Future-Ready Libraries and Librarians

My Midwinter Theme – Research and the Future

I have just returned from the ALA Midwinter Conference in Atlanta. At conferences, I like to make a “theme” for myself. I try to attend sessions that complement one another. This year my theme was “research and the future of libraries.” Some of the sessions I attended at the conference included “Developing a Research Agenda for 21st-Century Libraries” and the ALA Masters Series “Reimagining the Research Library for the 21st Century.” Only a handful of school librarians were in these sessions, but I found that school, academic, and public librarians are all having similar discussions.

Librarians Library

The Future for College and Research Librarians

In one session, Catherine Murray-Rust, Dean of Libraries at Georgia Tech, discussed a vision for a future-ready library and library staff. Georgia Tech has a library vision titled “Library Next.” This plan reimagines both the physical spaces and the practice of library services at Georgia Tech. Murray-Rust emphasized the evolving roles of library staff.  She described how subject librarians at Georgia Tech were being trained to work collaboratively with faculty and department heads. These librarians are challenged to get outside of the library and not just wait for faculty and patrons to come to them.  Murray explained that at first, some were not comfortable in the new outreach-oriented roles.

As I reflected on the session, I could not help but think of how much the roles of school librarians have similarly evolved in just the past 5-10 years. Ten years ago we were looking less at the essential role of the librarian and more to the collection to determine success. We focused on collection size and circulation statistics. For instance, an example of an “exemplary library” in my state was one that had twelve books per student. In the past ten years, print circulation numbers declined in many libraries. These librarians struggle to defend both their collections and their positions as guardians of the collection.

The Future for School Librarians

It is incredibly helpful that AASL has released a position statement that “AASL supports the position that school librarians are instructors as well as collaborators with fellow educators.” This statement is necessary because there are many different perceptions of librarians in the school setting. Some perceive librarians as school leaders and instructional partners with teachers. But there are others who believe that school librarians make copies, shelve books, and provide childcare so that teachers can have a break. Of course, we all must contribute to our schools in many ways. But a big focus for school librarians must be placed on our role as instructors and collaborators.

Convey the Future-Ready School Librarian Philosophy

My school is undergoing re-accreditation this year with SAIS. The internal accreditation team at my school asked if I wanted to revise the statements surrounding the library standard. My answer was “yes!” This time, instead of listing what materials we have in the library, I described our purpose as library professionals. See the difference between the 2012 and 2016 statements:

3.10 Assures ready access to instructional technology and a comprehensive library/media collection integrated to support learning goals. (SAIS)

2012 response:

In addition to a large print collection, the library has audiotapes, videotapes, CDs, DVDs and the equipment to operate those mediums.  We have subscriptions to both databases and eBooks, which provide coverage in the disciplines of language arts, history, geography, health, business, religion, philosophy, foreign languages, and fine arts.  

2016 response:

The library is more than just a building or a collection; it is a program and a group of professionals striving for both information literacy and championing the freedom to read throughout The Webb School community. We have an advocacy plan in place for teaching and learning aligned with the curriculum, the library environment, archives preservation and community outreach.

Be the Future-Ready School Librarian

How can you be the school librarian of the future? Be the solution to declining reading scores in your school. Check out the School Librarian’s Role in Reading Toolkit. Be the solution to “fake news” at your school. Read the article “In the war on fake news, school librarians have a huge role to play.” Be the solution to college readiness at your school. See the article “Factors Affecting Students’ Information Literacy as They Transition from High School to College.” Be the information professional at your school. Be the one who helps the teachers teach, the parents nurture, and the administrators lead. Be the future-ready school librarian.

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