Do you ever hear from teachers, administrators, parents, students, or library workers who lament the changes in the library? Do they long for the day when the library was filled with old, dusty books and silent students? If so, here is the story of why the traditional school library of the past is dead. More important, however, is the story of why the new school library will be around for a long time - and is more vital than ever to the success of our students.
In the 1900’s, basic literacy skills included reading, writing, and calculating. Knowing meant memorizing by rote, which was appropriate to the industrial age. Education was generic and based on a factory-like, "one size fits all" model. Research equated to looking something up in a reference book or occasionally the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, finding a fact or a quote, and incorporating it into a written report. Research writing meant knowing how to parrot facts and quotes appropriately and formatting the dreaded bibliography on your typewriter.
Librarians during the past century were all about collecting, organizing, and preserving materials for research. We also provided access to those resources for our researchers, but our big job was basic curation, control, and oversight of these collections. This was a largely unchanging process for nearly 3,000 years. We taught students how to find where information resided in these books, but not about what to do with it once they found it. We instructed students on understanding the difference between fact and opinion - but to always rely on the credibility of the print resources in our libraries as the de facto standard.
And then…. the Internet happened! Around twenty years ago, we began adding computers with Internet connections into our library spaces. We taught our students and teachers how to use email to send messages and HotBot to find facts. We learned how to cite something on the Internet alongside our students. Research writing meant typing facts and quotes now using Microsoft Word instead of a typewriter. Access tools started to change, but the methodologies were largely intact.
And then in the last decade, as the Internet has grown exponentially with user generated content, more profound changes have manifested. Wifi has become ubiquitous and we have devices available in our pockets, in our classrooms, at Starbucks, and on the playground. Somehow, the information we can find on the Internet is sometimes better than what we have in our library. It is certainly more current (or on par with) the most updated print resources available to us. Today, the library and the web intersect - and provide multiple ways to get the same information. Research includes not just simple book quotes, but integrating complex multi-media rich sources. Sources that can change reading levels with a simple click are used daily in research. Research now is finding, evaluating, and then listening, viewing, reading and analyzing information. Researchers can use their mobile device to not only read books and search the Internet, but now they can chat with friends, interview experts, and automatically generate citations all while listening to music. Research writing is about preparing students for college and career. Basic literacy skills now include critical thinking and the ability to solve complex problems. Knowing today means taking information and using it to answer questions or solve problems.
Let’s face the truth : students do not need a school library to do research anymore.
How Can I Help?
Simply offering to help teachers is the right attitude but the wrong execution. When we offer to help but do not provide specific solutions, our teachers hear, “I need you to do something extra: I need you to figure out how I can help you.” Yes, we want to go to the department meeting. Yes, we want to help the teachers. But if we ask our teachers how we can help, we are asking the wrong person. We need to be asking ourselves: how can I help this teacher?
Don’t Send the Invitation--Bring the Party to Them!
We know our teachers are busy and librarians have so much to offer. We can excite students about reading, offer useful information technology tools, and instruct classes on vital research skills. Be sure you reach out to your teachers at their point of need, and with specific solutions, suggestions, and resources that will make their jobs easier.
Think about the vision of your school library program. We all hope our libraries are welcoming, comfortable, and accessible - but how about rigorous and challenging? Is your library the academic center of the school? Are you familiar with the standards across the curriculum and ready to collaborate with teachers at the drop of a hat? We hope you answered “yes” to all of these questions!
If we all slow down and focus on how to provide leadership in our school libraries, we position ourselves and our libraries to be more about collaboration and instruction than sending out monthly overdue notices and performing collection inventory. The next time you start a new project, consider the different ways it will contribute to the big picture and your role as an instructional leader. Does this project get you and your library program closer to those goals?
To begin creating your own vision, do a quick SWOT analysis of your school library program. Do an honest assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Take your analysis and read articles like Susan Ballard’s “Developing the Vision” Knowledge Quest, 38 (3) 76-77 to prepare a long range strategic plan. Think about your space, your instructional practices, how you collaborate with the faculty, and your plans for advocacy.
Once you have a SWOT analysis, plan to to write a vision statement for your school library program. It’s best to not work on a task like this alone. See if you can find some other stakeholders to help you out in this process. Together you will project into the future. What does your dream library look like five years from now? Why is your school better off with a library than without one? How will you impact student learning in the future? Include five bullets in the present tense. Tweet us your results! @librarianslead
The American Association of School Librarians’ mission is to empower leaders to transform teaching and learning. This statement resonates loudly with us—because it doesn’t say that its mission is to empower librarians, it indicates the position of leader. And it doesn’t focus on books and literacy; it instead names the acts of teaching and learning. This deliberate language of our professional organization points to our very philosophy: librarianship is leadership.
The nature of the school librarian’s position poises us for endless possibilities in school leadership.
We know every student
The school librarian is the only academic teacher who sees every student every year in every subject. We have the potential to know where each child struggles and where they are successful. When a classroom teacher shows us a new class list, we can give the teacher background information on how a particular student learns and what strategies have worked for him or her. As students move from grade level to grade level, we are able to communicate information to teachers about the progress of each child.
We know skills
Because of our cross-curricular vantage point, we have the ability to help implement literacy and research skills across the curriculum. When we communicate which skills have been covered and what language was used to subject-specific teachers, continuity and consistency benefits our students as they attempt mastery. When the librarian works with all teachers in all disciplines, skills become embedded in explicit instruction rather than one-shot deals.
We know curriculum and standards
Librarians need to be as comfortable with the Common Core Standards, the Next Gen Science Standards, and the C3 Social Studies Standards as their teaching counterparts. When we are familiar with the standards (& all modern standards have strong roots in inquiry and research), we can sit in department meetings and take part in faculty conversations that are about building curriculum. A strong standards-based curriculum will utilize a standards-based library.
Literacy Best Practices
Of course, librarians know books. Developing a love for reading is an integral part of our job and is essential for student learning. But librarians can also work to help teachers determine which texts will work best in their classrooms as they strive to align their curriculum to meet Common Core literacy across the curriculum standards. Guiding students through research, assisting with reading and writing strategies, and taking part in literacy committees ensure that the librarian is knee deep as an important teacher-leader.
Hub of learning
As many schools shift to personalized learning models, we are reminded time and again that student choice is an important piece to intrinsic motivation. Best practices show that when students are given choice in inquiry-based learning, they are more likely to become heavily invested in their academics. But as students are given authentic choices, it means they are not so reliant on classroom-provided materials. The library is poised to become the hub of the educational environment. Every student should be engaged with library-centered learning as they investigate their world, and librarians need to be ready to assist in all academics. We may not be experts at everything, but we are an expert at finding everything!
When we examine the potential of the school librarian as a leader, a certain urgency emerges. We need to do our job well in order for students to achieve full potential. When we know students, skills, curriculum, standards, and best learning practices, we become critical instructional leaders, unifying our schools to better serve our students, proving that indeed, librarianship is leadership.
Join our #ileadfromthelibrary campaign and share with us what you are doing to re-envision leadership in the library! Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Tweet (@librarianslead) us your leadership quote and we will beautify it and share it out with the world!