The School Librarian: Your Ultimate Digital Resource - ASCD
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February 1, 2019

The School Librarian: Your Ultimate Digital Resource

Expectations for teachers to use technology well are rising. Where to look for help? Try a school librarian

Consider the following scenarios:

  • Laurie's school is trying to individualize students' learning experiences. As a 9th grade social studies teacher, Laurie is expected to use her school's learning management system to provide texts at multiple reading levels for her units so every student can read at their level.

  • In one corner of an elementary school library are tables with lots of "gadgets" and a sign reading "Welcome to Our Makerspace!" Fazil, a 3rd grade teacher, is curious about this area and how it can be used to support his curricular goals.

  • Guidance counselor Shonna is concerned that Maria, a 10th grader, is using Instagram in ways that might be damaging to her in the future. But Shonna doesn't feel she has the knowledge or experience to guide Maria in using social networking tools.

In these instances, a school librarian would likely have the expertise to help a teacher use technology more advantageously. As expectations for classroom teachers to use—and understand—technology tools grow, the need for assistance in using these tools effectively is growing as well. Teachers don't always realize that one powerful source of such assistance is a school-based librarian. So, as a technology director who often sees good librarian-teacher collaboration, I want to highlight how powerful that assistance can be.

Wanted: Future-Ready Librarians

Professional organizations representing school librarians recognize that there is a pressing need for librarians to help teachers learn to use technology to reach today's students. In fact, these groups have written standards that point to the digital services and expertise that school librarians provide. Two such sets of standards drawn up in 2017 by the American Association of School Librarians and the International Society for Technology in Education highlight areas of responsibility librarians have for assisting other educators with technology use. Other organizations dedicated to improving U.S. education, such as the Alliance for Excellent Education, have called for—and created resources to help develop—"future-ready librarians" to help kids be ready for the digitally soaked future.1 Katie Salmela (personal communication, November 2018), a national leader in the library profession, has said that we'll know students are "future ready" when we see them "inquiring, including, collaborating, curating, exploring, and engaging in and outside of the library and across content areas" and that "this will only happen if school librarians collaborate with teachers and share their technical expertise and knowledge of digital resources."

While each librarian will support his or her own school in ways specific to its mission, resources, and curricular outcomes, the following six areas are common roles "digital librarians" are filling today.

The Top Six Supporting Roles

Role 1. Curating resources to support individualized instruction

A long-held role of school librarians is building collections of materials that support students in doing classroom units, especially research units. Traditionally, this has meant carts of books on a specific topic rolled into the teacher's classroom. As resources become increasingly digital—the likes of e-books, websites, and online periodicals and reference materials—and as an increasing number of students have access to devices through 1:1 initiatives, school librarians have replaced the book cart with web pages full of bookmarked links that they build for teachers.

Learning management systems, such as Blackboard, Canvas, Google Classroom, and Schoology, have given teachers and librarians a new means of—and purpose for—curating digital resources. An LMS is generally a centralized platform into which various learning resources can be easily uploaded and made available to students (among other features). The system helps individualize learning by providing materials at multiple reading levels and in multiple formats.

Such systems are supplementing, if not replacing, textbooks in many classrooms. But populating an LMS with materials for students to read, listen to, and watch, can be a time-consuming and difficult task for the classroom teacher. By partnering with the librarian, this task becomes manageable.

Lisa Gearman, a high school librarian in Chaska, Minnesota, described to me how she helps teachers provide materials to students through digital curation:

I've worked with teachers a lot to curate online resource pages. I am currently working on a course guide to use this week with our new AP Seminar class. [The teacher and I] cocreate a digital guide that connects resources to both the classroom teacher's standards and learning targets in any content area and ensures that library and technology standards are also included in the unit. This also allows me to … help "organizationally challenged" students by creating a container to corral all of the research components and to show all students exemplars of what credible, authoritative research looks like so they can independently practice uncovering the best possible sources for anything they could possibly want to learn.

Role 2. Sharing expertise in locating and evaluating resources

While it may come as a surprise to many students (and a few teachers), not all information on a topic is available on the first page of Google search results. The best search engine, the best search terms, and the best search strategies are essential knowledge for locating reliable data. A professionally trained librarian has the skill set to use multiple means of locating reliable information and can teach effective web searching and other techniques to colleagues. This could even mean nudging teachers toward resources right in the building: While many districts purchase wonderful digital reference materials, content databases, and video collections, staff often need reminders of their availability and how to unlock their contents.

In an era of "fake news," skills to evaluate the accuracy and potential bias of information sources have taken on new importance. While the classic librarian's role has been to build collections of vetted materials, the digital librarian stresses the importance of each individual learning how to evaluate a source's authority and bias for themselves.

For instance, librarians in the New York City School Library System have created a series of lessons on "Information Literacy in the Age of Fake News." New York school librarian Leanne Ellis (2018) describes what these lessons impart:

Rhetoric is one concept. … Learning the difference between different types of sources—an encyclopedia article versus a book versus an op-ed versus a partisan website—helps [students] select the best sources to develop their understanding of a topic. Do they know the difference between fact and opinion, recognize cause and effect, analyze evidence to compare and contrast it, and evaluate multiple points of view? No. Then we school librarians can teach these skills.

Role 3. Helping students—and teachers—produce digital content

Today's students communicate using many media other than writing. A school library should provide tools for activities like video production, podcasting, and digital photo editing. Of course, even great digital cameras and video editing equipment aren't worth much if the user doesn't have good multimedia skills. Many teachers didn't have the opportunity in their training to learn how to create good photography or video or audio recordings; librarians can teach them. Learning to create digital content enhances teachers' practice. For instance, librarians can help teachers "flip" their classrooms by creating video tutorials of key content and concepts.

Librarians can also help students with these skills. Librarian Shannon Miller at Van Meter Community School in Van Meter, Iowa, helps 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders use online resources to not just read about dinosaurs, but also do research on them and, using a program called Buncee (an online tool that allows students to create multimedia content including graphics, animations, original artwork, and text), create books about their findings (Miller, 2018). Nikki Robertson (2018), a school librarian in Leander, Texas, helps students produce a morning news broadcast. This involves skills like using a green screen in video production, uploading and downloading videos from one device to another, converting and editing images and videos, adding title slides and music to videos and backgrounds to green screen videos, and properly attributing the sources of content.

Librarians often teach another skill related to communication, computer programming—even to very young students in the form of "coding" activities. Every year, during Computer Science Education Week, Baldwin (New York) High School librarian Christine Cassidy sponsors a schoolwide Hour of Code that helps nurture students' problem-solving skills, logic, and creativity. As students enjoy activities like the Angry Birds Hour of Code and Animate Your Name, the library becomes a place where they create products rather than just consuming them.

Knowing when and how to use the work of others and avoiding plagiarism and copyright infringement has long fallen in the school librarian's wheelhouse. New questions related to appropriately using others' digital materials—often easily copied with a click—in projects may be difficult for classroom teachers to answer. The school librarian can help staff understand how the definition of copyright and fair use applies to works produced and available in digital formats.

Another area staff and students increasingly need guidance in is determining how they want their own intellectual property to be used—or protected. For instance, guidelines like Creative Commons licensing now allow some original works to be used in more open ways, giving users the right to use another person's creative work without seeking permission as long they attribute it properly. School administrators might want to choose a go-to person on intellectual property questions. The school librarian is the logical choice. As librarian Rebecca Butler (2016) reflects, "Copyright can be a contentious and nebulous issue, especially in today's digital age. As copying and sampling materials, especially via the World Wide Web, becomes easier and easier, school librarians find themselves wearing yet another hat: that of digital copyright guru."

Role 5. Teaching digital citizenship and online safety

The proper use of technologies involving online interaction can be unfamiliar territory for teachers and counselors, particularly those who grew up long before the age of Instagram. Both students and faculty need to know how to handle others' unethical actions online and understand when their own actions may cross a line or cause harm to others. Librarians have a role to play in teaching "digital citizenship," which includes issues such as dealing with online bullying, "stranger danger," oversharing personal information, and basic netiquette.

Whether planning a formal digital citizenship curriculum or advising faculty or students on specific instances of questionable online actions, school librarians can be a knowledgeable resource of accurate information and best practices.

Role 6. Planning and managing school maker-spaces

A new addition to many schools has been a "makerspace," a place with various resources—ranging from 3D printers to assorted machine parts to markers and cardboard—where students can tinker and create things in an unstructured way. In these areas, students are encouraged to create and to be creative problem solvers.

One logical place for a school's makerspace is within or adjacent to the library. It's an area accessible to everyone where adults are usually around to keep an eye on the tinkering, and, because of their awareness of many ed tech platforms and tools, librarians are often a good choice to facilitate maker activities. The school librarian should be involved in not only selecting resources for this space, but also in developing the philosophy and goals behind its use.

Ben Kort, a librarian at Fircrest Elementary in Vancouver, Washington, supports a makerspace in the library. Ben facilitates a maker club, in which young learners use materials like cardboard, duct tape, and techy devices for individual tinkering or long-term, collaborative projects. Ben also infuses making into lessons to enhance existing literacy programs and support content-area instruction. For instance, students recreate the worlds they read about in books, build creations to enhance their book talks, or take favorite characters on imaginative adventures in landscapes they create in the makerspace.

A "Must-Have"

Supporting enhanced learning opportunities with digital resources isn't necessarily a new role for school librarians, but this role is growing in importance—rapidly (so it's essential that librarians keep current on trends in ed tech through their own professional development). Whether they're developing technology skills for the entire school through professional development initiatives or helping staff members one-on-one, digital librarians are a must-have resource for schools that want to use technology effectively for learning.

References

Butler, R. P. (2016). Copyright and school libraries in the Digital Age. Knowledge Quest, 45(2).

Ellis, L. (2018, September 17). Teaching information literacy in a world of misinformation. [blog post] Retrieved from Knowledge Quest at https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/teaching-information-literacy-in-a-world-of-misinformation/

Miller, S. (2018, September 2). What the dinosaurs did in our library & stories … Created and published by the Van Meter students. [blog post]. Retrieved from The Library Voice at http://vanmeterlibraryvoice.blogspot.com/2018/09/what-dinosaurs-did-in-our-library.html

Robertson, N. (2018, August 18). New school year! New ideas! New centers! [blog post]. Retrieved from The Incredibly True Adventures of a School Librarian at www.nikkidrobertson.com/2018/08/new-school-year-new-ideas-new-centers.html

End Notes

1 See the Alliance for Excellent Education's website for Future-Ready Librarians at https://futureready.org/program-overview/librarians.

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