Welcome to my first post since retiring as a Library Media Specialist. Or Teacher-Librarian. Or Information Consultant. Throughout my 28 years in education, I've worn the label of all of the above while serving as a school librarian for 25 of those years. The label doesn't really matter. The passion, commitment, and those we serve, do.
The topics chosen for this blog are a reflection of my thoughts. My posts will reflect my observations from the the standpoints of being a parent, community member, educator, classroom teacher, and, of course, the school library media specialist. I invite comments. The ability to post comments is the best part of a blog, since they provide feedback on which we can further reflect and grow.
Let's begin with a question. What does a school library media specialist do? I'm willing to bet that most people will give an answer similar to, "checks books in and out," "shelves books," "reads to students," and "hold book clubs."
The professional school librarian in this state is required to hold a Master's Degree in a field such as information science or educational media. Here is another thought. School librarians have standards to teach, just like teachers, preferably through collaboration with classroom teachers during research. Our state also has standards for cyber literacy, naturally connected to our national standards. In addition, the school librarian prepares and oversees a budget, selects and manages materials (both print and nonprint), serves on school wide and district committees, oversees adult or student assistants, may (and should) serve as the school's instructional technologist (helps teachers implement technology into lessons), and is frequently assigned other technical duties. School librarians do basically what a school administrator does, on a smaller scale, except they also teach. Many also sponsor programs that offer students experiences for growth in reading, special interests, and computers, and also are responsible for the morning live (or recorded) closed circuit news broadcast.
Now, here is another question. What field has shown possibly the most growth in the past decade? The answer is the field of information! You knew that though, didn't you? So, where am I going with this? Hang on, I'm almost there.
Let's take a quick look at some concerns we have about schools and our young people in general. 1) poor test scores 2) students' lack of knowledge about how to access, acquire, and use good information 3) poor reading skills 4) and how students practice risky behaviors in cyberspace.
Now, what do these concerns all have in common? They are all areas that the school's librarian has the power to foster improvement. So, in many cases, this isn't happening. Why? Because when it's time to lower costs in a poor economy, we cut an already minimal library staff.
Because this is what has always been done.
FACT: Students know how to entertain themselves with technology by downloading, uploading, texting, viewing, and listening. But, ask most teachers, and they will tell you that they do not know how to access and utilize information, or what sources to use to gather information. They do not know what is legal and not legal. They do not understand that a posted photograph cannot be deleted, even though they remove it from a site. It's in cyberspace forever. In other words, they do not possess the life skills necessary in the world we have today.
The school librarian can "fix" this problem.
School librarians have free online tools such as TRAILS to assess student knowledge, and obtain individual scores before working with classes. They still teach how to use a dictionary or encyclopedia, only now, it takes longer, because we teach how to use both printed and electronic ones. 21st century librarians reach their communities through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, podcasts, online photo sites, and it takes time to update those. 21st century school librarians collaborate with classroom teachers, bringing together an expert in content, and an expert on information, to provide the best quality experience for the students embarking on research projects School librarians still pull requested materials from the shelves for student and faculty use, but also utilize Web 2.0 tools to create helpful links for online resources.
This sounds wonderful. So why are school librarians on all levels often frustrated? Because instead of conducting the types of professional activities listed above, they must circulate and shelve materials, process new materials, repair worn labels or book spines, keep the batteries charged for the myriad of electronics, check in and stamp magazines, because they have no paraprofessional to assist them in the daily activities.
School librarians do the same tasks as 30 years ago, plus the added tasks involving technology, information literacy lessons and research projects, keeping up with the latest and greatest online tools, and share them with students and teachers. In other words, the work load has increased about three fold, but there is still one person doing the work. My work week went from about 45 hours (including work at home), to about 60+ hours per week. If I see this correctly, that is not enough added time to conduct 3 times the workload. And 30 years ago I had a paraprofessional.
School librarians are the only educators whose standards include the lifelong skills of locating, accessing and utilizing valid and appropriate information, and working together as students to create new information. Our standards also promote lifelong growth through reading through individual interest and selection.
Cutting library staff, or having a minimum level of professional staff is not only hurting our student communities but is no longer acceptable in the 21st century.
In closing, I challenge a school district to go "outside of the box" by piloting a program where there are MORE than the minimum number of professional and paraprofessional staff in a school library, by conducting a 3 year research study to demonstrate an increase in test scores, teachers empowered with technology knowledge and digital tools to use with instruction, and information literate students, with lifelong skills to help them be successful for life.
Investing in qualified, creative, and knowledgeable school librarians is a sound investment in our future.