Author - Jane Lofton

Why Do We Need Teacher Librarians?

…. Here’s Why:

Part 4 of 4 in a series by CUE guest blog editor Jane Lofton

As a teacher librarian, I was, of course, attracted by the headline of Mike Niehoff’s article in the Winter 2014 onCUE,  “ From Stacks to Macs: The Next Generation Library Space.”  I applaud Minarets High School for funding, designing, and furnishing a functional, attractive, and welcoming space where students can work, gather, and collaborate. The Mira Costa High School Library, where I work, was built in the 1950s and old yearbook photos confirm that it hasn’t changed much physically – other than the addition of computers – since then. I envy the bright, open, comfortably-furnished, multi-purpose, flexible space of a library like Minarets. I think anyone would agree that students deserve and will benefit from a lively space like this in which to work, gather, and interact.

What I found very sadly lacking in the description of the Minarets space is the presence of a teacher librarian. A state of the art school library isn’t just about the physical space; it is the library program under the leadership of a credentialed teacher librarian that really makes a library stand out, that really determines whether it is serving students and staff to the fullest.

With the absence of a teacher librarian in the formula, the students have an attractive, flexible space, but they are being deprived of services they deserve and need to prepare them for college, careers, and lifelong learning. Minarets, like most schools in California, has a very tight budget. Moreover, its very small student population makes staffing decisions all the more challenging – so challenging, they were not funded for a teacher librarian. That said, it is still important to be aware of the value that schools that do find a way to budget for teacher librarians offer their students.

What teacher librarians do

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Here are just some of the services teacher librarians provide to benefit their school communities:

  • Instruction in information literacy, digital literacy, and digital citizenship. Indeed, the teacher librarian credential is the only CCTC credential that includes specific preparation in these areas so vital to students of all ages.
  • Collaborative curriculum preparation and instruction with classroom teachers. When classroom teachers and teacher-librarians work together, students get the benefit of the classroom teacher’s subject area expertise and the teacher librarian’s cross-curricular perspective and information and digital literacy expertise.
  • Development of a rich collection of materials, both print and digital to support research, reading, and independent interests. Students need access to carefully curated collections in a wide variety of formats. Teacher librarians have the skills to develop collections that match the needs of their communities. Frequently, those materials are not even purchased ones, but rather high-quality online sources selected and curated by the librarian.
  • One-on-one assistance doing research, finding reading and research materials, and exploring personal interests. Teacher librarians help students learn to access, use, and evaluate information and to become creators themselves. They also help match them with the books that will capture their imaginations and transform them into lifelong readers, and they support students’ pursuit of their passions and personal goals, regardless whether those passions are related to school.
Teacher librarian one on one help

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And then there’s the space. Teacher librarians provide:thumbs up

welcoming environmen

  • An attractive, welcoming physical environment in which both loud and quiet students can feel comfortable whether they are doing serious work or simply wanting to “hang out.”
  • An attractive, robust virtual library that provides access to library resources, flipped instruction, information about library activities, and opportunities for student input. Students, teachers, and parents don’t even need to come to the physical library to take advantage of many of the library’s offerings.
library website example

Virtual libraries

And that’s not all. They also provide all of these:

professional development Teacher librarian

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  • Group and individual staff professional development on information literacy and technology. Teacher librarians serve as a valuable staff resource for ongoing professional learning and meaningful integration of technology into the curriculum.
  • Opportunities for students to go beyond the school walls and connect with the world through social media and activities such as blogging, Skype/Google Hangout meetings, public service announcements, video production and publishing, and more.
  • Special events, such as author and other expert visits. They also always say “yes” when asked to make the library available for other school and community meetings and events.
  • Advocacy for student needs. For example, I advocated to get our poorly-functioning old computers replaced with Macs three years ago. This change has had a remarkable impact on student productivity and greatly increased enthusiasm for visiting the library.
  • An incubator for new options and ideas. For example, some school libraries are now offering maker space activities. I was extremely fortunate to just receive some funding for start up maker space supplies, including two 3D printers, a Raspberry Pi, and littleBits that will be available for students’ hands-on experimentation very soon. These supplies will serve students who are especially technology-inclined but will also allow for hands-on exploration by all students. Perhaps some of those students who haven’t yet found a passion will discover one through tinkering in our maker space.

While my old library building lacks the physical advantages of Minarets, it nevertheless fills to capacity every day with students working, playing, visiting, and connecting, as they come to visit both on their own and with their classes. It is definitely not a quiet place since there is far too much collaborative work, and, yes, visiting and fun, going on.

Of course, we all know the stereotype of the shushing librarian and the intimidating library environment. It’s time, though, to put this outdated notion to rest. As Rosemarie Bernier states in “Does Your School Have a Teacher Librarian?”, a recent California School Library Association film, “People think of the library as a place where you need to be quiet. The teacher librarians don’t run libraries like that.”

Sadly, there currently are only about 800 credentialed teacher librarians working in the entire state of California, so most schools lack the kind of programs I outlined above. (Compare that, for example, to the state of Texas, with a similar school population and about 4,600 credentialed librarians.) Moreover, approximately 20 percent of California’s schools don’t even have a functioning library, and, of the 80 percent that do, 80 percent are run by non-teaching staff. Based on these figures, it’s clear that most teachers and administrators in California have never even witnessed a school library run by credentialed librarian to know what their students are missing. And, even those schools that have one are typically understaffed with the librarian lacking support staff and spending far too much time on clerical tasks, leaving less time for the real professional librarian tasks I described above. (California Department of Education, Statistics About California School Libraries, and Texas Library Association, Research and Statistics).

As a matter of equity, our students need better! They should all have the benefit of the type of programs I outlined above. They should all have a trained specialist who can teach them the skills described in the  Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools adopted by the California State Board of Education in 2010.

If your school lacks a teacher librarian, please look for ways – such as the new LCAP – to find funding. We find funds for those programs we prioritize. With the increasing need for technology support for teachers often fulfilled with technology specialists, schools that have teacher librarians can get more from their dollars, since librarians can provide the double duty of running the library program and helping teachers integrate technology.

For a better view of what teacher librarians bring to the table for their school communities, watch the “Does Your School Have a Teacher Librarian?”

We all want the best, most inviting library space for our students. But, just as we wouldn’t build a state of the art science lab and then decide that we lacked the funds to staff it with a trained science teacher, let’s stop depriving our students of the experts who should be staffing those libraries.

Jane Lofton

Jane is passionate about school libraries, their ability to change lives and expand student experiences beyond the school walls, and the role that strong school libraries play in student achievement. 

She is an active participant on social media and recently taught an online class on getting started on Twitter (learn2tweet.edublogs.org) for CSLA members. You can find her on Twitter at @jane_librarian; her personal blog, “Jane Lofton’s Adventures in School Libraryland” at janelofton.comschool library blog, and on Google+ at google.com/+JaneLofton.

CSLA Information Literacy Summit at CUE 2015

Part 1 of 4 in a series By CUE guest blog editor Jane Lofton

While so many concepts have transformed meaning with the advent of the information age, this 1989 statement from the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy still holds:

“Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.”

InInfo_Litformation literacy – the ability to assess the need for information, access information sources effectively and efficiently, evaluate information for accuracy and quality, and use and create with it appropriately – is a cross-disciplinary skill crucial for both college and career readiness and a foundation for lifelong learning. Information literate people know how to learn what they need to and want to as technologies, opportunities, and demands of society change.

As part of the core of the credentialed teacher librarian’s training and expertise, instruction in Information literacy skills is one of their key focus areas as they work with students and provide professional development to other teachers.

To share some of their expertise in information literacy with other CUE members, California School Library Association (CSLA) partnered with CUE during CUE 2015 to present a full-day information literacy summit on the Saturday of the conference. The Summit included presentations by four librarians: guest keynoter Kathy Schrock, a nationally-recognized expert in information literacy, digital literacy, and educational technology; and three CSLA leaders, Deborah Stanley, Janice Gilmore-See, and Glen Warren. Each of them explored different aspects of information literacy.

This was the second year that CSLA presented a summit during the CUE Conference. In 2014, CSLA’s summit theme was digital citizenship, another area in which teacher librarians develop special expertise as part of their credential training. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s summit:

Kathy Schrock on Information Literacy as The Common Thread

Kathy Schrock’s topic was “The Common Thread: Weaving Information Literacy Skills to Engage Learners.” Schrock opened her presentation with this excellent video from Semole State Library that explains and provides examples for each of these aspects of information literacy – identifying, finding, evaluating, applying, and acknowledging information – are applied both in the academic setting and in the real world:

Schrock then anchored her presentation around an image from the SHIFT Disruptive eLearning blog that highlights 10 things learners pay attention to: questions, contrast, problem-solving, comparisons, brevity, emotions, stories, lists, visuals, and controversy. For each of these attention-getting devices, she shared several examples of both how we can use them to weave information literacy into content-area instruction in ways that will engage students, help them retain information, and process it into personal knowledge.

Here’s one example: Under brevity, she shared the value of having students develop infographics to demonstrate understanding in visually appealing and concise ways. Along with infographics, students need visuals. As they create visuals, they need to learn about Creative Commons. She explained what Creative Commons licensing is and why we should be teaching about and using Creative Commons-licensed materials.

Schrock made it clear that teaching information literacy skills is vital for our students, and that librarians and classroom teachers can work together to weave them into content areas. A great take away from the session was access to her presentation resource page with links to useful tools, videos, and more.

Deborah Stanley on Research Teaching

Research Teaching in a Common Core Digital World

Deborah Stanley spoke about “The Importance of Research Teaching in a Common Core Digital World.” Stanley, a Past CSLA VP of Organization and teacher-librarian at Riverside USD, is also the author of three books on research, Practical Steps to the Research Process for High School, Practical Steps to the Research Process for Middle School, and Practical Steps to the Research Process for Elementary School (Libraries Unlimited). Through her books and presentations over the years, she has guided many teacher librarians and other educators in their teaching of the research process. For the information literacy summit, she created a brand new website, The Research Process in a Digital World, which updates the research teaching process with the latest digital tools for each of the research steps. She organizes the research steps into these categories: defining the topic; defining subtopics; selecting and using sources; reading, thinking, and selecting information; note taking; sorting notes; and writing. For each step, she shared techniques and digital tools. Her site is a gold mine of information and tools for teaching research. As a bonus, the site has links to digital tools to help with writing, creating presentations, and more, which could be used as part of research or other project-based learning activities.

Some of the important messages from Stanley’s session were that research, like writing, is a process. It takes time to teach and learn, and it needs to be scaffolded from grade to grade. She urged us to build choices into the research process, which allows for differentiation and accessibility for all students. She also emphasized that students need to understand why they are doing the research. Unless they buy into the why, they will see no purpose for learning. Another take away was the value of good note taking: when information changes forms – from reading to notes, and then to the students’ paper – learning occurs. When students simply cut and paste in place of writing their own notes, they learn nothing because the material never changes form or gets processed in their brains.

Janice Gilmore-See on Depth of Knowledge

Janice Gilmore-See, District Librarian at La Mesa Spring Valley School District, is CSLA’s Immediate Past President and author of the book Simply Indispensable (Libraries Unlimited, 2010). In her presentation on “Getting to DOK 4: Depth of Knowledge and Information Literacy,” she shared how Depth of Knowledge (DOK), in conjunction with information literacy, can serve to raise and promote rigor in our curriculum and classrooms. Greater rigor, she explained, is important to better prepare students to be college and career ready.

Here is the visual Gilmore-See used to explain depth of knowledge levels:


Here is just one of many examples she shared of how activities can be moved to higher DOK levels:

  • DOK1: Identify the Democratic and Republican party platforms by searching their official websites.
  • DOK2: Explain four issues where the Democratic and Republican candidates disagreed identified by viewing a series of debates.
  • DOK3: Verify that candidates espoused the same views as the official Democratic and/or Republican platforms expressed in a series of debates.
  • DOK4: Create your own party and party platform. Include three to five issues and be prepared to present and debate those issues.

She explained that DOK3 and 4 activities usually take more time and it is not necessary to teach everything at these levels. All students, however, need some DOK3 and 4 activities, not just the high end students. Gilmore-See shared a wide range of ideas for higher level activities. These are available in her presentation slides.

Guncommon corelen Warren on the Uncommon Core

The final Information Literacy Summit session of the day was Glen Warren’s on “The Uncommon Core: Advancing Student Centered Learning through Gaming and Information Literacy.” Glen is current CSLA VP of Government Relations. He was also Orange County Teacher of the Year and a California Teacher of the Year Semi-Finalist in 2014.

Glen Warren and studentsWarren stated his belief that way too much time in school is devoted to content-driven teaching. We send students the message that learning is all about required content and that their personal interests don’t matter. We need, he explained, to begin adopting a process-driven model, which allows students time to explore their personal interests and to ask, and answer, their own questions. “When we connect kids with what they love,” he shared, “they become better learners.” In fact, the Model School Libraries for California Public Schools, which serves as a “how to” for implementing Common Core, highlights personal interest as part of integrating information, as he showed in this visual:

personal interest

Information literacy serves as a cross-curricular anchor that ties together all the different disciplines as well as personal interest:

Warren had two of his students with him who explained how they were able to the work on their personal interest – using Minecraft to design a computer – by asking their own questions, doing research, and finding the solutions they needed. Their enthusiasm for their topic and clear demonstration of skills mastered was inspiring.

information literacy graphic

Warren’s slides are available at this link.

If you have a teacher librarian at your school, ask them to help you implement ideas shared here. You can also contact any of the presenters. They love to share. Stand by for some more forthcoming posts on the theme of information literacy.

Jane Lofton

Jane Lofton is the Teacher Librarian at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach. She is a Google Certified Teacher (GTAMTV14) and Educator, a Past President of California School Library Association (CSLA), and an American Association of School Librarians Best Websites for Teaching and Learning Committee member. She is a confessed conference “junky” and a regular presenter at CSLA and CUE conferences. She has served as co-coordinator of the CSLA Summit at CUE the last two years. You can find her on Twitter at @jane_librarian, her personal blog, “Jane Lofton’s Adventures in School Libraryland” at janelofton.com, school library blog, and Google+.