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Do school librarians have "enduring values?"

Note: I will be taking the next week to go on a "writing holiday" from my day job. I'll be using the time to work on a revision of my 1997 book The Indispensable Librarian. (Personally, I think it is still just fine, but others have asked if we still use Gopher as a search tool in our district.) While I wrote the draft for my last book I took advantage of Blue Skunk readers, using them as a sounding board for my book materials. Consider yourselves so used again. Thank you. – Doug

Do school librarians have "enduring values?"

Before you continue reading this book on managing an effective school library program, it's only fair to ask if libraries, library programs, and librarians will around long enough to make such a reading worth your time. Quite frankly, it's a difficult but extremely important question. And my answer is definitely yes…


We already know we need to adapt to changes in technology. We already know we need to be more accountable about the impact of our programs. We already know that we will need to spend time on effective advocacy and developing broad ownership of the library program. We know that our physical facilities will evolve, our areas of expertise will change, the format of our collections will become more diverse, and our libraries’ services will be different each year.

So a second question then comes up: Will our libraries be so changed from what we now consider libraries will they still continue to be called libraries. And my answer is definitely yes…

If, we maintain the core values that will transcend the specifics of library programming.

Just as technology was starting to have a major impact on libraries, long-time academic librarian and past ALA president Michael Gorman identified these as enduring central or "core" values of librarianship (Gorman, 2000):

  1. Stewardship
  2. Service
  3. Intellectual Freedom
  4. Rationalism
  5. Literacy and learning
  6. Equity of access to recorded knowledge and information
  7. Privacy
  8. Democracy

Are these core values still held by practicing school librarians? Are there other common central beliefs that define us as librarians? When I describe my own professional core values as a librarian, I include:

  1. Every child should have access to as diverse number of opinions as possible and be allowed to drawn his or her own personal conclusions about the world. The library program’s primary educational role is teaching children to think, not simply to memorize or believe.
  2. Every child's interests, learning style and abilities should be respected. Skills are best taught in a personal context.
  3. Every child’s preference in information format should be respect, both as an information consumer and producer. Information in all formats should be treated equally.
  4. Every child’s privacy must be honored and protected. It is our role to help children protect their own privacy.
  5. The ability to find, evaluate, organize, synthesize and communicate information is a basic skill for every child.
  6. Reading skills are best developed through voluntary free reading on topics of personal interest to students. Students must be intrinsically motivated to read and to learn.
  7. Every child should have access to a place in a school where he or she is comfortable, valued, safe and can learn with other students.
  8. Every child is must be taught the skills and sensibilities of digital citizenship.
  9. The library’s primary function is to be of service to children – directly and through other educational programs. Our success is a reflection of how successful we make others.
  10. The skills taught and resources provided by the library program are critical to a free society. 

As some schools replace librarians with clerks or "technology integration specialists" - or no one at all, my greatest concern is that these values will be lost. Who will fight for information access for all students? Who will fight for intellectual freedom? Who will be concerned about the privacy rights of students and faculty? Who will insist that information literacy is right of every child? Yes, there are teachers who value these things, but for how many teachers, unlike librarians, are they their primary mission?

Now and in the future, the physical room, the title of the person running it, or the kinds of resources provided will not matter. I will know I am in a library when it is run by a librarian.

Gorman, Michael Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century, Chicago: American Library Association, 2000. Gorman

So readers, what values have I missed?

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Reader Comments (4)

I love #9
and I would add that any self-respecting school librarian will fight for all the above as necessary. But stared more eloquently.

January 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarcia Dressel

Dear Doug,
Thank you for sharing this with us. It is a great list, but I'm missing the link with teachers and the principal. For me, being a partner for teachers is one of the key charasteristics of a school librarian. Teachers are not only my valued colleagues, but they are also my sounding board, friends and key target group. The same goes more or less goes for the principal. The school librarian, not focused on testing and a single subject is a great partner for the principal. He/she can lead into the right :-) direction for school libraries development.
I hope this a valuable addition to the list above.
Kind regards,
Lourense Das, Netherlands

January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLourense Das

I think you are missing the value of critical thinking. The Big6 is useless without it. Not all information is equal and I think that fact is more important all the time as we become more and more tolerant of abbreviated, summarized and unsubstantiated information.

January 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Kleckner

Hi Marcia,

Thanks much for the feedback. I appreciate it.

The need to fight for what is of value to you as a librarian is certainly important. I tried to state that in the last paragraph, but I will what I can embed in the values themselves. No value is worth much with being willing to stand up for it!


Hi Kathy,

Consider "critical thinking" added to value #1!

Thanks for the suggestion,


Hi Lourense,

I appreciate the comment. I suggested your "value" in number 9 and it is certainly addressed (very strongly) in the rest of the book. Collaboration with the teachers and principal I personally see as more of a means to an end than a value itself. But I will think on it.


January 8, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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