enticing, I think it’s important to equip it with the tools students need. The big question is: what would this place look like if it were to be the place students wanted to be?

In interviewing people for our audio journal “Circulate This! Stories from the School Library,” Storyteller Joe McHugh asked Glen Warren what he thought were the challenges facing students today. Glen replied that they needed a place to create, to think, to search for the answers to the questions they had and the interests they wanted to pursue.

He reminded us about “20 percent time.” At Google, employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their time working on personal projects or join in on projects that others have designed. Applications such as Google Earth were created during 20 percent time. Google staff has all the resources of the Google plant – including staff partners – at their disposal. The freedom to go after projects or ideas that interest you allows you to really think through the process. Gathering experts in related fields allows you to develop a more complete product.

What if we allowed our students to carve out their own 20 percent time? What would they create? Think of the incredible possibilities that would emerge.

In this day and age of test bombardment, we easily forget that often our best productions come from “down” time – when we have the moment to drift off and jump out of the proverbial "box" and see things a little bit differently from a different angle.

I’ve been thinking of converting a particular space in the library and calling it the “20 Percent Room.” I’d like to fill this space with computer access and excellent online applications, paper, markers and other creative tools. Then, during lunch or tutorial, students could make use of the room to work on projects of their own interest. Giving students the tools, the time and the space might be all that they need to show us their greatness. One of my favorite quotes comes from the book Bel Canto [by Ann Patchett] : “It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how." If only we were all given this gift of time and support.

Wouldn’t it be great to have our own space and designated time to complete that novel, painting or garden design? I think we could all use some 20 percent time, don’t you?

Connie WilliamsConnie Williams is a high school librarian and an advocate for school libraries. She likes to use her 20 percent time to think. About BIG stuff. Connie loves comments; you can also contact her via email.

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10 CommentsTags: 20 percent time · Inquiring Minds in the Library · library · library advocacy · school libraries · stories