Twenty-first century school librarians are both heirs and path-breakers. As heirs, they draw from a rich tradition of school library philosophy and pedagogy, including building diverse collections, fostering one-on-one relationships with individual students as readers and researchers, and empowering students to think critically about the information they read. As path-breakers, school librarians have the opportunity to bring traditional pedagogies and practices into a digital context, and to continue honing professional development in the areas of information literacy, intellectual freedom, and recreational reading. Aiding librarians in their quest to adapt and create new pedagogies are their bird’s eye view of the curriculum, librarian-teacher collaboration, their position as non-evaluative educators, and their knowledge of each student’s history as a reader and researcher.
Because the library is the center of the school, librarians have the opportunity to survey the curriculum across subjects and grade levels. This allows them not only to serve individual students better, but also to think critically and creatively about how teachers’ assignments fit into the overall framework of the school. Librarians work one-on-one with students as well as teaching them in class, and often get to know them outside of the contexts of homework and research assignments. For example, librarians who know their students as recreational readers have an opportunity to apply that knowledge to developing students as researchers and community members. Librarians “see” the school across grade levels and subject areas, and could have a profound impact on discussions and proposals regarding curriculum.
In addition, librarians are in an ideal position to collaborate with teachers and contribute to the overall life of the school. As non-evaluative educators, librarians are able to develop unique relationships with the “whole student.” This helps them contribute to teachers’ curricular goals by understanding each student’s history as a researcher and a reader. Libraries, as hubs of relatively free inquiry, offer students the opportunity to range freely amongst various library materials and media. Students may begin research as a class project only to develop a life-long interest, and vice versa. Teachers know that engaged students are more successful students, and librarians can be a resource and support for that engagement.
Finally, the library can become a place where students learn to become critical users of information and, in turn, offer new knowledge to their communities. Today’s digital environment provides plenty of information, but much of it is irrelevant and unreliable. Students need to be astute evaluators of the information they find, to learn strategies to search for material, and to be able to distinguish between a primary source (which might serve as an example) and a secondary source (which helps them analyze their topic). While the Internet can be intimidating, it is also a great opportunity for students to collaborate with others that share similar interests, develop their own abilities, and create new knowledge. Technology is a two-way street, and students have as much to offer the world as they do to learn from it. Librarians are in an ideal position to help students become confident users of information sources in a variety of media.
In conclusion, school librarians have the opportunity to cultivate students’ interest in diverse voices and ideas and to help students participate in communities both online and offline. Let’s strive to empower students to draw from their education and experience to make socially responsible judgments and to better serve their communities as leaders and thinkers.
Author: Loretta Gaffney
Loretta M. Gaffney, MLIS, MA, Ph.D., is a librarian and teacher at Harvard Westlake School in Los Angeles. Illinois-born and Iowa-raised, she is slowly becoming an Angeleno by learning to shiver in 50-degree weather. Loretta is the author of Young Adult Literature, Libraries, and Conservative Activism, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2017. A frequent conference speaker and guest lecturer, Loretta taught YA Literature, Reading Research, Intellectual Freedom, and Youth Services Librarianship at both UCLA and the University of Illinois. She has twin 13-year-old daughters and two extremely active kittens.