Should librarians agree to teaching an official class?

Spring 2017 Writers Workshop

My Writing Workshop

Often we librarians, being teachers first, are called upon to teach a class in addition to our library work. For me, the opportunity has actually enhanced my library program. I teach an informal Writers Workshop Enrichment program that meets twice a week for eight weeks. This year I taught two consecutive sessions. The students sign up for this elective, ensuring their interest and motivation in writing. Teaching these students in a workshop setting allows me to continue my skills as a writing teacher while forming closer relationships with my library clients. One student, Zoe, wrote a poem about her dog that made four students cry. As I was handing out Kleenex, I said, “See, Zoe? It’s no surprise you’re such a good writer because you read so much.” She answered: “Reading is breathing in, writing is breathing out” (Ernest Morrell). She was actually quoting me quoting Mr. Morrell. Is there anything better than knowing your students are absorbing and internalizing what you are teaching them?

 To Officially Teach or Stick to the Library?

On the other hand, agreeing to teach a class can be a slippery slope that can erode our mission as school librarians. Ellen Thibodeaux, a former Austin ISD Librarian of the Year, was collaborating with one of her teachers at Eastside Memorial High School several years ago. They created a Research writing elective, and Ellen loved fulfilling the collaboration mission by working closely with this teacher and her students daily. When the teacher left at the end of the first semester, Ellen stepped in to continue the class on her own, even though it took her away from her librarian duties. Still, she was glad to jump in and help out.

Warning! 

What began as a beautiful collaboration devolved into a commitment that directly interfered with her school’s library program. It all started when the assistant principal evaluated Ellen teaching the class. As a “reward,” the next year Ellen had to teach three official writing classes, which left the library to be run by a part-time assistant. At the time Ellen felt she had to say yes. She wanted to be a “team player” while also promoting her position as an instructional leader; however, in retrospect Ellen believes she should have said no.

Ellen Thibodeaux (foreground) with other Austin ISD librarians at TCEA conference.

Other Views

I did a voluntary Google poll with librarians in my district, and most responded with severe wariness when it came to agreeing to teach an official class. In fact, the librarians registering most strongly against the practice are those who have agreed to do so in the past. One librarian said, “I enjoyed building relationships with students and having an ongoing project with them, but it definitely took away from my time serving other students. Overall, it feels like just another way that schools try to get fewer people to take on more responsibility.”

Competing Roles

Being torn in two can mean failing both as a teacher and as a librarian. One librarian I spoke with recounted a story from the late 1980s. At that time, elementary librarians were put into “the rotation,” meaning they had permanent, set classes coming in constantly. The library was viewed as a class in the same vein as other “specials”: art, music, and PE. But the school library is NOT a “special.” It is an essential resource that needs to be open continually in order to meet the school community’s needs. However, librarian Hollie Jenkins took a middle view: “Every librarian has different duties and circumstances. I don’t think you can say every librarian should agree to do anything. Teaching an official class should be an option, but not an expectation.”

Writers Workshop Spring 2016

Our Unique Vocation

As librarians, we are unique in our schools. It’s so easy to be pulled in many directions. While we work hard to demonstrate that we are also teachers, we are more than teachers. We are the curators and administrators of our library collections, literacy programmers, teachers of research and technology, and instructional guides for our teachers. Oh, and throw in book clubs, makerspaces, book fairs, author visits, etc. Sometimes it can feel as though we’re pulled in too many directions and that the basic maintenance of the collection, the weeding and the repair of books, falls to the wayside until we can’t stand it anymore. Still, because of our expertise, we can be as helpful as possible in filling needed niches, but we must steadfastly adhere to our unique vocation as school librarians.

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Author: Sara Stevenson

I’m a reader, writer, swimmer, and a public middle school librarian. I love all things Italian. I was honored to be Austin ISD’s first librarian of the year in 2013.



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

9 replies

  1. As a long time school librarian (gr 7-12), I have a very strong opinion about this. If you are hired to be a full-time librarian, then that is what you should be doing. If your position is part-time and you teach a class or two in order to have a full-time job, that is different. Think of it this way, would your administration go to a full-time time science teacher and ask him or her to teach a math class, while still teaching a full load of Science classes? To teach a non-library class when you are a full-time librarian implies that that position does not warrant your attention full-time. A very slippery slope indeed.

  2. Hello,

    We teach one class every 9 weeks, but there are 2 of us, so if one of us is teaching the official class, the other one is available for regular school lib needs. I love having a class, but I’m sure I’d feel differently if it was only me. I know lots of school libs who stay after school to complete library duties, because they don’t have time during the day. It’s probably not a healthy mindset, but I don’t know if I could say No if my administration asked me to teach more classes.
    Interesting post. Thanks for addressing this topic!

  3. Thanks, Dan and Mica for your comments.

  4. Is there really a time when the school librarian has an “option” to say no to teaching classes? My experience was that administration directed and other teachers expected full-time teaching. This wasn’t back in some distant 1980’s, this was through 2012. The schedule of the school demanded that planning periods be covered and as between planning periods and library access, planning periods won every time. So, lucky librarians if they were given an option to say no.

  5. Late 80’s?! Some Fl districts have Media Spec on the “wheel”. No clerks, 7 classes /day. And circ of books is expected. We are a Specials/ Fine Arts class but I see it as babysitting during teachr planning.

  6. As Librarian, I would like to be thought of as a support to Faculty and Administration. However, at the same time, I would prefer that students perceive me as separate from both (much like the Nurse or Custodian). This may be impossible.

  7. Integrating the curriculum into your lessons is key to adding and showing value. In this way you are collaborating with the school population, better able to enhance the Media Center collection and services. And if you are creative your lessons can provide badly needed background knowledge.

  8. I was not given the opportunity to decline to teach non-library classes at the middle school where I was the only librarian for a school enrollment of 600-650 students. The first year I was told that I would be teaching a Career Readiness class, but in reality it was a remedial math and reading class with no set curriculum or expectations. The library had to be closed to students and staff during that time. I was also expected to find parent volunteers to come in during my lunch and during the time I was teaching. The following year, I was again required to teach the College and Career class, as well as asking for parents to cover the library during my lunch and while I was teaching. The third year, a para-professional was assigned to work in the library while I was teaching two CCR classes and a Reading class. I was never allowed a planning time during those three years. I was also frequently told to cover for teachers when there was no substitute teacher available. By the middle of the third year, it was evident that I was not valued as a Library Media Specialist, but as a babysitter. Since I had devoted over 35 years as a LMS and had built an exemplary library program, only to see it destroyed by the division of my duties, I elected to retire mid school year. The position was posted for the remainder of the year without being filled. I have since learned my position was filled for next year with a colleague that I mentored for her LMS certification and she will not be required to teach any non-library classes and will retain the paraprofessional, too.

  9. In the “poverty state of Oklahoma,” school librarians in most smaller districts have already been removed from the library and assigned to the classroom (if they have other certification areas…which most do!) After 32 years as a librarian (at all levels), I was reassigned last year to the classroom where I now teach four sections of freshman English, one AP English course, and a yearbook course! This was a directive from the superintendent…if I wanted to remain employed in the district.

    None of the libraries in my district have a certified librarian now…I was the district librarian (and the only certified school librarian working among three campuses) four years prior to this decision. The libraries are supervised by library assistants (non-degreed individuals who have no knowledge of library administration…so they simply circulate books and shelve them). Library instruction for all students ended with me; I know which grades / students moving up have had information literacy instruction under my direction. As for the others, it is painfully obvious what has been missed when a certified school librarian is not available.

    Unfortunately, Oklahoma has failed our school librarians (and teachers) in so many ways due to their refusal to fund education (or pull us out of a billion dollar deficit hole!) While it might be easy for some librarians to refuse to accept a reassignment and leave the library, the reality is that for most (in Oklahoma), there are no school library positions available in the state. To remain employed, you must accept the classroom position–and continue to work to teach students information literacy better than any other classroom teacher in the district. The only other option is to move…leave the state…and hope for a better life / profession in another community. In the meantime, try not to focus on the students who have been left without the life skills needed to become informed citizens who are able to access and use information effectively. These will become the “low-information adult voters” who will be manipulated by those in power….which, in my opinion, has already happened to many within our state.

    Who says school librarians aren’t important? Watch Oklahoma’s educational funding and the status of our school libraries to see how a society can be destroyed by removing the individual who provides ALL students with the skills needed to be academically successful.

    If leaving the library to teach in the classroom IS an option…then don’t.

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