Five key roles for 21st-century school librarians

The presentation featured a 2010 study which reported that 70 percent of American colleges consult prospective students’ Facebook profiles as part of the admissions process. The study underscores the importance of teaching students how to monitor their digital footprint. A clear picture of their digital activity helps them better understand what Eli Pariser (a keynote speaker at the 2012 BLC conference) calls their personal filter bubble. It is fair to assume that students will make mistakes online. Supervision and guidance will help them rectify and learn from their mistakes. As is all aspects of learning, gradual release of responsibility is key.

Among the takeaways from Alan November’s 2011 BLC conference was the importance of instilling empathy and harnessing passion among learners. In this 2012 presentation, Miller described how her learners in a rural Iowa K-12 school of 600 students were empowered to make a difference by showing compassion for learners in other parts of the world.

For example, her students formed a Van Meter She’s the First chapter to send a Tanzanian girl, Neema, to a school where she would have access to technology. In their first year, they raised $1,000, meeting their goal. There were other examples that underscored Miller’s commitment to giving her students authentic opportunities to make a difference in their world and give them vehicles to broadcast their experiences. Not only did these opportunities enrich her students’ digital footprints, but they contextualized the impact of citizenship.


The participatory nature of 21st-century culture emboldens students to create and publish content—all kinds of content, but particularly multimedia content. Given the opportunity, students will transform work into play. Audience fuels their creativity, not standards and rubrics. This is borne out in the work of cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito, who describes “…two different learning cultures—one that is about youth-driven social engagement and sharing, and the other that is embodied in educational institutions’ adult-driven agendas.”

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

Valenza and Miller described the importance of granting students permission to experiment and explore, and the time to reflect and process their learning, to make it into something new. Students need to take ownership of their learning before it becomes relevant to them. Librarians, who have always served as matchmakers of sorts—pairing books with readers, resources with research questions, and, more recently, problems with tools to solve them—should be the “go-to person(s)” to support learners as they construct their knowledge.

Choice plays as critical a role as time in this process. The presenters, who both teach in schools that encourage learners to use their own technology in the classroom, described Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) as a foundation for differentiation. Librarianship is being redefined by mobile technology. Finding teaching resources, evaluating, and synthesizing information are only relevant if students can access these resources. Given the wide array of distributive technologies for library services, it is incumbent upon librarians to empower students to use their devices for learning and productivity.


The very constraints of Van Meter’s small-town isolation fuel its culture of connectiveness. Miller helps her students build their own personal learning networks by connecting with experts and collaborators as needed—in real time when they can, or asynchronously when they can’t.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

Comments are closed.