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.

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Jane Lofton

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