The Role Of The School Librarian In Teaching And Learning

by Dr. Berger

By Elizabeth Hutchinson

The role of the school librarian is an elusive one. Ask any teacher what the school librarian’s role is and whether they need a qualification to do the job, and I am sure you will get many different answers. I can’t think of many professions where this is the case. I am married to an accountant, and although I could not tell you what he does on a day-to-day basis I am under no illusion that he is a professional and his role is essential within his own company and for the businesses he works with. I know and understand that a professional job needs qualifications, but surprisingly this does not seem to be the understanding for school librarians. Only the other day a teacher said to me ‘I didn’t know you needed a degree to do that job.’ Why is this?

Student in libraryIn a recent blog post, School Libraries with Certified School Librarians MATTER! Kathleen wrote “My role as the school librarian is to build and maintain reliable print and digital resources. My role is to be a learning facilitator. My role is teaching students to think critically, evaluate sources and to solve problems. My role is to make sure students are information literate” This explains perfectly what we should and could be doing in schools. Nowhere does it say “I stamp books or laminate your posters!’

As I see it, the role of the school librarian has diminished over many decades, and there are many reasons for this.

  • Head teachers and senior leaders do not understand the role of the school librarian.
  • School librarians are easy targets when the school budget is tight, and they are systematically being replaced by
  • non-professional staff.
  • They are paid and treated as support staff.
  • They are not given senior leadership roles.
  • They are not included in curriculum planning or linked to teaching and learning.
  • One librarian in a school of teachers is a hard position to be in.

Three computers in libraryWe need to find a way to break out of the blinkered view that librarians sit behind a desk issuing books and saying shhh! We live in exciting times and our skills are perfect for the information world of today and tomorrow. To be Information literate is an essential life skill for today’s students and many teachers are unable to teach their students these skills. This can be seen in the frustration that their students go home and Google the answers. The pressure on teachers to create independent learners is huge but the understanding of what an independent learner is, in my opinion, has been lost. Independence does not mean going on the Internet to find the answer. Independence for me is to be able to select the best resource that will give you the best answer. If that is going onto the school library catalogue to find a website that the school librarian has curated or a book from the library, this is more independent than typing the question into Google. Selecting the correct digital recourse and finding the answer through this shows skill far above a regular Google search.

If teachers understood that the school librarian, as an information specialist, can teach these skills in their classrooms, surely they would be inviting us to teach alongside them at every opportunity. We are trained and are perfectly placed to support these skills.

clamp on walletNumerous studies have proven that collaboration with a school librarian can make a difference to academic attainment and should, therefore, be involved within teaching, learning and curriculum planning level within the school. Unfortunately, this does not happen due to many schools employing non-professionals, if anyone at all, to work in their libraries. Principals’ s budgets are getting squeezed tighter and tighter; if there is no knowledge of what a professional librarian can do within your school and if there is a choice between employing another teacher or a professional school librarian I understand why these choices are being made. The teacher would also be my choice too. Ignorance, though, does not make it the right choice.

What is the difference between a non-professional and professional librarian?

I recently had a conversation with a head teacher who did not understand the difference between the library assistant she had employed and the professional support I was offering. Why could the library assistant not do the job I was offering? ‘We are all being asked to do more for less these days. Apart from the fact that the library assistant’s job description does not include teaching, she is also busy with the day-to-day running of the library. She is not trained to teach in your classrooms or run research lessons on using digital resources and should not be expected to. My argument is that if I have to tell you what she could be doing within your classrooms, it means that she and you did not know this and therefore a trained professional is the better option. I know and understand what my role is within your classroom and without question I can do that job.

Which head teacher would employ a History teacher without really knowing what they should be doing or employ an unqualified teacher to teach science? I find it amazing that even qualified librarians who have been employed by a school are finding it difficult to do their jobs because of a lack of expectation at a senior level. Why are senior leaders not getting annoyed that their teachers are not using the librarian or the school library more? Is it because they really don’t know themselves? Value for money can only be created when there is an expectation. Librarians need the support of the senior leaders in order to do their jobs well.

What can the Head Teacher do about all this?

Find out if you have employed a qualified librarian or not. If you do, make sure you are supporting them to do the job you have employed them to do.

  • Question your teachers about how they have included the school library and the librarian into their teaching.
  • Expect to see the school library and librarian in their lesson planning.
  • Embed information literacy at policy level with the help of the school librarian.
  • Make the school librarian head of a department.
  • Make sure the school librarian attends meetings regarding teaching and learning.

Embed information literacy at the policy level.

Information literacy is the skill to find, evaluate, use and give credit to information. It is essential that these skills are embedded within your school curriculum at the policy level. The school librarian as an information specialist has the skill to teach this; they are perfectly placed to up-skill and provide training for your teachers and also support and teach within the classroom. Unless senior leaders and administrators understand this, there will only ever be pockets of good practice within your school.

Time for change is now – once we have allowed our school librarians to be systematically eliminated we will never get those skills back. Make sure your school is using all resources to its full potential, which includes the school library and librarian.

  1. ISTE – The Role of School Librarians in Promoting the Use of Educational Technologies
  2. edCircuit – Looking at The Importance of Genre with The Mighty Little Librarian
  3. Edutopia – 21st-Century Libraries: The Learning Commons

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1 comment

elizabethutch January 20, 2017 - 1:12 am

Hi Kathleen, thanks for your comments. I agree the conversation needs to be where Headteachers/Principals and policy makers are likely to be reading this. It is essential that Senior Leaders understand the role and expertise of the school librarian and hopefully posts like this will help and support librarians to make a case. Advocacy is very time consuming and scary but no-one else is going to do this. Be brave, understand your own importance, that is not arrogance but necessary, and eventually it will be worth it. I loved your post by the way!


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