You think you know what librarians do?

Corey Thornblad
Kilmer Middle School, Virginia, USA

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the annual Virginia Association of School Librarians conference in Norfolk, Virginia. I’ll admit that I was a fish out of water – the only teacher in a sea of school librarians. Even though I don’t know much about the Dewey Decimal System or online catalogues, they made me feel right at home.

As I sat at dinner, listening to their conversation about teaching and learning, I realised that unless you have had the privilege of working in a school over the past decade you may not understand what school librarians actually do. Librarians are not a braggy bunch, so I feel inclined to set the record straight on their behalf. You probably think they spend their entire day shelving and checking out books, while shushing students. It’s time to set aside these stereotypes and give librarians their long overdue kudos.

Librarians teach – a lot 
First and foremost, school librarians are teachers. If you walk into our school’s library on any given day you are likely to see one of our librarians co-teaching or independently teaching a lesson. In order to pull this off, librarians have to be content experts in everything from science to maths to PE. Moreover, librarians have the ability and desire to teach children of all levels and learning styles.

Librarians are Apple Geniuses in disguise
Librarians know A LOT about technology. In our building, our librarians are the go-to teachers for everything tech. They help us search the web, use Twitter, create our own websites, and learn how to use Google Classroom.

They also help teachers integrate technology (from laptops to iPads) into instructional practice. The best thing about librarians is that they not only know about the latest cutting-edge technology, they feel like it is their job to share it with you. In fact, they are better than Apple Geniuses because they will help you even if you are using a PC.

Librarians inspire ‘makers’
Recently, the makerspace movement has taken hold of American libraries. Rather than just offering books to students, libraries now offer materials for making, allowing kids to enter the space and create and collaborate. For example, in our Kilmer Library kids have access to a 3D printer, materials for textile making, art supplies, LEGOs, and even old projectors and printers that they can rip apart with tools and remake into something new.

Librarians are instructional leaders
Teachers lean on librarians a lot. I come in with an idea and the librarians help me make it happen. They design curriculum, create materials, and help teachers reach targeted goals. The librarians aren’t just teaching the lessons; all too often they are the visionaries behind the creation of the lesson.

Librarians don’t shush
Modern-day libraries don’t have a predetermined volume level and that’s a good thing. Just like classrooms, libraries are learning spaces. Sometimes they are quiet and sometimes they are loud because kids are working and learning together.

Librarians are ‘people’ people
Librarians do all of the things above and still manage to keep all of our books, magazines and resources ready for us all to learn and discover. I can always count on our librarians to help students (or me) find the perfect book. This means that, rather than hiding in the stacks, librarians are ‘people’ people.

They have to know us and connect with us in order to help us find what we need at any given moment, whether that’s something for a research project or a book designed to feed the soul. Often, I see kids seek sanctuary in the library and our librarians welcome them. At the library, anyone and everyone can find their place and fit in.

Librarians are funny
You think of them as serious, but so many librarians have a quirky, funny side. I am not trying to put all librarians in the same basket, but rest assured that in a lot of school libraries there is levity and humour, thanks to them. Don’t believe me? Check out these fun bulletin boards from Pinterest. One of my favourite examples of witty library humour is the battle of the books between two libraries during a recent World Series when Kansas City took on the New York Mets.

Librarians are some of the hardest working people you know
If they are good, they work really, really hard. A colleague of mine recently remarked about our school librarian, ‘There’s no one who works harder’. That’s the truth. School librarians keep so many balls in the air, allowing kids to feel welcome in their space, teaching, shelving, inventing, and leading. They never turn teachers or students away. If you need help, they are there, no matter how long their to-do-list is.

In the end, there is a reason that libraries are often the soul of a school – it’s because there is an amazing librarian at its heart.

This article was originally published on the BubbleUp Classroom website, and has been republished here with permission.

2 thoughts on “You think you know what librarians do?”

  1. Great article! I work as a teacher librarian in Winnipeg, Canada but I also would not be able to do many of the things in your article without my partner in the library, our library technician. If you are lucky enough to have that partnership where you teach, we are able to teach because they, our library technicians, are also creating amazing learning spaces by creating displays and preparing resources – cataloguing, processing, reading, sharing and finding resources for our students and staff!

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