Education Week has just made available online a timely article about the shifting role of school librarians and the evolving purpose of libraries.
The dual title says it all: School Libraries Seek Relevance Through Virtual Access; Librarians' Roles Shifting to Address the Demand for Quality Online Content.
As Cassandra Barnett, the president of the Chicago-based American Association of School Librarians and the school library media specialist for the 2,000-student Fayetteville High School in Arkansas, points out,
"Gone are the days when a library was essentially a warehouse of books...We have really burst out of our walls, and we’re a part of everything in the school now, which I’m not sure was always the case."
Yet even as school libraries work to expand their scope and purpose, budget issues on the local, state, and Federal levels threaten to severely curtain services. Hours of operation, level of staffing, and print and online resources all depend on funding that is increasingly tight.
Why do schools need professional teacher/librarians?
Doug Johnson, director of media and technology for the 7,000-student Mankato school system in Minnesota, explains it this way:
"We’ve gone from being a guide in an information desert to a guide in an information jungle," he said. "Instead of having to seek out information, students and teachers are now inundated with it... and it is the librarian’s role to teach them how to judge the 'good resources from the bad resources.'"
Information literacy, the ability to identify, locate, evaluate, and share needed information is “no longer an optional literacy,” said Buffy Hamilton, the media specialist at the 1,500-student Creekview High School in Canton, Ga. “It’s a literacy and a form of cultural capital that I think you have to have in order to fully participate in today’s society.”
Carolyn Foote, the district librarian who works at the 2,500-student Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, speaks of the expansion of services to include not only research, but production
“Students are producing all sorts of products—YouTube videos, PowerPoint presentations, online slideshows, podcasts—and so as librarians, we need to have the skills to work with all those different formats and help students learn how to produce in those formats,” she said.
Continuing this train of thought, Joyce Kasman Valenza, library information specialist for Springfield Township High in Pennsylvania, adds
"...libraries are no longer 'grocery stores' where students can go to pick up ingredients, but 'kitchens,' where they have the resources necessary to create a finished product."
While some might question the need for a physical library, given the pervasiveness of Internet connectivity, advocates say there is still a need for such a space, operating under the guidance of a teacher/librarian:
"Providing students with a space where they can gather, share ideas, and learn is what we try to do,” Ms. Hamilton added, “to be at the heart of learning, both formal and informal.”
"The library is not a shrine for the worship of books...A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas." -Norman Cousins
"Welcome to the jungle" by neeZhom