School Librarians, Step Up!

It’s been about three years since I’ve written a blog post on my site, but a recent request from a colleague prompted a thoughtful response that I reposted below.  The role of school librarians/media specialist, or any title of the like, has changed.  About the time I created this blog and posted regularly was when I started developing this blended role.  After sharing my thoughts with my Apple Distinguished Educator colleagues today, I realized I needed to document my thoughts, make it more open, and ellicit feedback from the community.  Below are my thoughts:

“I see the librarian/media specialist going around to these resource areas and working with students in research, etc. as well as being a resource for teachers.” –Taken from April email request for clarification on school librarians’ role in today’s schools.

It’s difficult to ignore the tumultuous future of the print industry and I whole heartedly agree that the role of school librarians/media specialists are in flux.  In my opinion, the classic image of the librarian should not exist in today’s schools.  I actually cringed when a colleague of mine said she aspired to be the lady behind the counter who stamped the due date.  That’s so not our job.

In attempt to answer your overarching question about the future of libraries I’ve outlined what I strive to do in my job as the LRC Director in a K-5 elementary school.  I’m not about to claim this is “the way” the job should perform, especially on a listerv with such a renowned group of progressive educators!  It is, however, a collection of my personal insights supported by research and modeling from other progressives in the field.

I believe school librarians should be:
  1. Collaborative Teacher - you are a teacher, first and foremost.  Teaming and/or co-teaching with the classroom teacher is more effective to infuse digital literacy and information fluency into curriculum than teaching weekly lessons in isolation.  ”School librarians have to know and understand CCS and not stay back and wait to be asked to help or participate. They have to be assertive and let teachers and administrators know what they can do to help teachers work through the standards. They need to make sure that they are seen as teachers and educators not just book purveyors” (Kramer, 2011, ¶ 13).
  2. Media Specialist - students need guidance navigating information in the digital age and today’s librarian specializes in information (Long, 2009).  Students require the tools to find information effectively and efficiently using print and digital media, discern credible information, and cite their sources.  ”Information fluency skills and strategies are an integral part of learning in any subject area.  They can be most effectively taught by the librarian in collaboration with the classroom teacher, so that students are using these skills to learn essential content” (New York City Department of Education, 2010, p. 1).
  3. Technology Integration Specialist – One common theme emerges from Dewey’s Democracy and Education, Costa and Kallick’s Habits of the Mind, Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the Common Core State Standards, and myriad other credible sources: “…students need to leave school equipped with a set of capacities and skills for functioning effectively in a complex world” (Caine & Caine, 2011, p. 40).  Good instructional strategies remain the base, but with the constant evolution of technology educators need support adopting new hardware/software and determining best practice when integrating.
  4. Instructional Coach - you should be a master of the curriculum and support teachers with instruction.  Lets be honest, standalone instructional coach positions are awkward for the classroom teacher (e.g., defensive educator commonly thinks, “Why do I need coaching?”).  Teachers will naturally gravitate to an effective school librarian seeking resources.  This is an easy opening to create those student-centered coaching opportunities!  In order to coach and support instruction, modern school librarians should have solid knowledge of the curriculum.  This is critical in the 4/5 of our nation following the Common Core State Standards.  ”Librarians need to be the gurus of CCS. They need to know the CCS inside out” (Kramer, 2011, ¶ 14).

The best will weave these roles seamlessly in what they do…but I guess you could say that about any educator. ;-)

Stepping down from the soap box,

Josh Mika
LRC Director
Beebe Elementary
ADE, Class of 2011

P.S.  Doesn’t matter what you call the position (some educators get bent out of shape if you call them a librarian), it’s more about the right work for the students, staff, and school community.

Works Cited:

Caine, R. N., & Caine, G. (2011). Natural learning for a connected world: education, technology, and the human brain. New York: Teachers College.

Kramer, P. (2011, September/October). Common core and school librarians. School Library Monthly. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from http://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/articles/Kramer2011-v28n1p8.html

Long, C. (2009, October/November). Beyond the stacks: the school librarian in the digital age. NEA Today, 26.

New York City School Library System. (2010, Fall). Information Fluency Continuum: Benchmark Skills for Grades K-12 Assessments (New York, New York City Department of Education, Office of Library Services). Retrieved December 29, 2011, from http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/27A1E84E-65EB-4A54-80DF-51E28D34BF4F/0/InformationFluencyContinuum.pdf

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