A new Follett-sponsored initiative aims to raise awareness of how important school librarians are to ed-tech success
School librarians are critical to the success of digital learning initiatives, and they deserve a place at the table in discussions about digital learning: That’s the message behind a new awareness campaign that targets K-12 superintendents and other senior school district leaders.
“Too many people still see school library programs in kind of a stodgy way. They need to change that mindset and think of a school library almost as the ‘research and development’ center in a school,” said Susan Ballard, a former librarian for the Londonderry, N.H., schools.
Ballard now teaches in an online library science program at Simmons College, and she is the immediate past president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). While she was the organization’s president, she collaborated on an initiative called Project Connect, which aims to give school librarians a stronger voice in the planning and implementation of digital learning programs.
Sponsored by Follett and launched at AASL’s national conference in Hartford, Conn., last month, Project Connect grew out of an idea from Todd Litzsinger, Follett’s president of K-12 content and services.
To help lead the project, Litzsinger brought together stakeholders such as AASL, the nonprofit organization Digital Promise, and school district leaders such as Mark Edwards, superintendent of North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District and the current Superintendent of the Year.
Getting school librarians “to have a stronger voice” in the transition to digital content and instruction is important, Litzsinger said. He added: “Often, they get overshadowed in the decision making process—but they really hold the key to making all this work.”
(Next page: How school librarians have made a big impact in Mooresville, N.C., schools)
As the “information experts” in a school system, librarians have always helped students choose appropriate resources and distinguish good sources of information from bad ones, said Karen Cator, chief executive officer of Digital Promise, which supports ed-tech innovation. “That’s becoming even more important as we have this deluge of information today,” she said.
Edwards agreed: “It makes sense that, in this Age of Information, we’d want to align our information specialists with the digital conversion taking place in schools.”
Edwards said he has talked with superintendents from other districts who have eliminated school librarian positions in an effort to balance their budgets. “We’ve taken the opposite approach,” he said. “We think these positions are critical.”
In Mooresville, school libraries have transitioned from being “repositories of books” to providing “services and support” as teachers have adopted an inquiry-based approach to instruction, Edwards said.
Librarians have teamed up with teachers to facilitate this inquiry-based approach to learning, helping to guide student research and presentations.
“There is a constant flow to and from the media centers,” Edwards said. “It has created a whole new dynamic for us. … Our students have a natural inclination to go to the media center now; these are now the hubs of our schools.”
Mooresville, which is in the heart of NASCAR country, requires a senior project that involves a semester of research and an internship, culminating in a presentation to community leaders. With the help of a media specialist, one student designed an architectural plan for an automotive engineering center, Edwards said.
When he finished his presentation, one of the judges—the CEO of a local company—reportedly told Edwards: “I’m paying someone $75,000 a year to do this, and he can’t touch what this young man did.” The CEO gave the student a job on the spot and offered to pay for his college education, Edwards said—and that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Mooresville’s school library program.
Edwards talked about his district’s vision and its successes during a panel discussion at the AASL conference. The panel also featured Steve Joel, superintendent of the Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska; Mark Ray, director of instructional technology and library services for the Vancouver Public Schools in Washington; Britten Follett, public relations and communications manager at Follett; Litzsinger; and Cator.
These and other Project Connect participants will continue to highlight success stories from across the nation and call attention to the importance of school library programs in the months ahead.
As school districts move toward digital learning environments, both librarians and IT staff need to be involved, “but often these folks don’t talk,” Litzsinger said.
School districts, he concluded, “need to have a pretty cohesive, organized approach in which everyone is communicating and librarians are a part of the process—and it takes coordination to make that happen.”