If you are a longtime researcher, you better grab a seat and sit down to hear this news.

While talking about the changes that have transformed the school librarian’s job over the years, Hellgate High School librarian Peggy Cordell revealed the future on Tuesday – and it doesn’t include the Dewey Decimal System.

In libraries nationwide – in particular, school libraries – there is talk of doing away with traditional classification system, which was introduced to the world in the late 1870s and transformed libraries across the country by the 1930s.

The other change likely coming? Libraries will reorganize collections more in the spirit of how bookstores do it – according to genre.

For certain, the staid world of libraries has been upended by the modern world and by technology, and school librarians have been trying to keep up.

At Hellgate, it’s no different, said Cordell, who has spent about 12 of her 28 years as a Missoula teacher as a library-media teacher.

Sure, books are still checked out of the library – electronically – but more often, what is being checked out includes flash drives, digital and still video cameras, iPods and laptops, Cordell said.

“What we teach used to be called library skills, and was very isolated in the curriculum,” Cordell explained. “It did not extend beyond our walls.

“We selected the print resources students used to conduct research. Now our curriculum is referred to as ‘information literacy,’ which is a better indication of what we teach and we collaborate with everyone.”

Walk into Hellgate’s library, and you’ll find stacks of books, catalogued and presented in the way libraries have done for 80-some years.

But taking up nearly as much space are tables full of computers for students to conduct research, and another area of empty tables for students to gather around to collaborate on projects or to plug in their own laptops.

“With the advent of the Internet, kids have so much information available to them, and my job is to help them make good academic decisions,” Cordell said. “Kids still like to read, but we are incorporating more e-books and databases and other resources on the open web.”

While the entire world is at their fingertips, Cordell said, “students today have to be more discerning and selective about what kind of information meets their needs, and finding credible sources is important.”


With the new technology comes all the programs it can access, which keeps Cordell and her colleagues in the library busy – and challenged.

“Being a library-media specialist requires brainstorming to find workarounds and on-call troubleshooting,” she said.

Often, there’s a gap between what the school’s IT professionals install and what teachers need to make it work and deliver curriculum.

“That’s where we come in,” Cordell said. “Library-media specialists have been considered the experts in classroom technology. We are fearless button-pushers, and find equipment and software pretty intuitive because of our background.”

For example, on Tuesday there was a glitch in the school’s Turnitin program, which is an online program that students use to turn in papers electronically, and which gives teachers grading tools and a way to check for plagiarism.

Cordell stepped in to solve the problem and help calm students who worried they would be penalized for submitting their work late when they didn’t.

Lately, Cordell has been teaching Hellgate students about how to use and navigate a new research program called JStor, which is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources.


As a senior class of International Baccalaureate students settled in around the computers for Cordell’s help in finding out about Japanese imperialism leading up to World War II, teacher Patty Hixson watched her students as they gave the librarian their full attention.

“I don’t know how she manages to be so nimble,” Hixson said of Cordell. “I tell her what we are working on, and the next thing she’s prepared learning targets, resources and databases for these students.

“And she does it for all of us – she’s such a pro.”

Hixson said she admires Cordell’s patience, helpfulness and her ace problem-solving skills. But what she admires most is that she is a collaborator with the students.

“They respect her – they love her,” Hixson said. “She’s like having a co-teacher for every class.”

As she moved about, giving each of Hixson’s students one-on-one attention, Cordell paused for a moment to remind the class: “Good academic research does not equate to instant gratification.”

Her comment brought groans of recognition – and smiles from the students.

As the class ended, Cordell said she is devoting time to getting a new program called Shoutbomb up and running.

The program is a text notification that tells students if the library materials they checked out are overdue.

“It requires a lot of data entry, but it will allow us to be a lot greener in the future,” Cordell said.

Ongoing change has become the norm in her world, Cordell said, and she loves every minute of it.

The library is always busy from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with drop-in classes, drop-in students, students who are working on senior projects, students who are using their free periods to catch up on homework, and teachers in need of information and technology support.

“The technology is a moving target, and you have no choice but to keep up,” she said. “I love it, because when I walk into the library the work is different every day.”

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Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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