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Libraries and librarians are essential to teacher and student learning–here’s how to support them

school-librariansIf school librarians want to make a case for library funding, they must demonstrate how they help students learn and prove that they build collaborative instructional partnerships with classroom teachers.

Libraries often suffer financially when school administrators are forced to make budget cuts, often because administrators might still have outdated views regarding what the school library actually does.

Librarians have specialized and varied training, but often, that training does not help direct funding to the school library unless administrators see how libraries benefit student learning, said Michelle Luhtala, head librarian at New Canaan High School (Conn.), during a Connected Educator Month edWeb webinar about making the case for school libraries.

(Next page: Four strategies to support school librarians)

Luhtala, with input from Deb Schiano, a teacher-librarian at Madison Junior School in New Jersey, outlined four areas of expertise where librarians can demonstrate to school administrators that they directly contribute to student learning.

Instructional partnerships role

“This is very powerful, very useful, and is a huge part of what we do,” Luhtala said. “We explain how research is done. There’s real collaboration here.”

School librarians play an integral role in developing materials that help teachers understand and unpack the Common Core, and they work to create documents and warehouses of collaborative materials and research projects.

Creating online learning materials in collaboration with fellow librarians and educators supports educators’ instruction, which supports students’ learning achievements.

Librarians teach teachers, through direct instruction and through classroom experiences, how to use technologies. Helping teachers reach that “ah-ha” moment leads to greater and more effective technology integration in teaching and learning.

Professional development is an important part of collaborative instructional partnerships. Librarians offer unique services when they enter a teacher’s classroom and help the teacher become more independent not just in technology use, but also in developing and teaching research skills and other important skills students will need when they go to college or join the workforce.

Leadership role

“Leadership is really critical,” Luhtala said. “In many instances, school librarians were the first people [to receive] a cart of devices, often with very little technology support or funding for applications for those devices.”

Because of this, librarians play a crucial role in leading teachers through technology training and helping teachers become comfortable using technology tools—and as research proves, if teachers are not comfortable with technology, they won’t use it, and students won’t benefit from those tools.

“As schools are moving more and more toward some kind of integrated mobile technology program or learning, the librarian has often been the pioneer,” she added. “It’s important for them to carry that expertise into a conversation where one-to-one or BYOD might enter. Very often, we’re the experts in school. That’s part of how you demonstrate your leadership within a community—bring your experience to the table.”

Information specialist role

This expertise concerns resource development and management, such as maintaining an adequate collection of current and relevant databases, or moving to new database services based on state decisions about vendors.

“Creating a library collection, and being able to meet the learning needs of the community, are essential,” Luhtala said.

An information specialist role also helps connect students to learning opportunities.

“The other thing we can do for kids is provide opportunities for them to have exposure to online learning. Whatever it is that you use, you’re providing those students with the idea that they can go to a library at any point in their lives and ask questions—and that’s important,” Luhtala said.

Library administration and space creation role

Librarians, as educators, create and maintain a welcoming and enriching physical space that welcomes students, staff, and community members, and it is important administrators realize this.

Having a space where students can access personalized learning opportunities is especially important in today’s schools.

“We do amazing things, but nobody cares, unless we really help kids learn—and we have to be able to document that,” Luhtala said. “Unless we can make a connection to the actual learning piece and our kids can prove it, we’re in jeopardy.”

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Laura Ascione

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