Why Do We Need Teacher Librarians?

…. Here’s Why:

Part 4 of 4 in a series by CUE guest blog editor Jane Lofton

As a teacher librarian, I was, of course, attracted by the headline of Mike Niehoff’s article in the Winter 2014 onCUE,  “ From Stacks to Macs: The Next Generation Library Space.”  I applaud Minarets High School for funding, designing, and furnishing a functional, attractive, and welcoming space where students can work, gather, and collaborate. The Mira Costa High School Library, where I work, was built in the 1950s and old yearbook photos confirm that it hasn’t changed much physically – other than the addition of computers – since then. I envy the bright, open, comfortably-furnished, multi-purpose, flexible space of a library like Minarets. I think anyone would agree that students deserve and will benefit from a lively space like this in which to work, gather, and interact.

What I found very sadly lacking in the description of the Minarets space is the presence of a teacher librarian. A state of the art school library isn’t just about the physical space; it is the library program under the leadership of a credentialed teacher librarian that really makes a library stand out, that really determines whether it is serving students and staff to the fullest.

With the absence of a teacher librarian in the formula, the students have an attractive, flexible space, but they are being deprived of services they deserve and need to prepare them for college, careers, and lifelong learning. Minarets, like most schools in California, has a very tight budget. Moreover, its very small student population makes staffing decisions all the more challenging – so challenging, they were not funded for a teacher librarian. That said, it is still important to be aware of the value that schools that do find a way to budget for teacher librarians offer their students.

What teacher librarians do

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Here are just some of the services teacher librarians provide to benefit their school communities:

  • Instruction in information literacy, digital literacy, and digital citizenship. Indeed, the teacher librarian credential is the only CCTC credential that includes specific preparation in these areas so vital to students of all ages.
  • Collaborative curriculum preparation and instruction with classroom teachers. When classroom teachers and teacher-librarians work together, students get the benefit of the classroom teacher’s subject area expertise and the teacher librarian’s cross-curricular perspective and information and digital literacy expertise.
  • Development of a rich collection of materials, both print and digital to support research, reading, and independent interests. Students need access to carefully curated collections in a wide variety of formats. Teacher librarians have the skills to develop collections that match the needs of their communities. Frequently, those materials are not even purchased ones, but rather high-quality online sources selected and curated by the librarian.
  • One-on-one assistance doing research, finding reading and research materials, and exploring personal interests. Teacher librarians help students learn to access, use, and evaluate information and to become creators themselves. They also help match them with the books that will capture their imaginations and transform them into lifelong readers, and they support students’ pursuit of their passions and personal goals, regardless whether those passions are related to school.
Teacher librarian one on one help

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And then there’s the space. Teacher librarians provide:thumbs up

welcoming environmen

  • An attractive, welcoming physical environment in which both loud and quiet students can feel comfortable whether they are doing serious work or simply wanting to “hang out.”
  • An attractive, robust virtual library that provides access to library resources, flipped instruction, information about library activities, and opportunities for student input. Students, teachers, and parents don’t even need to come to the physical library to take advantage of many of the library’s offerings.
library website example

Virtual libraries

And that’s not all. They also provide all of these:

professional development Teacher librarian

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  • Group and individual staff professional development on information literacy and technology. Teacher librarians serve as a valuable staff resource for ongoing professional learning and meaningful integration of technology into the curriculum.
  • Opportunities for students to go beyond the school walls and connect with the world through social media and activities such as blogging, Skype/Google Hangout meetings, public service announcements, video production and publishing, and more.
  • Special events, such as author and other expert visits. They also always say “yes” when asked to make the library available for other school and community meetings and events.
  • Advocacy for student needs. For example, I advocated to get our poorly-functioning old computers replaced with Macs three years ago. This change has had a remarkable impact on student productivity and greatly increased enthusiasm for visiting the library.
  • An incubator for new options and ideas. For example, some school libraries are now offering maker space activities. I was extremely fortunate to just receive some funding for start up maker space supplies, including two 3D printers, a Raspberry Pi, and littleBits that will be available for students’ hands-on experimentation very soon. These supplies will serve students who are especially technology-inclined but will also allow for hands-on exploration by all students. Perhaps some of those students who haven’t yet found a passion will discover one through tinkering in our maker space.

While my old library building lacks the physical advantages of Minarets, it nevertheless fills to capacity every day with students working, playing, visiting, and connecting, as they come to visit both on their own and with their classes. It is definitely not a quiet place since there is far too much collaborative work, and, yes, visiting and fun, going on.

Of course, we all know the stereotype of the shushing librarian and the intimidating library environment. It’s time, though, to put this outdated notion to rest. As Rosemarie Bernier states in “Does Your School Have a Teacher Librarian?”, a recent California School Library Association film, “People think of the library as a place where you need to be quiet. The teacher librarians don’t run libraries like that.”

Sadly, there currently are only about 800 credentialed teacher librarians working in the entire state of California, so most schools lack the kind of programs I outlined above. (Compare that, for example, to the state of Texas, with a similar school population and about 4,600 credentialed librarians.) Moreover, approximately 20 percent of California’s schools don’t even have a functioning library, and, of the 80 percent that do, 80 percent are run by non-teaching staff. Based on these figures, it’s clear that most teachers and administrators in California have never even witnessed a school library run by credentialed librarian to know what their students are missing. And, even those schools that have one are typically understaffed with the librarian lacking support staff and spending far too much time on clerical tasks, leaving less time for the real professional librarian tasks I described above. (California Department of Education, Statistics About California School Libraries, and Texas Library Association, Research and Statistics).

As a matter of equity, our students need better! They should all have the benefit of the type of programs I outlined above. They should all have a trained specialist who can teach them the skills described in the  Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools adopted by the California State Board of Education in 2010.

If your school lacks a teacher librarian, please look for ways – such as the new LCAP – to find funding. We find funds for those programs we prioritize. With the increasing need for technology support for teachers often fulfilled with technology specialists, schools that have teacher librarians can get more from their dollars, since librarians can provide the double duty of running the library program and helping teachers integrate technology.

For a better view of what teacher librarians bring to the table for their school communities, watch the “Does Your School Have a Teacher Librarian?”

We all want the best, most inviting library space for our students. But, just as we wouldn’t build a state of the art science lab and then decide that we lacked the funds to staff it with a trained science teacher, let’s stop depriving our students of the experts who should be staffing those libraries.

Jane Lofton

Jane is passionate about school libraries, their ability to change lives and expand student experiences beyond the school walls, and the role that strong school libraries play in student achievement. 

She is an active participant on social media and recently taught an online class on getting started on Twitter (learn2tweet.edublogs.org) for CSLA members. You can find her on Twitter at @jane_librarian; her personal blog, “Jane Lofton’s Adventures in School Libraryland” at janelofton.comschool library blog, and on Google+ at google.com/+JaneLofton.

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Jane Lofton

13 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Very insightful. Your comment that “it’s clear that most teachers and administrators in California have never even witnessed a school library run by credentialed librarian to know what their students are missing.” gets to the heart of the matter. California’s kids have been behind the rest of the nation for generations in terms of library services. It is really a sad reality for our schools.

  • Thank you, Jane, for such a thorough explanation of the integral roll teacher librarians should have in our students education. Our California children are competing with kids from every other state that have access to such instruction. Equity of access, our children deserve better.

  • This is a wonderful piece about why we need teacher librarians in every school. Thank you so much. To reinforce what Jane has written, I’d like to comment on a recent visit I made to Jane’s library. Everything she has said here was going on in her library and more. As the sole person working in a large high school library Jane Lofton is a high school students’ and teachers’ dream — she provides collaboration with her teachers; she suggests projects for the students that truly exhibit student learning – in the example I saw the students each made their own video about their subject. She holds a weekly book club with students that not only includes the most intelligent discussion of good books, but is also carried online with schools in several other places in the United States! Jane Lofton provides her students and teachers with a creative and nurturing space and at the same time is responsible for the smooth running of a large library, the distribution of textbooks, coordinating several parent volunteers every day, and so much more. I don’t think my words quite convey the incredible job that she does and the job that our teacher librarians are doing every day. The fact that we are not providing every child with these opportunities (in California we fund school libraries 51st in the nation – Guam funds more) is to my mind a crime. No amount of technology will ever replace the person who connects students with great books, resources, instruction in information literacy, critical thinking, and much more. We need our school librarians.

  • I’m so glad Jane that your post will be seen by the entire CUE community, which includes all types and levels of educators. What TL’s do and are responsible for doing can no longer be a mystery. I truly believe that it’s in educating educators, regarding TL’s roles and responsibilities, that will put them back in the CA schools where they are so desperately needed. In my humble opinion, what makes TL’s most irreplaceable in a learning community, is their knowledge in fostering the skills and dispositions necessary for students to learn how to learn, no matter what they want or need to learn about.

  • A very insightful read! I train teacher librarians in Kenya. The major challenge is that most stakeholders do not understand the role of teacher librarians.

    I would like to do a short course with a focus on information literacy curriculum and training and/or Teacher Librarianship. I will appreciate any information on institutions that offer this kind of training either as online courses or a residential post-doctoral engagement .

    • Hi Hellen, Can you contact me directly with more details of what you are looking for? I am not clear on what kind of courses you are looking for. Thank you. I’m at jane@lofton.com.

  • Teacher Librarians are important to the well being of our students’ learning and life skills! Here’s a look back at my experiences as a TL (fond memories now, as I retired from the profession in 2013):

    Culture and community grew in our library like weeds! A student once said, “The library is like home away from home, for me!” This thought was contagious! I learned that the Circulation Desk was a popular hangout for students. Cozy chairs invited first come, first serve to plop down, relax, watch the comings and goings of the library world, snooze, and of course read.

    One time, I brought in a Lewis and Clark puzzle for a special class project; I discovered that the whole school wanted to piece it together. That was the beginning of about 100 puzzles assembled in the library! Likewise, I discovered that students liked the Civil War chess set that I purchased with library award funds. Within two days, they broke many of the delicate Civil War pieces, and so, I replaced this set with the best wooden pieces I could find, which is still intact today—some eight years later. Fast forward to 2012: Serendipity: my principal forwarded to me a letter from a chess organization in the nearby city, inviting our teens to a chess competition. Several boys went and walked away with great satisfaction and trophies! It was from this initial contact, two professional chess players came to our library later that spring to teach strategies and play chess with our students! They have been coming on a regular basis, ever since! What great thinking exercises for students! [Today, don’t they call these activities – MakerSpaces?]

    Hurricane Katrina was heartbreaking for Americans to watch. Everyone across the country wanted to help. Immediately after this horrific event, we organized a Book Drive for the victims with a tremendous outpouring of help from the community. In the second year of recovery efforts, our library Book Club orchestrated efforts earning around $3500 for Katrina victims. Someone suggested that we take the money to New Orleans and personally deliver our gift. The school board agreed, and we were on our way. We gave money to a high school library for rebuilding efforts, gave books to an elementary school library, and gave funds to a community center to help in recovery efforts and lift spirits. We passed Chiquita bananas to residents in the area and gutted damaged homes. What great lessons on teaching the value of volunteerism and community pride!

    Exchange students flock to their hosting school libraries! In my fifth year as the high school Teacher Librarian, we hosted a program, Sharing of Culture, featuring the students from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. These two students planned a delightful and informative program about their countries for a select group of their fellow students! To top it off, we served stuffed chickens, borsch, apple cake, and other interesting foods from their countries and learned cultural dance. This was a success and started a new tradition. Three more of these cultural events would happen in the years to come in our library!

    Perhaps, these stories can show the value of a Teacher Librarian in the library! These life learning experiences will always stay in the hearts and minds of those students along the way that made their way into the vibrant school library, staffed with a Teacher Librarian.

  • Hi Jane, This blog and the following comments are a testament to the crucial role of teacher librarians in our current educational system. I head up a digital literacy program that is used by public library systems around the country and your headline reminded me of public librarians I teach via webinar who are rock solid in their librarianship but when asked to teach digital literacy classes they often lack confidence as a teacher. I simply smile and tell them they are teaching people all the time as they guide us to information we are seeking. Since there are so few teacher librarians, students are ending up at public libraries where the role of teacher librarians is also critically needed. Thanks for the great work you all do!

  • This is so encouraging. I hold a bachelors degree in library and information science. Am looking for an institution to offer library services. John from Kenya. Please help

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