“A library at its best is the heartbeat of the school, the nucleus, the focus” (vkelly, 2009). This statement is the foundation for and driving force behind the vision and plan of the school librarian — the understanding of the essential nature of the library program to student achievement and success. Developing a program and facility that shapes this vision requires insight into several key components: education and support of students, training and support of faculty, cooperation and communication with administration, management of the library facility and staff, community outreach and advocacy, and continued personal professional growth.
The first and most central function of any school program, including the library, is to facilitate student achievement and education, beginning with student literacy. Reading continues to be identified as “a fundamental skill for all learning” (Coatney, 2009: 28).The librarian complies with national and state standards to support and develop strong reading skills in multiple genres and at all levels. To scaffold reading development, the librarian maintains a diverse and contemporary collection of fiction and nonfiction that will meet the interests and needs of all learners in the school, including low-level and advanced readers and students with disabilities.
Equally important to promoting literacy, the librarian delivers instruction and support in building information literacy and critical thinking skills. The AASL states “The school library media center provides a setting where students develop skills they will need as adults to locate, analyze, evaluate, interpret, and communicate information and ideas in an information-rich world” (1990), defined more simply by President Sara Kelly Johns as “empower[ing] students to be critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers, and ethical users of information” (Well). The librarian instructs students both in groups and as individuals in research strategies, evaluation skills, and copyright and citation use, as well as teaching technology-use skills required to support educational activities. The librarian is knowledgeable about copyright and licensure regulations and communicates these regularly and effectively to patrons.
The school librarian maintains a virtual presence online, in accordance with both national and state standards. “The library homepage is a crucial element in attracting teachers as well as teens to the actual library” (Geck, 2006: 21). The Web page allows students to access outside resources not otherwise available to them, and extends library services beyond school hours and the physical facility. The library site is also a place for faculty, administration, parents and community members to access information resources, and a documentary showcase of the library’s activity and success.
More than any other facility or program in the school, the library functions as a place to extend student education beyond the required curriculum. “The school library media center is a place where students may explore more fully classroom subjects that interest them, expand their imagination, delve into areas of personal interest, and develop the ability to think clearly, critically, and creatively about the resources they have chosen to read, hear, or view” (AASL, 1990). The librarian is enthusiastic about helping students grow as individuals, and is involved in leading and developing in-school and extracurricular programs. She creates opportunities that allow students to explore new forms of literacy and communication such as storytelling, social book reading, and puppetry.
The school librarian is the predominant resource for faculty on a number of levels. She provides curricular support and resources for teacher-led instruction, and is familiar with the curriculum of all core content areas. The librarian familiarizes herself with dominant subjects and activities taught by the faculty, and adjusts library materials accordingly, while recognizing potential gaps in instruction and working to help fill them. The librarian collaborates and co-teaches with faculty, particularly in the areas of information literacy, technology instruction, library skills, and research, to enhance student learning and success. She carries out additional research as needed to keep resources up-to-date or expand weak areas in the library collection with online materials. The librarian also serves as a trainer and provider of staff development in the areas of technology training and the “best practices” of incorporating technology into instruction (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). She assists in maintaining, updating, repairing and troubleshooting technology hardware and software and is familiar with the common machines and programs utilized in the school. Lastly, the librarian communicates regularly with both the student body and the faculty on library updates, programs, achievements, and resources through newsletters, bulletin boards, displays and other appropriate channels.
The librarian maintains a strong partnership with the administration of the school. She is diligent in keeping logs and records of library services, activity and spending. “Librarians and principals share the ability to see the full spectrum of instructional possibilities…their similar goals and parallel working conditions make them ripe for a strong partnership… Librarians must strive at all times to keep their principals up to date on the evidence of best practices in the programming and the services of the library” (Jensen, 2008: 32). In addition, the librarian prepares an annual report that demonstrates evidence of the library’s impact on student achievement (Geitgey & Tepe, 2007), library accomplishments and strengths, and a reflective analysis of weaknesses with planning and goals for improvement (Jensen, 2008).
The duties of the librarian go beyond that of a teacher; the librarian is and sees herself as an administrator in her own right. She is responsible for the management of the library program and all of its related components. She manages and improves the functionality of the library’s daily activities, constantly evaluating and perfecting services. She directs budgetary resources effectively as the district directs, and is proactive in seeking outside funding sources when needed. The librarian supervises library personnel, including hired staff, student aides and volunteers and parent or community volunteers. She is active in training volunteers for multiple tasks, with the goal of educating them in new skills and allowing them to take ownership of tasks they enjoy, and she actively recruits parent volunteers as needed. She views volunteering as an opportunity to connect parents and community members to the school and build advocacy for the library program (Snyder, 2009).
A dominant focus in the librarian’s vision is the creation of a welcoming and useful facility. The librarian strives to build a space that meets the needs of all patrons and multiple purposes. The library space includes a well-organized collection that is easy to navigate, and areas for individual and group work, both social and academic. Technology is evident throughout the library and utilized to assist students and faculty on a number of levels. Adequate technology is also available for both student and faculty research and project development, and ideally for whole-group training or instruction as well. The librarian also creates comfortable, quiet spaces to encourage individual reading. The facility is clean and well-maintained, and kept contemporary and attractive in appearance to encourage students and teachers alike to utilize it fully. It is also a flexible space that can be adapted readily to various purposes as different needs arise. Finally, the library space and resources are friendly to students with disabilities, and accommodations allow these students both privacy and independence.
The librarian recognizes the importance of community and parental support, and actively works to attain it. She utilizes multiple tools to keep parents connected and up-to-date, including the library Web site, parent-oriented communications, and recruitment of parent volunteers. She is an active presence at school events, and develops library-related programming as appropriate for high-attendance events such as parent nights or literacy nights. The librarian also recognizes the need for connection to and collaboration with the local public library, and communicates regularly with that organization to provide the widest range of services and resources possible for her students, both physically and virtually. Lastly, the librarian may also develop after-hours programming that involves the community and assists in connecting students to parents and other community members, such as Homework Help nights or senior mentoring programs.
Finally, the librarian is highly conscious of her own strengths and weaknesses as a teacher and administrator. She stays abreast of current developments in the fields of library science, technology and education through personal research and connections to professional organizations. She is active in seeking out opportunities for her own professional enhancement in order to better serve the full range of members in the school community. Further, she constantly seeks models of successful programs, whether in other libraries or in related businesses, and adapts their components to improve her own program and enhance student achievement.
Librarian Dot Flanagan once said,
“The library is as busy as the librarian wants it to be.” The success of the library program rests
squarely then on the professional shoulders of the librarian. She views it as a contemporary, thriving
organism that cannot be allowed to stagnate, nor can she, if it is to have a
positive impact on student achievement. The successful librarian is a
competent, analytical and reflective individual who is never content with the
status quo, but constantly seeks ways to make the library and its programs more
efficient and effective. If the library
is the heart of the school, then the dynamic librarian is the heart of the
AASL. (1990). Position statement on the role of the school library media program. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.alal.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslissues/positionstatements/slmprole.cfm
Coatney, S. (2009). Standards for the 21st-century learner in action. School Library Media Activities Monthly 25(8), 27-29.
Geck, C. The generation z connection: Teaching information literacy to the newest net generation. Teacher Librarian 33(3), 19-23.
Geitgey, G. A. & A. E. Tepe. (2007). Can you find the evidence-based practice in your school library? Library Media Connection 25(6), 10-12.
Jensen, A. (2008) Presenting the Evidence: A Librarian’s Annual Report to the Principal. Knowledge Quest 37(2) 28-32.
Mishra, P. & M. J. Koehler. (2006) Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record 108(6), 1017-1054.
Snyder, B. (2009). Recruiting Library Volunteers. Library Media Connection 28(1), 22-23.
Vkelly. (Producer). (2009). Harper_school_libraries. [Web]. Retrieved from http://ksutube.kent.edu/playback.php?playthis=85m0p1f5
Well, E. Meet your new school library media specialist. Scholastic Administrator. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3748779
©2010 Ryn Lewis