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BFTP: So just what SHOULD librarians be teaching?

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post January 12, 2008. The teaching emphasis of the school librarian is still being debated in many schools; the importance of the librarian as a teacher should not be...

"As I have argued in Reading Is Our Business (2006), for too long library media specialists have abdicated our rightful position as critical partners in the development of reading comprehension. As a result, funds are being diverted from school libraries to purchase classroom libraries, library media specialists are being replaced by instructional assistants and when certified librarians are employed, they are not viewed as instructional leaders or as full partners in the learning process." Sharon Grimes

"... our CORE, unique curriculum contribution is information literacy - defined as information problem-solving and involving the learning of information skills and understandings. It's the INFORMATION side that is uniquely ours. Among all educators, we are the ones uniquely responsible for ensuring that INFORMATION skills are learned by students." Mike Eisenberg (see response)

"What might be some of the functions of the Virtual Librarian? Network administrator certainly. Staff trainer in using e-mail, remote file storage, and Internet search engines. An electronic information evaluator and selector. A teacher who can develop information evaluation skills in her staff and students. Certainly webmaster for the library, if not the school. When information is transmitted to a class instead of the class being transmitted to the media center, where should the Virtual Librarian be working with students? Simply, everywhere – both physically and as a “cybrarian.”" - Doug Johnson 

Information literacy. Reading. Technology. Where should our primary teaching responsibilites lie if we are to both serve our students and make ourselves vital to our schools' programs? In the quotes above, two well-respected library gurus and one flake each offer different perspectives on the question.

Given the new student standards from AASL and ISTE, this might be good time to reflect on what our own programs look like  - and perhaps what they ought to look like.

I don't believe Ms Grimes, Dr. Eisenberg or I would suggest a library instructional program that is entirely IL, entirely reading or  entirely tech focused. All programs will contain some element of each skill set. But probably not in equal measures:


How and why might these proportions change?

Reading focus 


The diagram above shows what the skill emphasis looks like in many schools, especially at the elementary level, with reading being given a greater emphasis. With greater concern over basic reading abilities as measured by test scores, more library programs are adopting this model. The reading bubble will be larger in schools with a large percentage of students who are not testing at grade level.

My hope is that library media programs have intrinsic reading motivation and free volunteer reading as their core contributions to a school's reading program - not just more bodies doing basal readers, worksheets and the reading method du jour. By providing and promoting high interest materials at a variety of reading levels that meet a variety of developmental needs, we will create kids who not only can read by want to read.

Oh, I've alway argued that reading fiction that meets a student's development needs (aka Huck's "Books for Ages and Stages" work) is a form of information literacy. Kids get questions about themselves and their world answered vicariously through the actions of fictional characters.


Technology focus 


An increasing number of schools seem to be emphasising technology as a focus of the librarian's instructional (and managerial) responsibility. I see this happening especially in schools where there is no separate "technology integration specialist" available to students and teachers. This is also more prevelant at the secondary level.

The key to this being a successful model is that the library media specialist is able to actually teach the educational application of technology tools, not just the applications themselves (nor only be used as a technician). As suggested by the new ISTE Standard, two-thirds of which address information literacy or problem-solving, the technology and information literacy bubbles are increasingly overlapping - good educational technology use means using technology to solve problems, answer question and communicate the findings.

But it is the application of technology like the application of reading skills, that should be a primary element of the library media specialist's teaching responsibilities. 


Information literacy focus 


Personally I'd like this to be our model - that our programs acknowledge our roles as reading and tech teachers, but we empahsis the application of these skills in an IL model that helps solve real problems and answer genuine questions. Reading and technology, while important, are subsumed by our curriculum that actually ask for kids to put the those skills to use.

Where do ethics, highter-order thinking skills, group problem-solving, and all those "dispositions" like fit into this model? My sense is that the larger the information literacy bubble, the more opportunity library media specialists and teacher will have to address these areas both formally and informally within the context of the IL projects. Asking kids to do just do  traditional "research" does not give them practice using these "21st century" skills.

So which model best fits your school? In an e-mail discussing this question, Eiseberg writes: "it shouldn't be the librarian who makes these types of choices.  There should be a building team - principal, key teachers, teacher-librarian - who determines each year the priorities of the library & info program ..." I would add to this even a formal library advisory committee can provide input into the goals and activities of your program.

The best library program is the one that best supports the needs and goals of its school. It doesn't get much simpler than that. 

So, OK, I sound a lot more confident of these ideas than I really am. What does your library curriculum model look like? Who determines it? Will it change because of the new standards? 

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Reader Comments (8)

I see my program as Information Literacy strong. I think my teachers see it as Reading Skills strong, and I think the adminstration sees it as Technology strong. That's where the problem is - we can't be all things to everyone or all three of those bubbles will burst. It's definitely a juggling act and I focus on whichever ball I'm about to drop. That's too reactionary for me but I just can't get everyone to do exactly what I want to do all the time! :)

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Posey

Hi Kelly,

From what you describe, you seem to be managing being all things to all people.

I've never managed to get everyone do what I want either. And the world would be such a better place!


January 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

The balance has certainly altered over time and in the main, I concur with all of the above. I would however query your use of the word 'READING'. In my world this is 'LITERACY' - without the writer, we would have no readers after all?. One of my major roles is to appraise / investigate the writing to find out why it appeals so much to the reader and to help our readers to emulate good authors in their own writing - and why do we write? For an audience to read.

January 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

Thanks, Jackie. Good point. I was even thinking it should be extended to multiple literacies or transliteracy.


January 23, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

With the Common Core Standards emphasis on nonfiction, maybe we can now just call it literacy. I think the TL is the bridge to all the parts, not easy, especially in California.

January 30, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue

Hi Sue,

I like "literacy."

And yes, California has its own set of challenges.


January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Can you give some practical examples of how to apply IL to secondary curriculum reading?

January 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

HI Alan,

In the secondary schools, there a many ways the library program supports the reading program, but the primary means is by providing materials at a variety of reading levels and for a variety of interests. The librarian also works with the classroom teacher to match the library book, magazine or website to the specific reader. I would also suggest that the librarian at the secondary level supports reading by creating bibliographies/pathfinders of materials related to specific units that can be read by students for research project and for advanced study.

Pretty basic stuff, but I hope it helps,


January 31, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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