Five key roles for 21st-century school librarians

School librarians, with their specialized training in collecting, organizing, preserving, and disseminating information, now must teach their patrons to perform these tasks.

According to Joyce Valenza, teacher librarian at Springfield Township High School in Pennsylvania and author of School Library Journal’s “Never Ending Search” blog, this is the golden age of librarianship.

Co-presenting a session at educational technology leader Alan November’s 2012 Building Learning Communities (BLC) conference on July 19 with Shannon McClintock Miller, district librarian and technology integration specialist at Van Meter Schools in Iowa, Valenza outlined five areas in which K-12 schools should turn to their librarians to empower learners with valuable 21st-century college and career readiness skills.

“Librarians are in the sweet spot of education,” Valenza said.

Given the unprecedented quantity of information learners are exposed to, the librarian’s role is more important than ever. Librarians help all students gain access to, evaluate, ethically use, create, share, and synthesize information. These skills are easily grouped into the following categories, she and Miller said.


Students have long documented their research in notebooks, bibliographies, and research papers, but the presenters described these containers as inadequate for the digital landscape. In the 20th century, content was king, but in this millennium, curation has emerged as the new monarch.

Valenza and Miller highlighted emerging technologies that help students showcase their progress as they acquire, organize, contextualize, and archive both existing content and new learning. Transparency is a critical component in growing what media scholar Pierre Levy calls knowledge citizens. The presenters stressed the value of teaching learners to purposefully contribute to society’s collective intelligence.

For more news from BLC 2012, see:

New project aims to transform the ‘first five days’ of school

How TED-Ed is helping to amplify instruction

BLC 2012 Conference Information Center

This concept is fleshed out in Steven Rosenbaum’s book, Curation Nation. School librarians, with their specialized training and background in collecting, organizing, preserving, and disseminating information, must now teach their patrons—students and educators alike—to perform these tasks.

The following curation tools were referenced during the presentation: Diigo, LiveBinders, Paper.Li, Pinterest, PearlTrees, Posterous, Scoop.It, Sqworl, Storify, Symbaloo.


“With great power comes great responsibility,” said Valenza. Building society’s collective intelligence requires contributors to respect its infrastructure. This is the essence of digital citizenship.

Students must be taught how to publish their work for the real world, with their real identity (not anonymously), to build their digital footprint with purpose. This approach embeds authentic learning about the importance of intellectual property. If “public is the new default,” as Valenza prescribes, accountability is built in. When their own work is public, students better appreciate the cost of having published work repurposed without permission, particularly if they are taught to license their work under Creative Commons or other intellectual property licensing systems.

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