How to Utilize the School Librarian to Enhance Literacy Instruction

Erica Fenner-McAdoo
Erica Fenner-McAdoo
Elementary school principal; M.A. in School Administration
A librarian helping young students with finding books.

What Does the School Librarian Do?

One day, a teacher sent one of her first grade students to the front office to give the school bookkeeper a note. The child returned to class with the note still in hand. The teacher called to ask why the bookkeeper had not taken the note. The office reported that the child had not come to the office. The teacher asked the student what happened when he got to the front office. The boy replied, “I didn’t go to the office. I went to the library where the bookkeeper is.” The teacher thought for a moment and chuckled. Of course, the librarian is the keeper of the books. She quickly understood his thinking.

The librarian is most definitely the keeper of the books, but they are also so much more. By definition according to the American Association of School Librarians, a librarian “works with both students and teachers to facilitate access to information in a wide variety of formats, instruct students and teachers how to acquire, evaluate and use information and the technology needed in this process, and introduces children and young adults to literature and other resources to broaden their horizons. As a collaborator, change agent, and leader, the school librarian develops, promotes and implements a program that will help prepare students to be effective users of ideas and information, a lifelong skill.”

Many school librarians are on the resource schedule at their schools and provide classes for the children. This is more often the case in elementary schools. School librarians are also a huge resource for teachers. They are the go-to for how to acquire information and how to use the appropriate technology. The librarian or media specialist position has drastically changed over the years, which is natural due to all the advances in technology.

Why is the Librarian Qualified to Help?

Librarians are qualified to assist with literacy instruction because of their experiences provided during their licensure program. Every state has its own set of requirements; usually there is a combination of a teaching license, a master’s degree, Praxis assessment or licensure exam, and in certain places there are multiple pathways to include National Board Certification.

The course work during the program specifically is extremely relevant for the qualification of assisting and spearheading literacy instruction. Some examples of required courses are Psychology of Classroom Learning, Curriculum Trends and Issues, Instructional Design, Integrating Technology for Teaching and Learning in the School Media Library Program. Others include School Improvement and Technology for Teachers.

These courses hone in on the skills needed to evaluate and give support towards a school’s literacy program. Media specialists also gain knowledge from courses such as Human Information Interactions, Information Resources and Services, Resource Selection and Evaluation, Organization of Information, and Research Methods.

How can the School Librarian Enhance Literacy Instruction?

Classes

In some schools, the school librarian teaches classes to the students. They may serve as a resource teacher or have a flex schedule for classes. The benefit of this is that students have the opportunity to learn about the library and all the resources offered. The school librarian still reads stories to the children, especially in elementary school. However, their role includes helping students with research for projects and speeches, teaching how to properly use technology and be responsible on the web, new apps and tech tools that make learning more efficient, how to find reliable sources, and how to collaborate to complete tasks.

Clubs/Teams

School librarians can sponsor clubs in the school. In our district we have the Battle of the Books Competition yearly. The school librarian is more than qualified to lead and prepare this team. Think about clubs and teams in your school that would benefit from the help of the school librarian.

Makerspace and S.T.E.A.M. Labs

These types of activities can be led by the school librarian. In some schools other personnel may be in charge of this, but the school librarian should possess the up-to-date skills and techniques to run these labs. Grants can be written for the resources if your school or district cannot fund it. In elementary schools, the librarian can incorporate the labs into classes or in middle and high school it could be done after school. Either way, our students today should be exposed to technology outside of the regular classroom setting, and school librarians are the perfect fit to get the job done.

Serving on the SIT team

School librarians can hold a position on the School Improvement Team. The knowledge they have along with their experiences with the teachers and students inside the school will add value to the discussions and decisions made by the team. Their vantage point is different from a homeroom teacher. School improvement teams are created to have diversity so no stone goes unturned. If the school librarian is not a permanent member of the team, he or she should be invited to attend often.

Leading PD

Teachers and other staff need the school librarian in multiple ways. Checking out materials at the beginning of the year is just the start. As time goes on, teachers have questions about technology and relevant resources for their instruction. The librarian is equipped to guide them in the right direction and offer quality PD.

Invite your school librarian to host mini PD sessions based on topics that teachers need assistance with. They can also join grade level planning meetings to offer guidance. At our school we host EdCamps. The school librarian could lead an EdCamp session that I am sure would be highly attended.

I have been blessed to have solid school librarians during my career. It is my job to support them to be successful by purchasing the materials they need for the media center, paying for special PD when available, providing opportunities for their growth, and giving them a chance to collaborate with teachers.

School librarians are essential players in our schools. Tag them in and watch them score a homerun for your school team!

*Updated June 2021
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