Guest Blogger

The Constantly Evolving Role of the School Librarian

Rows of bookcases in a library

Over the past twenty years, perhaps no position in education has transformed more than the school librarian. I spoke with two veteran school librarians to get a better idea just how much their jobs have evolved:

  • Dr. Andrea Ange is a veteran librarian and web master at Campbell High School in Litchfield, NH.
  • Marifran DeMaine is a high school librarian in Putnam Valley, NY with additional experience working in public, elementary, and middle school libraries.

Andrea and Marifran were gracious enough to share the ways in which their positions have allowed them to support teachers and students in this ever-changing educational landscape. Through our conversations, it became abundantly clear just how vital school librarians are and will continue to be to education in the 21st century.

Librarians are Teachers

School librarians are teachers, first and foremost. After all, no one gets a library science degree just to organize a card catalog!

“I had two opportunities to choose from. I could be an art teacher or a school librarian. I chose the library because they promised to let me teach.”
– Dr. Andrea Ange

In their libraries and media centers, librarians have the opportunity to reach and support students in ways that are more unique and personalized than a traditional classroom experience might allow. This individualized attention can empower students and help promote truly authentic, life-changing learning experiences.

“I provide research support in all areas of the curriculum. … I’ve [also] helped students write college essays, complete job applications and in one instance, stopped a student from shredding her Social Security card because her information had been compromised in a retail credit breach.”

– Marifran DeMaine

Some librarians are even using their libraries as focused centers for student innovation. From Minecraft to LEGO, librarians are some of the educators at the forefront of promoting the development of the next generation of makers.

Librarians are Collaborators

“I am a librarian, which means I co-teach with almost every subject.”

– Dr. Andrea Ange

It is becoming more and more common to see librarians working in collaboration with teachers to develop and drive engaging instruction. While some teachers still have not embraced the appeal of collaborative teaching, those that have can’t help but feel the positive impact on student learning.

“There seems to be a broader understanding among classroom teachers of the support their librarian colleagues provide for students and themselves. That saying ‘work smarter, not harder’ should be amended with ‘get yourself a librarian.’”

– Marifran DeMaine

Furthermore, as school budgets get tighter, districts are finding it tougher to find money for expensive professional development and curriculum resources. Enter the school librarian!

Many schools are using their librarians to help offer teachers support and training in the latest educational trends as well as to steer larger district initiatives:

“I am also a data analyst who leads the data team in my school. I write grants, coordinate some professional learning opportunities, develop new teaching ideas, and implement new technologies. I research curriculum and resources for the school. I am also a certified technology teacher who runs the help desk program in my school.”

– Dr. Andrea Ange

This “many hats” approach to the librarian position has become increasingly common as districts seek to consolidate services and keep costs down. Thankfully, this versatility of the modern school librarian’s skill set (and the willingness to seek out and learn new things) may likely be the very thing that keeps the position viable well into the future.

Librarians are the Ultimate Facilitators

“[T]he library should be the center of the school’s social network.  Students must have a space where they can work collaboratively, and develop their social skills.”

– Dr. Andrea Ange

Modern librarians are not just amazing collaborators themselves, they also teach students to be collaborative. One way they do this is by providing the space and support for students to work together.

This can be seen in the ways the physical landscapes of school libraries are evolving. The endless stacks of musty, unread encyclopedias are being replaced with versatile and comfortable workspaces. Banks of claustrophobic study carrels are giving way to more open environments for students to interact with technology and each other.

Instead of being hushed sanctuaries of independent study, librarians are transforming their media centers into areas where students can follow their learning wherever it may take them. What’s more, if students are struggling with a concept, the trusty school librarian is there to help guide students towards growth and understanding.

In these spaces, librarians are the ultimate facilitators. They run the gamut from research assistants to tech support, all the while helping students to engage with content and steer their own educational growth.

“I believe my role is multifaceted: there is always something new I should be learning, a personal practice I should be updating or redefining, an area of service I should be exploring. First and foremost, I am in a school to work for students. Teachers can refuse to collaborate with me, administrators can underfund positions, but no matter what, I need to do my level best to find out what each student needs as a learner and an individual and then connect them with the tools they need to flourish.”

– Marifran DeMaine

The educational landscape is awash with initiatives to make learning more authentic and problem-based. For these differentiated approaches to work, students and teachers need networks of support to ensure that students can follow their own felt needs for learning. Who better to support that journey than the modern school librarian?

Forget Dewey decimal quizzes and overdue notices; today’s school librarians are the linchpins for modernizing the educational system. In the era of belt-tightening and budget cuts, school librarians are crucial pieces in the educational infrastructure that need to be both protected and cherished if our students are to receive the best education possible.

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Headshot of Sheldon Soper
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Sheldon Soper is a New Jersey middle school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. He holds teaching certifications in English, Social Studies, and Elementary Education as well as Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the field of education. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education (including Teach.com), technology, and parenting websites. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SoperWritings and on his blog.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

2 comments

  1. Angela Ferraris

    So true! I think back how I taught in 1989 to how I teach in 2017. What a big change! I am constantly changing how I teach, collaborate, and maintain the library’s collection.

  2. Elizabeth

    Such a good blog post! We do so much more than teachers think and this kind of advocacy is essential. I will be sharing and linking to your blog.

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