By: Sheila Henline, Collection Analyst.

“Why do I need a school librarian? I have Google and the Public Library.” This pointed and myopic question is the typical line of thinking from those not familiar with the nuances of school libraries and the roles of School Librarians and Media Specialists.

Public Libraries are an essential part of our communities. The School Librarian serves specific educational goals that the public library often cannot accommodate. School Librarians know how to match books and resources to the current curriculum needs. We instruct our teachers on how to integrate these titles into their curricular areas. And we find titles that can be used across the curricular cores collaboratively. School Librarians also teach students information literacy, digital responsibility and a life long love of reading.

American Association of School Librarians President, Audrey Church
American Association of School Librarians President, Audrey Church

School librarians teach students how to use ALL libraries

The mission of public libraries is broad and community based. Not only do public libraries serve our students, they serve everyone in our neighborhood from Senior Citizens and adults, to toddlers and preschoolers. Public libraries are indispensable to the jobless, homeless, parents, caregivers and researchers. Their objective is to serve everyone. In contrast, a school library and School Librarian curates focused content and experiences for the students in that building, and directly deepens individual learning experiences. In fact, it’s the skills that School Librarians impart that ensures students will be able to effectively use public libraries for the rest of their lives.

Google and other search engines are powerful, but they are not a stand-in for thoughtful research coaching and guidance in navigating the digital landscape. Our students need to be taught how to use this research tool, how to discern the good information from the bad, and how to do it all efficiently and effectively. It is the School Library Media Specialist or Librarian who teaches those essential 21st century skills. This list details how college level instructors should teach robust research skills, in partnership with librarians.

Research that goes beyond “just Google it”

  1. Define research.
  2. Break research assignments into parts.
  3. Encourage students to consult with a librarian.
  4. Review criteria for evaluating sources.
  5. Explain how research will be evaluated.
  6. Direct students towards library resources in a variety of formats.
  7. Suggest specific databases to students by name.
  8. Provide guidelines for how to use online sources.
  9. Discuss what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.
  10. Talk to students about search strategies.
  11. Request a research guide from your librarian.
  12. Embed links to library resources and services in Blackboard or Moodle.
  13. Collaborate with a librarian to design a research assignment that employs critical thinking.
  14. Schedule a library instruction session.

These college level skills are a good benchmark to aim for, even as early as middle school. Teachers and students alike might use them. I have had teachers take notes while I was instructing their classes on how to use databases for a senior research project. I had students ask if the information they were using for an assignment was considered plagiarism. And I had students come back to me once they were in college to tell me that they were more knowledgeable than their peers because they knew how to find three credible articles for their freshman assignments.

School Librarians support improved performance on ELA assessments

Interesting findings have come out of South Carolina, the first state to document the contribution of school librarians to student success through the use of test results for specific English language arts (ELA) and writing standards. Students saw especially high improvement in detailed test results for three ELA standards—literary text, informational text, and research—and two writing standards—content and organization, based on number of books in circulation, individual student check outs, and hours a librarian focused specifically on literacy with students.

An effective school librarian is an integral part of the learning experience, encouraging life long reading and researching and promotes higher test scores and student retention rates. What’s not to love? A School Librarian is integral to the curriculum, a School Librarian is a teacher, a School Librarian is IMPORTANT!

If you need help making the case for School Librarians to a school administrator or school board, contact the American Association of School Libraries (ALA), or your state school library committee. Consult the below articles for more information.

More Resources

Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement – School Library Journal
ESSA—and Federal Support of School Libraries—Signed Into Law – School Library Journal
Research and statistics to help advocates make the case for libraries at every stage of youth development and education. – AASL
School Libraries and Student Achievement. – Teacher Librarian
School Librarians Continue to Help Students Achieve Standards: The Third Colorado Study (2010) – Briana Hovendick Francis Keith Curry Lance Zeth Lietzau
Informational Brief: Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement New York Comprehensive Center
Importance of School Library Programs – Cynthia Strong Seattle Pacific University
Is the maker movement putting librarians at risk? – EdSchool News
School Libraries Work – Scholastic Publishing
SCHOOL LIBRARY IMPACT STUDIES A Review of Findings and Guide to Sources – Baltimore Library Project
Pennsylvania Schools: Librarians Help Increase Student Achievement