This year has been immensely rewarding for me. This has been my first year as a school library media specialist. I have given my official resignation to my employers and I finish next Wednesday. I am taking a position in the Northeast because it is both a great opportunity and because it is much closer to family.
As a final act as a library media specialist, I offer some observations on what the role of a school librarian should be as I find that most administrators, teachers, students, parents, and even some librarians really do not know what the job is supposed to look like.
The archetypal school librarian is an older lady who shelves books and hates talking, and possibly hates people. There is even a librarian action-figure with “Amazing push-button shushing action.” I do not fit that mold. I’m 24, I hardly ever shelve books, and my library is never quiet. It is a bustling hub. We usually have close to 100 people in the library before first period starts; we often teach classes on both sides of the library for the duration of the day. The modern library is fun, active, and should be the heart of the school.
This is not to say that books are not important. The books (including physical books of all kinds, audio books both physical and electronic, and e-books) are the foundation of the library and a gateway to wisdom. I purposely used the indefinite article because it is vital that we realize that books are not the only gateway to wisdom, as they once were perceived. In terms of books, I do spend a lot of time reading books to stay current, researching what is popular and appropriate. I almost never shelve books. I can train student aides to do that so my time is freed to focus on more important issues. There is a fundamental difference between how school libraries and public libraries think about ordering and managing a collection.
The public library can think only about what people want. The school library has a very clearly defined dichotomy. On one hand, we have to stock interesting and current literature for all tastes and ability levels to help foster a love of reading in the students. For example, my library is the first in my county to have a very large collection of anime/manga books. Many librarians look down on those books, but the group on close to 60 students in my school that read them have checked those books out more than any other books in our collection. More than half of those kids never stepped in their school library at their last school if they were not dragged there for class. Now they are reading for pleasure and occasionally branch out into other sections of the library.
Second, we have to look at the needs of the curriculum and the teachers. When my partner and I were planning our collection, we looked at the curriculum for every single subject as well as the new Tennessee state standards to make sure that no matter what is being taught, there are resources here to support the teachers and the students.