Learning about School Librarianship
This fall, I was privileged to be able to work with amazing students at the University of Maryland’s iSchool as an adjunct professor in their college of information science. I taught one of my favorite courses, which centers around the nuts and bolts of being a school librarian. While I was teaching these amazing graduate students, they were reminding me through their ideas, assignments, and optimism of why I am a part of this profession and how important school libraries are to a school community. Honestly, in many ways, I am pretty sure I learned as much from them as they did from me. I am humbled and more than grateful to have had the opportunity to be their professor.
In this blog post, I wanted to address what became the class final assignment. AASL published new standards in 2018. In the standards book, AASL relates the new standards to the previously adopted 5 roles of the school librarian: teacher, information specialist, instructional partner, program administrator, and leader. We spent the semester exploring the new standards through the lens of these 5 powerful roles of school librarianship. For a final project, my students were asked to design a podcast, a video, a presentation, or a blog post that intertwined the roles, the standards, their thoughts, and their future careers.
Falling in Love All Over Again
What my students presented to me was honestly something that made me fall in love with our profession all over again, and I wanted to share some of their thoughts with you. I have asked 3 of my students if they would be willing to share what they wrote for their blog post assignment. I would love to share every single project, but this post would be 50 pages long! What follows below is the incredible work of Tina Hughes, Jennifer Pruitt, and Christina Talcott. With their permission, I’m going to share some excerpts from their blog posts here and one very catchy video link.
What Do School Librarians Do?
Jennifer Pruitt had this to say:
What exactly do school librarians do in 2019? Perhaps you’re considering becoming a school librarian yourself or maybe you’re already working in education and are just curious to learn more about what exactly the SL’s role is—or could be—in today’s educational communities.
Regardless of the nature of your interest or level of investment, you should know it’s an exciting time in the world of school librarianship! While it’s likely that you already have a few preconceived notions about this role, it’s important to get the facts, look to research, scan the market, and talk with school librarians to get a fuller understanding of how this profession has shifted over the last several decades. I think you’ll be surprised to discover how comprehensive and integrative the role of the school librarian can be, and how capable and willing trained SLs are to assist teachers and students in their instruction and learning, respectively.
In 2019 school librarians do much more than simply organize collections, check-out books and manage the physical space that is the library. They, of course, still do all of those things, but now, even more is required (and possible!) of this position. This shift is due to advances in technology, the evolution of information, changing demographics and new emerging areas of practice (Cohen et al, 2019); school librarians’ days are comprised of a much greater range of activities than 30—or even 10—years ago. Likewise, this professional skill set has expanded to better serve the unique needs of today’s learners and to encompass the educational opportunities now available.
As an emerging SL, it was this dynamism that first drew me to this profession and continues to excite and inspire me as I complete my graduate coursework. SLs are an integral component of the school community and are in a unique position to assist, teach and monitor the development of vital skills necessary to tackle the demands of today’s information and technology rich world. Apart from these practical skill sets, librarians are also able to build collections and spaces that are inclusive, representative and inspiring for their students. In essence, they are able to see their students and communities holistically and are positioned to build partnerships and create programs that address the unique assortment of needs and interests.
After reading this excerpt from Jennifer, it’s easy to see why the role of the school librarian is integral to the success of school communities! Jennifer encapsulates the role of the school librarian so beautifully: “They are able to see their students and communities holistically and are positioned to build partnerships and create programs that address the unique assortment of needs and interests.” What other job does that like school librarians? None!
Tina says “Advocate!”
Advocacy has long been a component of school librarianship. As librarians, we advocate for our programs, our materials, our students, our teachers, our profession. Tina Hughes had this to say about advocacy:
Advocacy is essential for a school librarian not only to keep her funding, but to be able to promote her programming and to keep her library fully meeting the needs of the school. If a librarian advocates well, she becomes a leader in her community as everyone knows to turn to her and her space to meet their needs.
Advocacy is especially important to a librarian to be able to fulfill her teacher and instructional partner role. What fundamentally separates school librarians from other librarians, and what likely appeals most to you when you chose to pursue this career, is the opportunity to teach students. We all know there is an educational achievement gap in this country and school librarians have a unique opportunity to help reduce this gap by teaching literacy and information literacy skills to all students.
What I love here is that advocacy and instructional partnerships are intertwined! Truly, to be an effective instructional partner, you must advocate for your students and what you know the library can bring to their learning. Tina continues the conversation by also addressing the importance of leadership for the school librarian.
Being a Leader
A school librarian must be a leader. This role is essential as she needs to be a leader and positive role model for the students, but it goes so much further than this. A school librarian must be a leader not only to students, but to the faculty, and to the greater community. The physical library is the center and, hopefully, heartbeat of the school. It is a safe, stimulating place for students before and after school, during class times, and during lunch. As much as it is for students, it is also for teachers to come in to pursue professional resources, administrators to hold meetings, school groups to run additional programming, and a variety of stakeholders to display student work or other valuable collections. She must join the instructional leadership team to promote the school’s vision across the school’s student population. In so doing, she must also share what her library is doing to promote this vision with the community.
How powerful is that? Pretty powerful, if you ask me. It reminds me of Spiderman and the quote “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is the responsibility of the school librarian to be a leader in their building and beyond.
Watch and Smile!
To round out this post, I want to share a Powtoon video that Christina Talcott created for her final assignment. Personally, I feel that she nailed it perfectly. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8ifXnMB2bQ&rel=0. Check it out! It is worth a few minutes of your day and will bring a smile to your face.
Finally, I want to give a great big shout out to my 741 Fall 2019 students. You know who you are! You are amazing, you are wonderful, and you are going to do great things.
How are you fulfilling the multiple roles of the school librarian? Share in the comments below.
Author: Jennifer Sturge
Jennifer Sturge is a Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning for Calvert County Public Schools. She has been an educator and librarian for 26 years and is always looking forward. She is a member of ALA and AASL and is President for the Maryland Association of School Librarians for 2020-2021. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow. Most recently she is the chair elect for the Supervisor’s Section of AASL. She is diligently working on her doctoral studies in leadership at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.