News

Is the maker movement putting librarians at risk?

By Rick Montgomery, The Kansas City Star
July 18th, 2016

'If you replace a certified librarian with someone who’s just an expert in technology, you’re losing half of the role'

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Librarians in the Shawnee Mission School District are making way for “the maker movement,” and some worry where that story is going.

Reading stories, of course, has been a big part of what Jan Bombeck does with children. “Stories, stories and more stories,” she told the school board last month.

The Ray Marsh Elementary School directory lists Bombeck as “librarian” because she is state-certified to be one. But at least four Shawnee Mission grade schools have hired “innovation specialists” to run their libraries when fall classes open.

That’s the language of the maker movement, which seeks to convert once-quiet school spaces — usually in the libraries — into hands-on laboratories of creation and computer-assisted innovation.

The movement, taking place nationwide, is more about robotics than reading.

In fact, the word “librarian” didn’t come up in the job description for an innovation specialist at Merriam Park Elementary. “Stories” wasn’t there, either.

No mention of “books,” “literature” nor “shelves.”

“They’re replacing our retiring librarians with these innovation people” who need only to be certified to teach elementary education, Bombeck said. “It’s like they’re avoiding people with library certification.”

District administrators say that’s not the case. They do acknowledge, however, that grade schools haven’t much need anymore for the libraries of 20 years ago — when they stocked books, gave research help, suggested age-appropriate literature and provided a cozy corner in which kids could turn pages.

Today all Shawnee Mission pupils are issued an electronic tablet or MacBook, providing them many times the information once squeezed on library shelves.

“Now that they have those digital resources in hand, no longer do I have to get up and walk my class to the library,” said Michelle Hubbard, assistant superintendent of leadership and learning.

So school libraries across the country are cutting back on book storage and finding new ways to use the space. Taking the lead of community libraries, many have incorporated “maker spaces” or “innovation stations” that enable children to create, work in teams and learn at the same time.

Next page: Is the job title ‘librarian’ in jeopardy?