In Columbus, Ohio, last week, the AASL 17th National Conference & Exhibition drew the attention of The Columbus Dispatch to the multiple roles of a school librarian:
By Shannon Gilchrist
The job title librarian just doesn’t cover it these days, national education expert Heidi Hayes Jacobs said on Thursday.
More accurate would be director of research and development or media producer or innovation lab leader. Or how about school curriculum co-designer?
“I think you need to advertise this, that there’s a new librarian in town,” Jacobs told the nearly full ballroom at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
About 3,000 school librarians from across the U.S. gathered in Columbus on Thursday for the biannual conference of the American Association of School Librarians. It ran through Sunday.
Much discussion centered on how quickly technology is evolving, and that media specialists must keep up. Children 5 and younger have never lived in a world without the iPad.
“Just because they can get in the starship doesn’t mean they know where they’re driving,” Jacobs said. Librarians have to teach kids to be savvy media consumers.
And for those librarians cowed by the vast number of online tools and apps, she said, “You don’t have the right to be overwhelmed in education. … Funny, you don’t say that about books. You start with a few, and you study them.”
The trend is to convert books-on-shelves school libraries into multimedia labs, complete with green screens for shooting video and “makerspaces” equipped with 3-D printers and other science, art and engineering tools where students can build and create.
All this change is happening right after the economic downturn, when many school districts cut their library programs, splitting librarians’ time among several schools or replacing licensed librarians with aides, volunteers and other kinds of teachers.
The number of librarians, or full-time equivalents, in Ohio public schools dropped from 1,628 in the 2004-05 school year to 923 in the 2013-14 school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Responding to that slump in demand, not as many people have been training and becoming licensed as librarians, said association President Leslie Preddy. Now she’s hearing that some districts are having trouble finding qualified librarians.
“It was like the perfect storm,” Preddy said.
In 2011, School Library Journal used national data to examine the relationship between the number of school librarian positions in states and their fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress.
States that added school librarians between 2005 and 2009 saw larger increases and no decreases in reading scores, the authors found. States that lost librarians during that time saw either smaller increases or decreases in reading scores. That held up across subgroups of students, such as race and economic status.
Convention attendees had the option of taking side trips to libraries at several local schools: Columbus’ International High School, St. Charles Preparatory School, Columbus School for Girls, Hilliard’s Weaver Middle School and Upper Arlington’s Barrington Elementary School.
At Barrington on Thursday morning, 30 visiting librarians sat with a kindergarten class as they heard the book Creepy Carrots, and then they assisted the kids with making construction-paper carrots with googly eyes.
As the group toured the building, media specialist Amy Byard described how Barrington, a K-5 school with 769 children, is unique. Some classrooms follow an “informal” setup, meaning instruction is largely guided by what students and parents want to explore, and other rooms are “ contemporary,” meaning more-traditional instruction.
Making those two philosophies work with one library requires “a lot of planning” and “a lot of resource sharing” with the district’s other elementaries, Byard said. Next year, when all elementary students in Upper Arlington are given either a laptop or a tablet, she will figure out how to incorporate them into her program.
Teachers and librarians collaborate to create meaningful lessons, she said. Byard and a fourth-grade teacher set up a scavenger hunt in the library, based on a book the class had read. It required the kids to interpret clues using searches of the Internet and the electronic card catalog.
It was tricky and a lot of work to prepare. But, “kids told me this was the most fun they’d ever had in the library,” Byard said.
Author: Meg Featheringham, KQ Editor
Meg Featheringham is responsible for the development and production of the AASL journal, Knowledge Quest. When not working at AASL, Meg enjoys playing euchre, attending concerts and plays, spending time with family and friends, and reading (of course).