I am a librarian (MLS, Rutgers U, '72) as well as a teacher. I know first hand that librarians are trained and educated and experienced in what they do. But what, exactly, is the value of a certified librarian? In no particular order...
- Librarians manage school knowledge collections and teach students and teachers how to use them in the 21st Century World. No one else in a school has this training. Librarians have a specialization that requires them to be knowledgeable about every content area in the school - and every content area that might be coming to the school. No one else in the school has this overview.
- Librarians are avid readers. Show me a Literacy Specialist or teacher who has read as many 6-8th level/interest books as my school librarian and I will show you a librarian who jumped ship.
- School librarians know that libraries are not all about books and literacy is not all about text. I consider that a no-brainer, but for some administrators it must be a new idea. For years the School Library Journal has been promoting the "media center" or "digital learning center" or just plain "learning place" as a library concept. Not just promoting - doing lots of things to make this happen in schools all over the globe. Libraries are learning places.
- School librarians are tech savvy. For years the school library was, in many districts and private schools, the only space with networked or Internet-connected computers, not to mention cameras and other multimedia production and play hardware. Librarians have been among the first to embrace ebooks and ebook readers, vast digital databases (Maine has MARVEL), and digital/audio/multimedia texts as reading choices. School librarians are in the forefront of blogging about these texts. They highlight alternative text at workshops and conferences. Sadly, schools often overlook this expertise when designing PD, especially in Literacy contexts.
- School librarians are creative users of information and creative interpreters of curriculum. Teachers who take the time to ask the librarian to help design and guide a research unit learn this. Librarians are not vested in the past and they are, by inclination and professionalism, aware of the new (the best and the worst). They are especially creative when asked to differentiate. Sadly, few teachers take advantage of this extra pair of eyes.
- School librarians are experts at information literacy and trained teachers of this important 21st century knowledge/skill set. Librarianship is about managing text and information so that it can be found, and then teaching users what to do with information once it has been found. The school librarian is a support system for every single person in the school who has an information need. She is the most qualified and skilled teacher of information literacy. In many schools, she is also the steward of fair use and teacher-defender of citation. This is a voice that matters.
- Every librarian is a literacy coach. Not only do school librarians know their collections and a vast array of online collections/sources, they know their students. They have the largest knowledge about tools to connect kid -> reading. They believe choice reading, reading passions, reading habits, challenging reading and "just right" reading. They build their collections to meet the needs of the population of the school. And yes, librarians do know about leveled reading, Lexiles, F&P scores, etc. They also know the limits of these labels - because students talk to them all the time about what they want to read.
- Librarians are experts at managing information - a huge job, even in a small school library. Librarians must make key decisions about management that are invisible to all other members of a school community. Without them, books, web catalogs, database and other subscriptions, digital and paper resources, furnishings, literacy and instructional support materials, eBooks, media, etc. will not be effectively managed. Resources that are not managed are not available to the entire community equally and quickly. This is the difference between a library and a literacy store room. An important, also invisible, element of this management is the networking that librarians do - with local, state, and global librarian groups. In fact, the librarian may be the most networked member of the school community. They network for resource access and sharing, informational sharing, and idea sharing. Librarians network for the school - not (like those few teachers who network) for themselves.
- Librarians are trained to select and prioritize. They access and read evaluative reviews; they access and explore multiple sources of information at multiple levels. By nature and training, they filter and collect. This is the major service they provide to a school. Amazon.com and internet searching can not begin to provide students and teachers with the range of preselected sources that are found in a well-constructed and well-maintained library catalog or, increasingly, a well-designed website to support and guide a research project. Librarians have time and make time for the legwork that is required for a well-designed student unit. This is a librarian's passion.
- Librarians are curious, questioning (even skeptical), and insatiable. They are, at heart, students. In fact, they are the model product of a 21st century education.
So why are schools replacing certified Librarians with aides? Why do so many principals and superintendents see this job as menial and under-professional? This is wrong. End of story.