Blanche Woolls describes in The School Media Manager (2008) how changes in education have influenced and affected library media programs over the years. Due to economic difficulties or teacher shortages, libraries were staffed by untrained professionals and plagued by loss of funds (Woolls, p. 5). That was my experience back in the 1990’s when I took on the role of the first paid librarian at a small private Catholic elementary school in Portland. I was the classroom teacher with the reading endorsement and good technology skills- wouldn’t that be a good fit for a Librarian? I learned by trial-and-error, lots of research, helpful mentors and was assisted by enthusiastic parent volunteers. I remember reading Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (1998) in those early days. It gave me guidelines and directed me towards helpful resources.
Progress in school library media programs is reflected in the development of the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner (2007). These standards are based on the idea that learners use skills, resources and tools and having an effective library program is essential to the development of informational literacy skills of students (Woolls, p. 7). Today, librarians are encouraged to take a stronger leadership role in their schools by collaborating with classroom teachers and placing the resources of the media center into the curriculum (Woolls, p. 11). I believe this is a critical aspect of our job – to support student learning – otherwise librarians are left with the role of becoming “glorified babysitters” whose primary objective is to manage and check out materials from a “archival museum.”
Today, school library media specialists are also responsible for information literacy. With constant technological advances, librarians are challenged to help students access, select and evaluate the vast amounts of resources student’s have at their fingertips. Information literacy is defined as the ability to find and use information and is “the keystone of lifelong learning” (Woolls, p. 23). Librarians collaborate with classroom teachers to make sure information literacy skills are taught within the context of the curriculum and not as isolated library lessons.
This is a crucial role of mine at my current school. Luckily, I teach at the school that values the collaborative relationship between librarian and classroom teacher. Our school already has developed a scope and sequence of information literacy skills and has identified specific classes where the instruction is integrated within the curriculum for each grade level. These research projects give students opportunities to practice skills in a variety of subject areas. Students do not see these skills only belonging to English class because other curriculum areas also require MLA citations/Works Cited, reference databases and consistent use of note-taking among all 9th grade teachers.
Woolls (2008) describes the development of technology/digital literacy. I do not distinguish the difference between information literacy and technology/digital literacy. I believe they are one in the same. Accessing and evaluating information is the same whether you are using a print or electronic platform. This notion is the same for plagiarism and copyright infringement. Plagiarism is plagiarism. The difference today is the ability to access so many more resources and the ease of copying and pasting and declaring it as your own. What this means for librarians, though, is that they must have and use effective technological skills themselves. It is no longer acceptable to be digitally illiterate if your primary responsibility is to assist students in accessing information.
Having the school library specialist involved in the development of the school technology plan is essential in order to maintain a technology-rich environment in the library (Woolls, p. 27). Focusing on curricular outcomes and student learning is the determining factor whether this plan includes online databases, a library catalog, communication links, a library web page, Internet filtering, LAN/WAN or wireless networks, and/or teleconferencing (Woolls, p. 29-31). There are so many factors to consider and though the librarian doesn’t have to be an expert in all of them, they should be aware of their uses and implications in the library or classroom. This is one aspect of library media specialist where my technology background gives me an edge.
The list of qualities for an effective school library media specialist is quite comprehensive: outstanding teaching skills, enthusiasm for learning, service orientation, creativity, and leadership (Woolls, p. 39). Its an exciting role. I love being a part of all aspects of the school curriculum and become excited when I work with enthusiastic teachers who love what they do and their students love to learn.
I read with interest the AASL position statement of the Role of the School Library Program (1990). Even though it was written two decades ago I believe it still holds true today. One aspect that was mentioned in this article was that school libraries “provides a mechanism for choice and exploration beyond the prescribed course of study”. Yes, our job is to support the school curriculum but also to foster the love of reading and life-long skills that students will use everyday. The statement goes on to remind us that books and other materials need to be selected to meet the wide range of students individual learning styles and of interest to ALL members of the community. This is an important aspect of collection development and that’s why we include graphic novels, ebooks, books on tape, etc, in the library. I love the idea that the library is the symbol of freedom: “the freedom to speak our minds and hear what others have to say”. Having just celebrated Banned Books Week, this idea is even more important than ever!
Faye Pharr, Principal from Lakeside Academy of Math, Science, and Technology describes how their school transformed their media center with the Library Power initiative in the article, Reflections of an Empowered Library (n.d.). The goal of the Library Power initiative was to enhance student learning by improving library services. They moved to flexible scheduling and the library became a center of instruction, exploration and learning. Pharr reported that the key to change was the collaborative planning between the library media specialist and the classroom teachers.
I find this as the most rewarding as well as as the most challenging aspect of my new role. It takes a concerted effort on my part to connect with classroom teachers. I find that I need to seek them out and ask them how I can support the student learning that is happening in the classroom. Just because you want it to happen … doesn’t mean it will happen. I think that it is great that Lakeside Academy reported that “there was a direct link between library usage and test scores in the reference study and reading comprehension” and that circulation of non-fiction books doubled in the last two years. Results like this should motivate librarians everywhere to evaluate their current library program.
Information power: Building partnerships for learning. (1998). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Pharr, F. (n.d.). Reflections of an empowered library. Retrieved October 3, 2010, from http://www.laurabushfoundation.org/Pharr.pdf.
Position statement on the role of the school library media program.(1980). Retrieved October 3, 2010, from American Association of School Libraries: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslissues/positionstatements/slmprole.cfm
Standards for the 21st century learner. (2007). Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved October 3, 2010 from http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards.
Woolls, B. (2008). The school library media manager. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.