By: Jamie Gregory, NBCT
According to SLIDE: The School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution?, a new study conducted by Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel, our country has experienced a 20% decline in the number of school librarians employed in American school districts in just the last ten years (starting well before the COVID-19 pandemic). Of further concern, “Districts with more students experiencing poverty, higher levels of Black and brown students, and more English language learners were less likely to have librarians.”
This information shows that the presence of a school librarian directly impacts diverse and equitable learning.
Given this trend, I invite you to reflect and consider: How am I advocating for the school library profession, and by doing so, my students?
The school librarian suffers from various stereotypes and misrepresentations, making it an easy part of school staff to overlook. Many states require school librarians to attain teaching certification, which often means completing a Master’s of Library and Information Science degree. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards recognizes the school library profession by offering certification in K-12 Library Media, adding more evidence to the importance of a school librarian. Forget the stern, shushing librarian stereotype quietly shelving books.
National Board Certified Teachers show proficiency in addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. In our own content areas, we have demonstrated the ability to assess students’ needs and create effective learning opportunities for all students to achieve in equitable, measurable ways. But achieving the Library Media certification is unique in that each component requires collaboration with content-area classroom teachers.
Here are some relevant, engaging, and equitable learning opportunities I’ve created for students and teachers:
- I have led professional development sessions on how to implement inquiry-based learning in various content areas, such as teaching students to create research questions.
- I led students in a Teacher Cadet class to consider how they will address intellectual freedom and book censorship in their future classrooms.
- I teach students how to write opinion statements fairly representing multiple viewpoints of a topic.
- I created a disinformation digital escape room activity for students to complete which asked them to verify the credibility of memes and other online content. To do so, they learned about fact-checking websites and how to complete reverse-image searches.
- I taught a fact vs opinion lesson to Biology students who were required to write an essay about the pros and cons of stem cell research.
- I connected students in a Social Studies class learning about labor unions to a local author whose grandfather was involved in a deadly mill strike in the 1930s, setting up a virtual visit and screening a documentary which was censored at one point in my state’s history.
- I am also the Journalism Newspaper teacher at my school, and last year my students enjoyed a virtual guest speaker, Greta Pittinger, who discussed her job as a fact-checker for NPR. She showed students various strategies she uses to fact-check articles and how her library degree has helped her.
School librarians are uniquely trained to provide these opportunities to teachers and students they couldn’t even imagine. You’ll notice that each example above directly affects the intellectual freedom rights of students and their ability to freely and equitably access information.
Thus, it is time for all educational professionals to recognize the vital importance of the school librarian profession. Attend local school board meetings in your area. Email state representatives. Contact local journalists who report on education issues. Advocate for adding school librarian positions in your district if they have been eliminated. If your school already has these positions, reach out to these professionals and utilize their expertise. Our students deserve it.