Carolina’s On My Mind – Queries for School Librarians

I’m on a road trip that began with the North Carolina School Library Media Association’s Annual Conference in Winston-Salem.  Buffy Hamilton gave an inspirational keynote address where she asked the audience to question what we learned in library school, even as recently as five years ago, in light of new shifts in education toward what has been described by Jenkins et al (2006) as a more participatory culture. As I listened to Buffy, I found myself returning to the excellent query presented by Judi last week regarding what school librarians would do differently if we considered teachers to be our target clientele.  In my work collaborating with teachers, I often wondered about this same question. School librarians bring an entirely new set of resources to the table when teachers are planning classroom instruction both in terms of the kinds of media we are able to identify, select, and share and the Standards for the 21st Century Learner that focus not only on skills, but on dispositions, social responsibility and self-assessment.  These resources may provoke teachers to consider different ways to deliver and engage students in instruction and assessment. Buffy Hamilton also called on school librarians to “become a part of the instructional design conversation” with teachers providing a focus that is inquiry-based, participatory, and promoting a sense of wonder and delight for learners. We need more research in the field that explores Judi’s question about the indirect impact of school librarian collaboration with teachers on student learning.  Such research might track the conversations and resources introduced by the school librarian during collaboration into the classroom to see how they are taken up by teachers and then by students.

Buffy Hamilton also spoke about an educational “ecosystem” and many of her remarks focused on the direct relationship of the school librarian to students and student learning.  What happens when we think of the school librarian as a coach and mentor to students? We have the means to connect directly with students, to embed ourselves in classroom instruction and to create “makerspaces” in our libraries where students come to work directly with us and the resources of the library to create their own products and new knowledge. In these terms I began to think of the direct relationships school librarians have with students and their families. School librarians are in a position to develop relationships with students that overflow the classroom, that transcend an academic year by following students as they progress through the grade levels, and grow to include siblings, cousins, parents, and grandparents.  The school librarian has a unique perspective on the trajectory of students beyond a single classroom or grade level.  This knowledge and understanding also cycles into our collaborative work with teachers.

As Buffy Hamilton suggested, we function in an educational ecosystem.  Everything we do is connected to everything else.  We have a unique position in the educational ecosystem that provides us with a wider view of student learning and multiple avenues to impact student learning. I think Judi’s question is a great one: As a school librarian how would you organize your time differently if classroom teachers were your primary clientele?  We should embrace it as a query that leads us to reflect deeply on the work we do with teachers and our impact on professional development and the ways a culture of collaboration might be nurtured with teachers.  Perhaps the question could be asked and pondered in terms of each of our stakeholders.  What would happen if we considered families as our primary clientele? Administrators? The community? Perhaps it’s not so important which stakeholder we choose to focus on, but that we find ways to track that impact back to student learning. Because, as I was reminded in another excellent session I attended, we should align everything we do in the school library with the mission of our school and no doubt the mission of each school includes some language about the education of the students in that school.  Ultimately that is our bottom line; there are probably multiple paths toward that mission and working as instructional partners with teachers is clearly one of the more fruitful paths we could choose.   Where do you see yourself making an impact on the educational ecosystem in your school?  What are the many ways you might track your work with various stakeholders back to student learning?  Consider each in turn as a query without quick answers, but reflective questions to ponder as you evaluate the choices you make regarding the use of your resources of time, space, and materials.  Think of it as self-assessment for school librarians.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture:  Media education for the 21st century. Chicago: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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