Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's In A Name?

"Whereas, the overarching strategic goal of the American Association of School Librarians is to achieve universal recognition of school librarians as indispensable educational leaders; and

Whereas, the AASL Affiliate Assembly requested that the AASL Board of Directors choose a title for its professionals that is clear to other educators, administrators, and the public; and

Whereas, a recent AASL survey indicated confusion, misperceptions, and inconsistencies about various job titles in our profession; and

Whereas, AASL needed to agree on a common nomenclature for all publications and advocacy efforts; and

Whereas, the AASL’s leadership reviewed the data, identified the advantages and disadvantages of the various titles, and held a focused and extensive discussion.

Therefore be it resolved, AASL officially adopts 'school librarian' as the title which reflects the roles of the 21st century school library professional as leader, instructional partner, information specialist, teacher, and program administrator; be it further resolved that AASL will advance and promote the title 'school librarian' to ensure universal recognition of school librarians as indispensible educational leaders.

The following guiding principles govern these actions: Open dialog concerning knowledge of our stakeholders’ needs, wants, and preferences; the current realities and evolving dynamics of our environment; the capacity and strategic position of our organization; and the ethical implications relevant to this decision." -motion presented to, and approved by, the AASL Board

During the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Conference, the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) division officially adopted the title of "School Librarian" to designate those professionals who work in a K-12 school setting.

According to AASL blogger Floyd Pentlin,
"...the Affiliate Assembly brought the issue to the Board’s table because of the lack of clarity of the various names we call ourselves was thought to be muddying our message and even our advocacy efforts.

When all of the dust settled (and actually there wasn’t much dust that was kicked up) 'school librarian' was the overwhelming choice of those in attendance."

A number of "school librarians" questioned this decision.

Alice Yucht asked, "Can you tell us how/why teacher-librarian ‘fell by the wayside.’" Cathy Nelson wondered, "Is there an available recording or transcript of the Affiliate Assembly’s discussion available at least to members? If I continue to call myself a Teacher Librarian, is this hurting our cause?"

Replied Mr. Pentlin,

"This was the information that was part of the packet when we started discussing the issue: Annual 2009 Affiliate Assembly statement of concern requested action of AASL 'for future publications, AASL should remove the "media" from the naming of professionals. Whether we are called School Librarians, Teacher Librarians, Library Teachers, or Teaching Librarians is a state option. The American Association of School Librarians should choose a term for its professionals that is clear to other educators, administrators, and the public and also indicative of our role as teachers.'”

He goes on to reassure Cathy that,

"I can’t imagine that what title you choose to use will 'hurt our cause.' There was a lot of discussion about the fact that perhaps the title wasn’t very important in the long run but what we actually did in our job that will make the difference."

Terry immediately responded,

"...Why select a moniker so anchored to the past? Labels matter. Some of our constituents (policymakers, legislators, BOE’s, administrators, parents) still see “school librarians” as the position holders of the past. In states where “school librarians” are categorized as “instructional support” instead of teachers, “school librarians” are among the first to fall under the budget axe..."

I find myself in total agreement with those who question this decision.

Although requirements vary from state to state, in New York, to receive permanent state certification as a "school media specialist, school media specialist (library), school media specialist (educational communications)":

"The candidate shall have completed two years of school experience as a media specialist and a master's degree in the field of school media or school media (library) or school media (educational communications). The total program of preparation shall include 12 semester hours in professional education, 36 hours in school media or school media (library) or school media (educational communications), and a college-supervised practicum."

As Terry pointed out, labels matter. Too many parents, community members, legislators and, yes, teachers and administrators, fail to acknowledge the diversity of responsibilities and level of professionalism required of "school librarians."

Public and academic librarians are rarely, if ever, seen performing the routine clerical tasks that are necessary in a library: checking materials in or out, shelving books, requesting interlibrary loans, etc. School librarians may or may not have aides or assistants available to take care of these mundane but vital jobs.

"Outsiders" don't see the informal collaboration, reader guidance, and information search assistance that is part of the school day. They aren't there to watch a school librarian jettison a lesson plan in order to accommodate a classroom teacher's request for student research time. They don't understand the passion and commitment required to maintain a balanced and responsive program.

I worked hard to achieve my status as a Teacher/Librarian and will continue to refer to myself in those terms.

What's in a name? A world of experience and knowledge, that's what.

"What's in a Name?" by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com


debschi said...

Great post Diane. When I refer to myself as going to school to be a teacher-librarian, I often get the response, "And what will you be teaching?", and that's just the response I want to answer over and over again, until it hopefully becomes widely understood! If I replaces teacher-librarian with school librarian, there will be no questions asked and no impetus to reeducate an unknowing population.

Cathy Jo Nelson said...

Wow you have done your homework. Thanks for pulling that all together.

Misnomer said...

I was very disappointed with the outcome of this survey and wanted teacher-librarian to come out on top! I’d like to see the raw data and comments pertaining to the survey.

I work in a school district that employs paraprofessionals in the K-8 libraries. The official title for all library staffers, including myself, is “media specialist”. I have a MLIS and a teaching certificate, they each have a high school diploma.

What’s in a name? A lot! When I introduce myself as a media specialist to an elementary school teacher in my district they automatically think I am the “book-checker-outer” or the “paper-jam-puller” but how can I blame them? That’s what they see their media specialist doing all day. I will continue to refer to myself as a teacher-librarian because I walk professionally in both worlds.

Just out of curiosity, do you think this decision was made to pacify those who don’t have proper credentials but consider themselves school librarians? (I noticed that credentials were not specifically discussed in the press release.)

Working in a school library no more makes one a school librarian than working inside a hospital makes one a doctor.

diane said...


I hope you're the rule and not the exception among our future Teacher/Librarians. For too many years, and in too many places, school library professionals have been treated as glorified babysitters, unable to effectively collaborate with classroom and subject area teachers because of rigid scheduling and lack of common planning time.

A lot needs to change. I personally regard the designation "school librarian" as outdated and misleading, for the same reasons that Misnomer lists.


I'm building on what you, Buffy, Joyce, and so many others have accomplished - and fought for.


Because so many people have had personal experience with school libraries, they feel themselves experts on the subject. They don't understand or appreciate the depth of knowledge necessary to function as an effective Teacher/Librarian.

I'm not sure of the rationale behind the decision; I only know that no one asked me to express my preference.

Unknown said...

Public Librarian, University Librarian, Law Librarian...School Librarian. I love it!

diane said...

In the words of the immortal Cathy Nelson, "We are entitled to our opinions. Our opinions won't hurt or change anything."

So, we can agree to disagree, and I will remain a proud Teacher/Librarian :-)

Nancy said...

No matter what we call ourselves, my kids will continue to call me "my library teacher." They know what we are and what we do, and that is what matters most to me. I have always called myself "school librarian." But when someone asks me what I do, I always say first that I am a teacher. When they ask what grade I teach, I tell them I have them all, Pre-K - 5.

diane said...


I love your calm confidence!

As a K-12 Teacher/Librarian, I had contact with every student in the rural district where I was employed. They knew who I was and how I fit into their lives.

It was the adults - administrators, teachers, parents - who didn't seem to comprehend the scope of my duties. They're the ones we need to reach. The kids already understand.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Diane, for putting into words the many thoughts I have had. The newly adopted title is too often used for those working in libraries without professional degrees.

Bill said...

I find this an interesting discussion. When you look at job titles: English, math, Social Studies, and Gym teachers have virtually the same job wherever you are. Even guidance counselors, and special ed., while their jobs vary, they do essentially the same job as someone with that job in another state. However, not the case with us.

Some schools have gotten away with uncertified librarians, or have aides run the library. Some have the MLS, MILS, or a state certification. In our public HS library, my job expectations are to be a computer cop, verifying passes, and crowd control for kids dropped off by teachers. Never in my interview was I asked about library instruction/duties/work, but was asked over and over if I can handle HS students. Nowhere was there a discussion of curriculum, teaching, collaboration, or collection.

I have had zero interest from teachers in helping them plan lessons or finding resources. I have become a quick find for someone who "needs x for next period," the laminator king, and the quick computer problem solver as tech can't be reached. I spend time showing staff where the "play" button is on their VCR remote (not making this up). I am appreciated by staff because no one could do these things before.

I don't think my job compares to a librarian who actually can teach lessons, plan curriculum with teachers, and so forth. But "school librarian" covers all these things, whereas "teacher librarian" would be something this place couldn't figure out (someone has actually proposed this year the tech dir. should be teaching- imagine that). For that matter, "Media Specialist" assumes you have media to use and faculty and students aren't blocked from it.

Actually, I have no idea who I am.