It is true that research on the understandings and perspectives of school principals has been conducted over decades. Whether or not there are state mandates for school librarian positions, we know that district-level and site-level decision-makers are the leaders who ultimately ensure support for school librarians. They approve hiring or making cuts. They support funding for materials. They decide whether or not school librarians will have an official spokesperson (read that district-level supervisor) who has a seat at the table when literacy learning gaps are being identified and solutions are found.
The future of school librarianship
depends on advocacy
from district- and site-level administrators.
School Librarians: Endangered Educators
If our profession was doing a stellar job of demonstrating how our work with classroom educators closes gaps and improves student learning outcomes, then there would be no need to continue to study administrators’ understandings and perceptions of our work.
But that is not the case. We know this because school librarians are endangered educators. Nationally there has been a twenty-percent decline in school librarian positions over the past decade (Kachel 2021, 52), and seven million students in the U.S. have no access to a school library with a certified school librarian (49). If equity is indeed a core value of the profession and we care deeply about other people’s children whether or not they attend our own school, then we need to get serious about how we can align our work to meet administrators’ needs and how the roles we play in education are perceived and understood.
The hard part is that in many schools and districts across the country state-certified school librarian positions, if they ever existed, were cut more than a decade ago. A generation of students, classroom teachers, administrators, and families have never known the scope and potential of school librarians’ contributions to learning in this century. They have not experienced collaborating school librarians as culture-builders and instructional leaders and partners. They have not experienced libraries as hubs of technology-infused learning, library collections that include resources in multiple formats, and librarian leaders who integrate tools and resources to help students and classroom educators succeed.
It is a tough sell when the “buyers” haven’t had first-hand experiences of highly qualified school librarian leaders and vibrant library programs with school-wide impact.
“Today’s” School Librarians
It may be understood that school librarians develop library collections. They match print and digital resources to curriculum and the needs of the students, educators, and families in their learning community. For close to three decades, they have been technology as well as book experts who support classroom teachers by integrating digital and print resources and tools into the classroom curriculum.
Most of all as experienced educators and instructional partners, school librarians collaborate with classroom teachers and provide the support needed for specific learners, small groups, or entire classes of students depending on students’ needs, teachers’ learning objectives, and the required standards. School librarians’ teaching is flexible based on just-in-time instructional needs. (If librarians are not engaging in instruction, that is not a function of job descriptions or national standards, but rather the way the librarian or site administrator understand the job. That should not be allowed to continue in this century.)
Effective school librarians offer job-embedded professional development because when they coplan, coteach, and co-assess student learning outcomes, they are learning alongside colleagues in real time, with real students, within the real supports and constraints of the school’s learning environment (physical or virtual). Classroom teachers and school librarians become reciprocal mentors for one another. The result is a collaborative teaching force that can help the school reach its capacity for educating every student.
Learning from Administrators
So why are we still studying the understandings, perspectives, and needs of school administrators? The answer to that question is as simple as it is complex. Because we cannot exist without administrators’ support.
Pam Harland, Anita Cellucci, and I have completed a study of video content created by the seven-member AASL School Leader Collaborative (see the May 3, 2021 blog post). We will be presenting “The Influence of Standards on School Administrators’ Priorities for School Librarians” during a Research Into Practice session at the AASL National Conference in Salt Lake City in October, 2021.
There is much to learn from studying these exemplary administrators and even more to gain by practicing the high level of school librarian leadership they expect from their school librarian cadre.
Kachel, Debra. 2021. Data speaks: Addressing Equity of Access to School Librarians for Students. Teacher Librarian 48 (3): 49-52.