It is mind-boggling, and more than a little exhausting, realizing how many roles we play. Away from our job, we may be wife, mother, friend, parent caretaker, and any number of others. These roles carry assorted responsibilities and a myriad of duties. We may love these tasks or feel some are draining, but we carry on.
It certainly doesn’t get any less complex in our libraries. In the years since I first became a librarian I have held many “titles.” First I was a teacher-librarian which is what I was called in my first certification. Then I became a school librarian as my state changed what the certification was called.
I went on to be a school library media specialist. That is such a cumbersome title we use the acronym SLMS. My state certification also offers an 18-credit concentration for which you get an Associate School Library Media Specialist certification which is even more of a mouthful.
Throughout the country, I’ve discovered there are more names for what we do. Library Teacher is common as we strive to remind our colleagues that we have an important role as teachers. Some places use Information Specialist. Library Technician is another. I knew someone who billed herself as an Information Generalist, claiming “specialist” was too limiting since we cover so much territory.
At one time there was a growing movement for “Cybrarian,” highlighting our skills using the web. One of the newer titles that has emerged is Innovation Specialist. I suspect it will last as long as Cybrarian. It’s nice, but vague in a time when we need administrators and others to understand and appreciate the value we bring.
Why all these different names for what we do? No one has ever suggested changing what teachers are called. They have been teachers for thousands of years. They need different skills than they did even fifty years ago, their classroom configurations have changed drastically since the middle of the last century, but they are still teachers.
The name changes have been caused by our ever-evolving roles as librarians. While we haven’t been as successful as we need to be in communicating what we do to our administrators and boards of education, our state certification departments have recognized some of it – hence those name changes. Librarians have done the same in an effort to show what we do.
I have come to believe, along with AASL, that we have confused people more than we have clarified what we do. No one title seems to cover the entire territory. I now embrace the title of School Librarian and feel we must show what huge, complex, and vital roles that encompasses.
In Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (2009), AASL identifies four roles of School Librarians:
- Information Specialist
- Instructional Partner
- Program Administrator
The first role places us similar to classroom teachers, and we use many of the same skill sets as they do in executing this role. But at the upper levels, our students are frequently disbursed throughout a facility far larger than a classroom and we need to be managers, able to encourage them to explore while keeping them on track. And at all levels, visitors or teachers might drop in while we are teaching. We need to juggle competing roles at that point, knowing when we can leave students to proceed on their own so we can attend to the interruption.
In the second role, we are tech integrationists futurists (isn’t that a mouthful). We work diligently to stay current with the newest tech resources incorporating those that meet needs of our teachers and students. We are also mindful of the values and the dangers of technology. From preparing out students to be safe in cyberspace to teaching how to identify fake news, this is an unceasing role we play.
As Instructional Partners we are diplomats. We find lures to entice teachers to incorporate our expertise and resources to develop in our students the habits, competencies, and dispositions to be lifelong learners. This role often requires much patience and tact.
The final role is far more than the basic management of the library program. It comes to the heart of us as leaders. It demands that we have a vision and are willing to be a risk-taker in moving our program constantly forward so it’s not mired in the past. We incorporate the other three roles we have in order to create a program that is viewed as vital and indispensable to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and even the community.
Each of the four roles embodies others. And I am sure we will be adding to them as new demands are placed on us and the educational community who depend on our program.
In Empowering Learners AASL predicted our first role would become Instructional Partner and then Information Specialist with Teacher coming in third. What is important is that we do what we can for people to think of all these roles and responsibilities when they hear the title School Librarian. We can keep the name of our position simple as we build on the complex and multifaceted role we play in our schools and for our students and administrators.
Which role do you see yourself using most often? Which of your roles do you need to develop further? And how can I and your PLN help?