Changing Role of School Librarians

I love being a school librarian. It is absolutely the best job in a school. I am going to date myself here, but I have been teaching for 31 years. I have been a librarian for two thirds of my career. For a little over half of that I worked in an elementary library, and now I have been in a 6th-12th grade setting since 2003.

When I began in the library in 1991, I was lucky to have inherited an automated system. I never had to worry about those pesky cards in the back of the books. I did have a card catalog and for several years kept it up to date because I had no computers for the students. It was a great day when I could rid the library of that monster piece of furniture.
Even with little technology, I loved the role that I played of finding the right book for the right kid and sharing stories in puppet and song form for the little ones. Finding information in the old days was hard because I never had a huge materials budget. I was always looking on the shelf at outdated books that had no information on what the student wanted. Having information at your fingertips now is a revolution that I embrace. 

After attending Alan November's Building Learning Communities (BLC) conference last year I learned how to use Twitter to build a Professional Learning Network (PLN). This year I got to attend the American Library Association annual conference, but I could not go to BLC. That was okay because with Twitter I could follow the #BLC12 hashtag to find out what was new and cutting edge.

One of the tidbits that I read that peaked my interest was from Beth Swantz (@betswan) to Brian Mull of November Learning (@BrianMullNL). Beth stated that Brian proposed that we need to start rethinking school libraries and the way that they are used. Okay, I agree with that but what does it actually mean? So I asked Beth via Twitter what she thought Brian meant. Now she came back with her take on it, but I loved her list. This is what her spin of the new improved librarian needs to do: curate, guide, listen, dream, take risks and lead without fear. To me that is a very powerful list. I am going to try and list some examples of how I do all of those things in my school library.

As a librarian, curating has been what I have done since I began in the profession. I would carefully select all the print materials that I purchased and put on the shelves in the library. I always have wanted to meet the needs of my patrons both students and teachers. So I would make sure to have the fun reads as well as the books to support the curriculum. Now, I still purchase print materials for the school library, but my curating goes so much further than just purchasing new books. I have created a large reference section of electronic materials. I have purchased several iPod Touch devices and put apps and  books on those devices for my students to utilize in school. I have begun to collect useful websites for student and teacher use that I curate on the library website, in Livebinders and Wikis and in tools such as Delicious. The cool part about this type of curation is that these links are available to a much larger community than my school. I can share with librarians everywhere, and I also can find digital materials curated by other librarians that me or my students can find useful. What a change from librarian to the students in just one building to being a librarian to all students everywhere. All these collective brains working together can turn out amazing resources.

Guiding students to the appropriate materials for a project has been a part of a librarian's role forever. Now, not only do we need to be guides to the print materials, but we also need to guide to electronic and digital materials that the library owns as well as digital material that is available for free on the Internet. We must act as guides to both the teachers and the students in the building. I imagine myself like Sacagawea who guided Lewis and Clark through their explorations. They wanted to see the West but did not have a clue how to get there. Librarians must find out where our patrons want to go and help them get there. It may be through a new technology tool, an electronic book or even an old-fashioned non-fiction book sitting on the shelf. We can help them figure out the means to their ends.

I try to be a good listener. How can I curate materials if I don't know what someone is seeking? How can I guide someone if I don't understand where they want to go? Listening is a key element to being a good librarian. I remember in library school learning how to conduct a reference interview. The librarian asks a number of questions to clarify what the patron needs and why they need it, then the librarian can guide the patron to the appropriate materials. This role is not new, but it is as important as it ever was.

I am always trying to find ways to improve the library and the services that it provides. A lot of my new ideas are dreams. There might not always be money for innovation or space for innovation or personnel to initiate the innovation, but it never hurts to dream. My mind is a constant whir, and I try to keep my fingers on the pulse of what others are doing to innovate in their libraries. This year I dream about students reading more for pleasure than they have ever read before. My circulation statistics have dropped over the last few years, but my collection has improved. Students may be reading on their own devices, but I am dreaming of a way that I can document their reading habits and help improve those habits along the way.

I am willing to fall on my face. I am willing to fail. I will take risks because I understand that failure is an option. I have run a very successful book group for my high school students since 2007. I decided this year that I should run one for my middle school students as well. I was going to select one book a month and interested students in grades 6-8 could join the hour long discussion. I had no clue if the students were interested, and I did not know if they could talk about one book for an hour. It was a huge success. You can read all about BRiMS here.

I have really tried to embrace leadership over the last couple of years. I have suggested that our school start a Twitter feed and broadcast weekly on Ustream. I have conducted many inservices for our faculty on various technology tools that I think would work well in the classroom. I also serve on faculty committees that have to do with curriculum and instruction. This fall I will be traveling around the state of Louisiana to talk to other librarians about teacher and librarian collaboration.

That's it for me, but I would love to hear from others about how they have adapted the old ways with the new ways of being a school librarian. Add your ideas to the comments section below.


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