George Lucas Educational Foundation
School Libraries

3 Key Roles of School Librarians

While no one can take the place of school librarians, teachers can support students’ literacy skills by understanding librarians’ roles.

May 5, 2022
Teacher helps student reach library book off a high shelf
GoodLifeStudio / iStock

In many school districts there’s a push to rebrand, downsize, or eliminate school libraries. The fate of the full-time certified librarian is in jeopardy. As an educator with a library science degree, I care about this issue deeply.

The data is unequivocal: School libraries and librarians are pivotal to the educational and emotional well-being of students. Administrators should make sure that professional librarians are available for students.

Librarians wear many hats, but their role can be broken into three key parts: literacy advocate, resource manager, and research specialist. In the event that your school doesn’t have a librarian, there are ways educators can try to fill in the gaps.

Become a Literacy Advocate

As literacy advocates, librarians make a variety of books accessible to students. They also champion reading, develop strategies to help struggling readers, and draw upon different sources to make reading fiction and nonfiction more enjoyable for students who struggle to read. A classroom teacher probably can never fill all those roles, but there are some strategies any educator can follow to become a better literacy advocate (and you probably do some of these already).

Model reading: I have a big personal library in my room, and I’ll often try to discuss books I’ve read or am reading. Think about showcasing books, and make even a brief book talk a part of your class.

Book recommendations: Try to suggest books that would fit well with the age and interests of the class. Display books on the current topic you’re teaching.

Informal book reviews: Encourage students to share what they’re reading. Maybe they’re reading a book for another class. Ask them to give their opinions about the book to their peers. Respectfully challenge them if their thoughts are ill-defined (e.g., “What makes the characters strong or weak?” or “How could the author have made the conflict more interesting?”).

Read-alouds: Reading aloud helps kids of all ages with pronunciation and fluency. It also allows the teacher a window into how students might be struggling or succeeding.

Reading tips: Recently, I spoke with my high school students about how cell phones can distract us while reading, and I recommended turning them off when opening a book. Little suggestions like that can help students at least think about ways of becoming better readers.

Become a Resource Manager

Librarians manage resources for faculty and students. As the school year gets rolling, it’s easy to forget that there are other teachers in the building who may have effective strategies or resources that could help everyone. In the absence of a librarian, consider becoming the resource manager for your department.

A resource manager doesn’t have to be an official position. It’s someone who collects, curates, and disseminates all the best lesson plans, videos, curriculum, worksheets, activities, and games from their department.

  • Create a folder and encourage the sharing of resources.
  • Develop strategies to curate and publicize resources.
  • Connect: Resource managers from each department can connect with one another periodically to share information. An English teacher may have a graphic organizer that might be perfect for the social studies department.
  • Designate a location in the faculty room or elsewhere where teachers can place educational materials, such as books.

A few ways to manage resources for students: First, I recommend reaching out to your public library and asking what resources are free. The public library has a plethora of indispensable databases and newspapers that anyone with a library card can access. This may involve a classroom visit by a librarian to get everyone registered.

Second, investigate whether your school or department has the funds to purchase a subscription to a newspaper. Many major newspapers offer digital access for schools.

Third, decide whether purchasing a subscription to a research database might benefit your department. Here is a good beginning list.

Once you have your resources, make sure to organize and present them in a way that students find accessible and intuitive. I sometimes provide digital folders on my learning platform with titles like “Vetting Internet Sources” or “Tips on Writing.”

Become a Research Specialist

Many teachers already are research specialists, skilled in the use of primary and secondary sources, finding quality information, and creating citations. The question becomes: In the absence of a librarian, how do teachers share research knowledge and information with one another?

Maybe you feel very comfortable navigating a particular academic database. Perhaps you have a great list of websites that break down proper citations or a compelling article about using Wikipedia efficiently.

Remember, a librarian collects, curates, and circulates information.

  • Create a shared folder for teachers to share vetted links on research strategies. Remember to organize this folder in a user-friendly manner.
  • A great method for sharing research strategies is to produce a short video. I made a 10-minute recording of myself using an academic database and shared it with the staff.

Nothing can ever replace a school librarian. They are crucial to every school, and educators must stand up for them. As their numbers decrease, however, teachers from every field can step up and fill in the gaps.

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