They may be unable to complete homework assignments or tell the difference between a random blog and a reputable source for research papers. They may not know how to search for jobs or how to find information about going to college.

Seventy-five percent of teachers are assigning homework to students that require a “digital environment,” Stripling said, but only 54 percent of teachers say they believe all of their students have access to those tools.

“The school library then becomes the most powerful place for them,” she said.  “School librarians are in charge of that training, of providing those tools. That is the responsibility of the school librarian.”

But not all school librarians are qualified to do this sort of training, Striping admitted. Too many public schools do not hire state-certified librarians, she said, instead relying on well-intentioned but often unqualified members of their community.

About one-third of public school libraries don’t have full-time, state-certified librarians, according to a 2013 report authored by Kathy Rosa, director of the ALA’s Office for Research and Statistics. Fifty-six percent of public charter schools do not employ state-certified librarians.

In California, there is just one library media specialist for every 7,000 students.

“It’s a national crisis,” Stripling said. “There are entire communities that have absolutely no certified librarians.”

Libraries themselves may also not be up to the challenge, the panelists said.

“Many libraries are built for transaction, not transformation,” said Richard Reyes-Gavilan, executive director of the District of Columbia Public Library.

(Next page: A lack of funding)