The Transforming Role of Librarians (and Libraries)
Personalized professional development in schools has been a rising trend for years, but what many schools don’t realize is that their greatest asset for professional development is already in their building. The librarian, to be exact. Librarians and media specialists are some of the most highly trained, highly versatile staff a school has at their disposal. The library is not just “the room where the books are,” but the entry point for new, innovative technologies, as well as the hub from which those new technologies are introduced to the entire school.
I represent library media specialists at the district level. I am in charge of maintaining a district media committee for vetting district-provided digital resources. I am also responsible for the professional development for our school librarians. As the first certified library media specialist at the district level in this system, I have been busy building a strong standard of practice for the librarians in our district. We embrace a train-the-trainer model when adopting new technologies or programs, so I make sure that our librarians have the training they need to not only implement these innovations, but to share them with their teachers. I want our school librarians to be seen as experts in new tools and resources.
Preparing Librarians to Introduce New Technology
During monthly department meetings, we spend time discussing how to implement new tools and technologies into our schools. We hear from each other about best practices, new ideas, and about what is working—and what isn’t. The library veterans are getting this same information, but they are also given opportunities to pilot new programs and make recommendations. They advise me on policy and procedures, and provide their professional opinions as “experts on the ground.” I often engage in PD that asks all media staff to stretch their thinking about what libraries do, the impact they can make, and how to expand their personal learning networks to grow and adapt with this quickly changing landscape.
The school librarian is no longer just the manager of a room full of books, but a resource and technology expert, reading teacher, curriculum designer, program administrator, professional development coordinator, information literacy teacher, and a school leader with a finger on the pulse of every classroom. A good librarian knows who is doing what in each grade level and subject area, and is ready with strategies, resources, and tools to help teachers make a deeper impact with their students. Today’s school librarian is an active, integrated educator who knows how to teach, but also how to design quality programs, collect data on those programs, and assess student learning. Just like the classroom teacher, the school librarian has to hit the ground running every single day and make a conscious effort to stay connected to trends and issues.
Arming Librarians and Students to Fight Fake News
I see librarians taking the lead in combating the fake news epidemic by curating resources for their students so they don’t have to question the information they are getting while in school. We offer several youth-friendly research databases in our district, including PebbleGo. Our librarians are also doing targeted lessons on warning signs of fakery, such as a high use of exclamation points, the inability to find an author or contact that author if a name does exist, or a lack of information about the source.
Librarians are teaching students to critically analyze their information sources to detect cleverly disguised “click-bait.” Also, by showing students how easy it is to take a web page and alter it themselves, librarians are showing students how bias, the choice of an image, and word choices can completely alter an article to elicit a particular emotional reaction.
Transforming Libraries into Flexible Spaces
Additionally, library spaces are becoming flexible spaces. When we design or renovate our libraries, we want to make sure the design includes the ability to create small, intimate spaces as well as large open spaces for groups, activities, and classes. This means thinking about shelving as more than a function of storage but as a room divider or space-defining piece. In our district, we have begun updating our libraries with innovative designs meant to accommodate flexible seating, shelving, and arrangement. For instance, the new circulation desks are not built in, so as our needs change and technology changes, we will be able to alter what that piece of furniture does and where it is located. In all of our new and renovated schools, the shelving is on casters so it is easily moveable even when completely full of books, freeing librarians to change the layout based on the changing needs of their school.
Libraries are active hubs of learning that can serve as maker spaces, video or music production facilities, or places where students get supplies for classroom projects. We’re moving away from a dedicated computer space and looking at a future when students will simply grab a device from a charging cart and then go wherever they want to do their work. As digital resources climb in popularity, we believe there should be less emphasis on huge rooms packed with large quantities of books. (Not to say print is obsolete. Many students still prefer it.)
The key to a highly functioning library is the balance between print and digital, intimate and open, quiet and active, consumption and creation. Since making these changes to the flexibility of their spaces, my teacher-librarians are reporting that students are coming to the library more regularly and independently, classes are staying in the library longer, and principals are bringing visitors to the library to show it off.
School administrators need to know what a valuable resource they have in their librarian. If they’ve never worked with one, they often don’t know how impactful that position can be, so they replace them with classroom teachers or paraprofessionals, because they think the job is only about circulating books. The library is the center of the school, and the epicenter for innovative new tools and programs that enrich the entire school. Once an administrator learns how to leverage the pioneering and creative power of the school librarian, I guarantee they’ll see some incredible changes in their school community.
Susan K.S. Grigsby, Ed.S., is the district media specialist with Forsyth County Schools in Cumming, Georgia.