Gone are the days when a school librarian’s job was defined by shushing, rocking, and reading. While reading out loud and building a love of literacy is still a foundational part of their job in a school, school librarians wear many, many hats and touch many lives in the course of a day’s work.
As an avid, life-long reader, I can come up with dozens of things I love about school librarians and libraries (I was actually named by a librarian!) But for a broader perspective, I wanted to hear from my peers, colleagues, and the educators out there doing the heavy lifting, so I turned to influential library experts, educators, and social media to share their thoughts.
I loved what I heard from the people I spoke to. Many shared my own impressions, and some introduced me to their own reasons why school librarians are amazing at what they do. I’m proud to share my thoughts and what others told me here.
1. Librarians are the keepers (and more importantly, the sharers) of the books
CEO of education publisher Capstone Randi Economou says, “They lead the way for learning by igniting a love for reading.”
Follett sales rep Pam Hinds reminds us, “They ‘house’ the best weapons in the world!”
Customer service rep here at Follett, Suzanne Florek, says, “Of course, I have my favorite librarians I talk to! I think the reason they might be on the top of my list is because of how genuinely caring people they are. They are kind, patient, knowledgeable, motivating, just as excited to see new books as their students are. They show students how they can be transformed into a fantasy world, futuristic world, find out how things work or just learn about new places or history and people that made their mark on this world for many reasons. They show kids they can be anything they want to be, and they can learn more about EVERYTHING. That is a big role to play in our children’s lives and therefore we need them to play that very important role. I thank all our librarians for all the encouragement they provide to our children. A child that loves to read will go many places in their life.
2. Librarians cross paths with every student in a school
What other position within a school interacts with teachers, administrators, and students in all grades? The school library and its staff are unique in how many lives they touch and the vast reach of their expertise, according to John Chrastka, Founder and Executive Director of Every Library, a political action committee for libraries that advocates for funding and support. “The most powerful aspect of school libraries is that it is the one academic unit that reaches every student in the school,” says Chrastka. “Sometimes it is through school librarians pushing into a class about research topics. Sometimes it’s supporting learning across the curriculum. But every student can have their school librarian be a partner in finding new, relevant, and interesting things to read. We can’t discount how important independent reading is in literacy development and educational attainment. A certified school librarian is a key resource for those students.”
Follett Destiny trainer Michele Kuempel agrees and shares her thoughts from a different perspective. “As a former school librarian, one of my favorite parts of the job was that I actively interacted with every student and teacher on campus – regardless of grade or subject area,” said Kuemple. “Very few members of a campus team can say that they get to do this!”
3. Librarians know books better than anyone
Librarians know what’s in their collections, and well beyond. They are voracious readers and chances are, if you throw out an author’s name, most librarians know that person’s work. They frame history by the books they’ve read, and they find comfort and connection through? their favorites. How often do we hear questions posed to librarians like, “it had a red cover and was a coming-of-age tale set in the 1960s” and lo and behold, a librarian can put a finger on the right book.
Follett’s publisher relations coordinator Amanda Deubel says, “Librarians always make the best book recommendations after hearing your interests and have a keen ability to know what book you are looking for even if you are only able to provide random bits of information about it.”
4. Librarians teach us how to research
Sheila Carr on Follett’s professional learning team shared an ode to the librarians in her world:
“Roses are red, violets are blue, librarians are awesome – yes, that’s true.
Their role is important and goes well beyond books.
Why when was the last time we considered all the hard work they undertook?
Vast amounts of information and databases abound.
With this massive quantity of data to parse, it is great to have a librarian around.
Paper or digital, reference or research, collection development and promotion of learning, is it no wonder our brains are burning?
A huge shout out to librarians who bring it all together, so we can survive the information storm no matter the weather.”
5. Librarians are tough
One of my social media connections, Carrie Rayfield, says, “Their dedication to literacy, their perseverance in the face of adversity (think rolling carts to classes during COVID) and their willingness to think outside the box.”
Florida middle school librarian Carrie Friday says, “Resilience. So much resilience.”
As a teacher who works closely with his school library told me, librarians are tough in many ways. “People often think that librarians love books; however, the librarians I’ve worked with over the years all love children and books are the gifts they give to our kids,” said sixth-grade teacher John Arthur of Salt Lake City, Utah. “It’s that love that’s made them so resilient these past few years and why they are such fierce defenders of books that reflect all the children in their care.”
Mark Ray, Affiliate Professor, Antioch University Seattle and Future Ready Librarians Advisor, shared his thoughts on what makes a librarian tough. “Sisu is a unique Finnish term that speaks to grit and a tenacity of purpose. The best librarians have a sort of professional and educational sisu—doing great work often without money, support, or recognition.”Ray also commented on the resilience of the school librarians with whom he has worked. “Few educators show up at school every day wondering if they will have a job next year. A perennial fear of extinction makes for a thick hide and a willingness to adapt.”
According to Joyce Valenza, who teaches future librarians at Rutgers University, the last few years have been more than challenging for all educators, but especially librarians. “In a recent focus-group study, my team and I discovered a familiar refrain in the way school librarians described their contributions during COVID. They said, ‘We were the glue,’” Valenza told me. “As ever, even in crisis, it was their practice to identify problems, especially relating to equity and access, identify needs, and develop solutions. One of many examples of courageous professionalism and grit is New Jersey’s Martha Hickson who responded to censorship and personal harassment issues with courage, dedication to core values and common beliefs, strong community leadership, and created a toolkit to empower her students and alumni.”
6. Librarians create a safe environment for all students
One of Follett’s Event Planners, Laura Welter, shared her personal experience. “The school librarian has the role of protector. The librarian in my school was the go-to person for advice and support. She created a safe place for kids who didn’t quite fit in elsewhere. She taught us to love reading and learning and to always protect others in need.”
Kerri Macdonald, on Follett’s professional learning team says, “A good school librarian can be the difference between a child just getting through school doing the bare minimum and being a well-rounded student who not only completes the assigned reading, but also learns to love reading and becomes a lifelong learner.”
7. Librarians build community connections
Mary Hazel, who works on Follett’s content curations team, says, “A school librarian knows everybody in the school! They are the solid link that holds it all together—student interests, teacher needs, as well as support for all the programs in a school. As a teacher, I rarely had time to talk with other teachers about their personal interests. The librarian at my school put up a blank bulletin board and asked the teachers (as we dropped off our students for media class) to write a short note about hobbies or social causes that were dear to us. We were able to write short notes back and forth, and able to connect with each other on a meaningful level whenever we could talk in person. Was this in her job description? No, but she saw a need and helped us build community.”
8. Librarians provide equitable access to information for all students
Follett’s customer success manager, Heidi Munin reminds us, “I love that a school librarian can open new worlds and ideas to students through books. For some students with limited access to public libraries, the school librarian may be their only available guide to this exciting world.
Follett’s customer service rep, Grace Kloeckner says, “Librarians are inclusive, welcoming and nurturing individuals who help students find joy and solace within the pages of a good book. Their impact is fundamental as they champion their students to explore their imagination and expand their views of our world!”
9. Librarians are tech savvy, too
“The stories and information our students need don’t always rest on shelves in books and encyclopedias,” teacher Arthur said. In his elementary classroom, Arthur requires his students to perform extensive research and create multimedia projects they develop on their own – from idea to publication. Those digital skills are honed by the school librarian and help his students produce top-notch, impressive projects they share on their own YouTube channel, 9th Evermore. “All of humanity’s best work and creations now exist on a boundless digital landscape, and our librarians are expert users of the technological tools our students and teachers need to successfully access that space.”
Valenza, who has written a blog called The Never-Ending Search for many years, has witnessed the changes in how librarians use and teach tech in everything they do.
“Over the course of the past three years, I’ve seen so many librarians scale their practice through library websites, evolving their presence from brochures to true destinations as they rethought equitable access to books, wifi, connections with families, engaging tools for digital learning like choice boards (regularly created and generously shared on Shannon Miller’s Library The Voice Blog) and Bitmoji libraries,” Valenza said. “These resourceful and forward-thinking librarians are embedding their resources for inquiry in learning management systems. They present informal, virtual professional development for their own learning communities and the much larger communities of librarians and other educators around the country. They’re leading edcamps and Nerdcamps.” Valenza shared a few resources the librarians in her midst created here:
Valenza’s own Finding Your People, is a fantastic resource she created and maintains for her students. (I recommend you check this out – you are NOT alone, as Valenza tells her students!)
10. Librarians are the ultimate multi-taskers
A school librarian is a masterful plate-spinner, magically managing endless details, or so it seems.
“Thinking about all the things librarians juggle throughout the day makes my brain hurt. Serving every single student in a school, managing all the physical books and the endless digital resources, fielding constant requests from students, parents, and teachers, responding to challenges to titles in their collections and attacks on their professionalism, finding books that were mis shelved by well-meaning kids…I just can’t!” shared teacher Arthur, who was named 2021 Utah Teacher of the Year, an accolade he partially attributes to the colleagues in his life who help him be a better teacher.
When one considers the multitude of things librarians are required to do, perhaps Mark Ray sums it up best: “Teacher librarians are the Swiss Army knife of educators. And yes, the good ones have corkscrews.”