With today’s ongoing digital learning revolution, it’s easy to think that school librarians, and the libraries they’re in charge of, are outdated. Why should a student consult a book when he or she can access information instantaneously, often with just a simple keyword search?
In reality, however, school librarians are fast becoming the pioneers of educational and information technology in schools across the country. Rather than relics of a bygone age, they’re leading the charge of critical digital literacy skills that will ensure students’ success both in the classroom and long after they’ve left it.
Why Librarians Matter
What makes school librarians such essential partners? It’s simple. They, more than anyone else in a school system, are the first ones to be hit by any adopted technologies or ed tech initiatives. They’re still librarians – but they’re also media specialists.
A profile of one such library media specialist in eSchool News highlights the importance of the new role 21st-century school librarians find themselves in: As both research technicians and as teachers in their own right. Today’s school librarians typically:
train students and teachers on how to use any new technology;
navigate the web while adhering to school-specific filters and constraints; and
share their tech findings with teachers, administrators and other key educational stakeholders.
Central to this new role is what library media specialist Joquetta L. Johnson, with Randallstown High School in Maryland calls a “growth mindset” that’s essential for success in an increasingly complex, increasingly demanding role.
“Ultimately, you can have all of the tools in the world,” she says. “But if you don’t know how to access and use them effectively – or if you don’t feel they’re important – then they are just tools. That’s where the growth mindset comes into play.”
Making Schools Future Ready
According to Future Ready, a hub for resources and strategies on personalized digital learning, there are several core principles that up-to-speed, forward-thinking librarians and library media specialists should follow when working with digital learning tools – which often vary by school district, and can even vary by individual school.
Here are just a few of the principles Future Ready outlines.
Design collaborative spaces. School libraries should be set up in such a way that they become communal, collaborative work spaces for students to learn and explore. They should be open and engaging, and they should highlight the latest technological tools available for student use at their school.
Curate digital resources. Librarians shouldn’t just wait for administrators to decide what ed tech tools to use. Instead, they should help lead in the selection of digital resources and in integrating these tools into school districts.
Ensure equitable access. According to Future Ready, digital media specialists should provide and advocate for equitable digital access to connectivity, digital devices, information, resources, programming and services (such as broadband, filtered Internet).
Facilitate professional learning. School librarians also have to wear the hat of instructor. They should be able to share their knowledge and insights with teachers and school administrators about all the critical digital skills students need to succeed in learning.
Empower students as creators. Students should be able to rely on library media specialists, but they should also be empowered with the knowledge and skills to use new technologies wisely and responsibly. The ultimate goal: A student who’s self-directed and digitally literate.
To meet the changing needs of 21st-century students (as well as new development in state and federal core competencies), some school libraries are transforming into “maker spaces.” Here, too, school librarians are playing a critical role.
According to Education Week, “the spaces can be high-tech, low-tech, part of the school curriculum, or part of an after-school program. Some aren’t even called maker spaces. The only central theme is that of creation and innovation.”
Some of these spaces are school libraries themselves, which can afford a vibrant environment in which students can be left on their own to learn, to discover and to toy with ideas and interests they might not be able to in more structured, daily class time. As overseers of these spaces, school librarians are in the perfect position to guide and support students on innovative explorations. They’re also in the perfect position to make sure new digital learning tools and initiatives are getting used in all sorts of ways.
“The maker space … helps kids try things out, try things on,” one library media specialist told Education Week. “Maybe not even for a career, but just for a personal interest or a hobby or a talent or a strength they had that, without the tools and resources in the maker space, they would never have been able to sample.”
A Powerful Position
Far from being outdated, today’s school librarians and library media specialists are in a powerful, prestigious position to help shape the future of digital learning in the United States.
They, more than school administrators and even teachers, have the knowledge, expertise and first-in-line access to all the exceptional digital learning tools currently available to many school districts – as well as tools that will emerge in the exciting years to come.