How School Librarians Are Evolving

school librarian
(Image credit: Unsplash: Michael Fallon)

The traditional role of school librarian has changed. New technology and changing expectations are causing librarians to reimagine how they support students and teaching in a fast-moving environment. Many have become media specialists, dipping into areas and subjects well beyond the printed word.

Librarians now create and manage learning hubs in which students can interact with one another, the collections, and the physical space itself. In addition, inquiry-based learning, data science, and demand for collaborative working spaces are also transforming the work of librarians.

With the correlation between high-quality school library programs and certified librarians to higher ELA test scores, at-risk learners are benefitting the most. Even as they continue to support reading instruction, librarians encourage students to be self-directed problem solvers, innovators, and creators using the library’s resources. Librarians also are providing cross-curriculum reading connections to science and math content areas.

Part of the evolution to a learning hub has meant dramatic changes in the library’s design, says Sharon McCubbins, school media librarian and tech coordinator at Cumberland Trace Elementary in Warren Public Schools in Kentucky. “Some libraries now have LEGO walls and active furniture, such as tables on wheels, to provide flexibility to easily and quickly rearrange the space to adapt to each new learning activity,” she says. “The library can shift from independent study to group activities quickly by changing the furniture arrangement.”

McCubbins first incorporated maker space elements into her library in 2016. She began with puzzles and tinker toys. The next year she received a grant to bring in makerspace materials, coding devices, and robots. “LEGOs and robots are exciting, but not necessary,” she said. “Maker spaces don’t have to include technology, although they often do.” 

A maker space allows students a deeper dive into a story by offering a chance to create and share content, McCubbins says.

 School Librarian: An Increased Focus on Technology 

Amy Buss, instructional coordinator for the Warren Public Schools, says that librarians have now become the tech coordinators in their schools. “During COVID, our librarians stepped up into leadership and coaching roles to help teachers set up Google Classroom and design engaging tasks using technology that was new to them,” she says. These are “we’ll do whatever it takes” librarian teachers who didn’t let challenging restrictions keep them from ensuring that kids—and staff—had continuing access to learning resources throughout the pandemic. 

Librarians often lead the teaching of information and media literacy in schools—helping students understand the difference between fact and opinion, teaching students how to evaluate online information and be good digital citizens. Educating students about social media is increasingly important as research indicates the negative impact on middle and high school students in particular. 

Many librarians have also become first adopters of new digital tools and platforms, and even lead technology integration for staff, including organizing professional development and training. 

They are also being relied upon as a key part of family communication strategies, often tasked with creating and sending emails and newsletters, or creating and maintaining school websites. For example, during remote learning, Shannon McClintock Miller, District Teacher Librarian and Innovation Director, Van Meter Community School District in Iowa, relied on social media tools such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter to stay connected. “When we went to remote learning in March, our social media became critical because I was able to constantly share items from there,” she says. By using multiple social media tools, she can reach every audience.

A typical day in a school library will find it full of students working individually and in groups on laptops, accessing digital resources, reading ebooks, researching databases, learning research skills, and reading print books. Teachers will be reviewing instructional resources curated for them by the librarian, who also introduces them to emerging technologies and new teaching resources. 

As school libraries evolve into learning hubs with a range of services and opportunities for both students and teachers that go far beyond checking out books, it is essential for a vibrant school culture to have a full-time, certified teaching librarian on staff.

Annie Galvin Teich has more than 25 years' experience in education writing and publishing. She is an edtech industry expert in content marketing and copywriting. As a regular contributor to Tech & Learning she focuses on the information needs of district decision makers.