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Are good teachers also good librarians?

If your boss is seen as a librarian, she becomes a resource, not a limit. If you view the people you work with as coaches, and your job as a platform, it can transform what you do each day, starting right now. "My boss won't let me," doesn't deserve to be in your vocabulary. Seth Godin Moving Beyond Teachers and Bosses

Godin sees teachers as limiters, not enablers:

We train kids to deal with teachers in a certain way: Find out what they want, and do that, just barely, because there are other things to work on. Figure out how to say back exactly what they want to hear, with the least amount of effort, and you are a 'good student.'

He says we form the same relationship with our bosses when they act as teachers.


Do classroom teachers need to start performing more like librarians? I've thought so for a long time. Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was just starting to be used by students in our schools, I watched as some boys looked up information about the Ebola virus at the Center for Disease Control using a library computer. To me, the ramifications were astounding.

When those boys returned to their classroom, they were suddenly the content experts on this topic, not Ms Anderson, the teacher. If Ms Anderson had always viewed herself as the content expert and dispenser of that content, she was in for a rude awakening. 

But if she sees herself as a process, rather than content, expert, Ms Anderson still has a valuable place in the information age. When those boys came back from the library, she needed to be able to ask questions like: 

  • Where did you get your information?
  • How do you know if the information is reliable?
  • Is the information important for others to know?
  • If so, how will you communicate this information?
  • And how will you know you've done a good job?

The teacher is asking the same kinds of question, performing in the same kind of role as the librarian.

With an increasing number of students carrying Internet-connected devices, they don't even have to leave their seats to be "content experts." This shift from content to process expert is accelerating, not diminishing.

And librarians ought to be helping teachers make the transition. 

Good librarians have always also been good teachers. Are good teachers also good librarians?

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Reader Comments (45)

What a brilliant observation! You are absolutely correct. Librarians are actually ideally suited in so many ways to educate students to meet the needs of a networked workplace and society. Have you seen the video The Networked Student by Common Craft? It is a vision of what out classrooms AND libraries should be.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie Henry

I have to disagree. reading the CDC website about ebola doesn't make anyone a content expert any more than reading a medical text makes them a doctor. Becoming an expert takes years of intensive study. Did these boys learn something? Definitely. Should teachers be coaching kids in how to learn? Of course. But let's not conflate being able to read content with being a content expert.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Henry

Content expertise is always relative to the others in the room if only because no one person can know everything about anything. If the students knew more than anyone else in the room they were the local experts at the time.

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeven Black

"Librarians" in the most traditional sense will be phased out like toll booth collectors. If we're talking about librarians that teach children how to evaluate sources instead of shelving books, then yes, they are indispensable teachers.

Thorny and contentious post, Doug. Nice work ;)

April 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

@ Deven Black
Just because you "know" more than anyone else in the room does not make you an expert. It makes you informed. You may be more well informed than anyone in the room, but that doesn't make you an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Obviously, no one can know everything. But that is part of the problem with labeling people experts because they can read a web page. Suddenly, they believe they actually are experts, when in reality, they have merely added to their knowledge base some previously unfamilar facts.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Henry

@ Robin At what point of knowledge does a person become an expert? I certainly can't tell. Perhaps you can explain it to me.

April 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeven Black

@ Deven Black
Seriously? You don't understand the difference between informed and expert?
OK, here goes:
Centers for Disease Control staff = experts; 3rd graders= not so much
Bruce Catton = expert; 9th grade U. S. History students = not so much
Charles Darwin = expert; 10th grade Environmental Science student not so much

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Henry

Hi Jacquie,

I had seen the video in your link before but had forgotten about it. I appreciated the reminder. I hope librarians "educate" teachers as well as students by serving as the model of what every future teacher will need to be.


Hi Robin,

I certainly understand what you are saying about expertise. But I would argue that expertise is relative - if I know how to both fry and egg and boil an egg and everyone else in my group only know how to fry an egg, I think that makes me the group expert - although you could argue that on a universal scope, I am not an expert cook.

And I'd still argue that students having or having access to more content knowledge than the teacher on a topic just may change classroom roles and dynamics!

Thanks for the challenging comment.


Hi Deven,

Interesting view. I'd tend to agree.


Hi J,

I am hoping the bookshelvers will be phased out and replaced by clerks. They tend to tar the entire profession with the same negative brush.

I like thorny and contentious!


Hi Robin and Devon,

This is an interesting conversation. I take great pride that those who comment on my blog are both civil and brave. I hope the discussion remains high brow.



April 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Going through my "read later' stack - I especially liked bullet points three and five. Seems like anyone can find and explain the information, but getting them to think about whether the information is important to others is a great question. The self-evaluation question is another that some students get lost in. I am amazed at how honest most students are when they are asked what grade they believe they should get on a specific assignment.

May 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Hi Kenn,

The "how do you know if you did a good job" question is critical to anyone who is or will be self-employed, a contract worker, etc. And that seems to be the future for a larger percentage of our kids than ever before.


May 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

This is a great blog!

August 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterC. Si

I really like the idea of students becoming content experts. This helps teachers and TLs transition from being the "sage on the stage" to "guide on the side".

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Miller

This quote is how I see myself as a teacher librarian:
"But if she sees herself as a process, rather than content, expert, Ms Anderson still has a valuable place in the information age."

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLily Moayeri

This is an enlightening blog and it is true that librarians help students to become independent users of information!

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

I agree TL's need to facilitate learning through sharing resources, and then allow learners to take the ball and run with it, become experts, share in their jigsaw groups. This facilitates the excitement of learning in our students.

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoy Chung

It would be helpful if teachers sought out the resources that TLs have. My experience is that teachers and students have unlimited access to technology but limited skill. Classroom teachers would benefit from PDs facilitated by TLs so that we can assist them with the skills they need. TLs have been classroom teachers before entering librarianship so it's a win.

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBenin

This, I can use! The difficulty for me may be in attempting to share this insight with teachers, who--unlike me--often seem to already know everything...

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Farbman

Students increasingly have access to factual elements of content knowledge. All they have to do is "Google it." But the ability to evaluate information sources remains an ongoing challenge for a lot of students.

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterND

I agree that teachers and teacher librarians are, in this day and age, more facilitators of information, assisting students in strategically seeking it out, being discerning of what they find, evaluating the content and its worthiness for the learning goal. They become the "experts" of the content not only while they access it, but also during the evaluation and sharing stage. I see the process as a continuum, where discovery, exploration, evaluation, and sharing of the content creates an evolution of learning, not an absolute of learning wherein the student acquires the knowledge and is done with the process at that point.

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCindi Murphy

"a process, rather than content, expert"

I love this wording. In order to prepare students to be college and career ready, this is the shift that needs to happens.

August 31, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

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