Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Principal's Perspective: What Makes an Effective Librarian?

School libraries are often located in the center of a school building.  Why?  Because school libraries, in my opinion, are the heartbeat of a school.  It’s usually the hub of activities such as technology integration, multimedia resources, literacy skills development, and teacher professional development.  And naturally, the school librarian must be the person who keeps that heart beating. 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a rapid shift in the focus of what makes an effective classroom.  We’ve seen technology integration and blending learning emphasized, along with Project Based Learning and literacy skills development across all subject areas (not just literacy anymore).  This has required effective school librarians to make a shift too.  In many ways, they must be the “resident go to person” for these initiatives.    Teachers also need and want school librarians who are able to collaboratively plan units of instruction with them.  This might be something as simple as pulling materials and resources for them.  But as core instruction changes within the classroom, we are starting to see even deeper relationships between librarians and teachers.  This includes teachers bringing their classes to the library to receive instruction about grade level standards from the librarian.  The librarian may push in to the classroom and act as an instructional facilitator for a certain project or activity.  I’ve even seen a school librarian regularly go to literacy classrooms to work with students in a small group setting to provide remediation based on student assessment data. 

Teachers also want to see that the librarian is in the “trenches” with them.  Some of the best librarians I’ve worked with get heavily involved in the school outside the day to day library activities.  This includes being a member of the school leadership team—how can we expect librarians to be the “resident go to person” for major initiatives if they are not included in the planning of these initiatives?   Effective school librarians attend sporting events and may sponsor extra-curricular clubs.  They attend team meetings and collaborative planning sessions so that they can offer their support as teachers are working in real-time.  They are in the hallways between class changes monitoring and interacting with students.

Lastly, effective librarians must create a space where students want to be, no matter their academic achievement level, interest in reading, or ethnic background.  When we opened our newly remodeled library last school year, one of our students said “This library is so cool!  I just want to live here!”  We have created nooks in our library that include comfortable reading areas with board games and bean bag chairs.  We have a café where students can come eat, read, study, and research.  We have individual student production rooms that are perfect for PBL.  We have a Makerspace area and a 3-D printer.  We have students that struggle with behavior, who have found a “safe place” in the library—so much that we have written into behavior plans for a few of our students that the library is their place to go when they are having a rough day.  We could not do this without a librarian who is willing to support their social-emotional needs.

Whenever we have visitors at our school, we always take them to the library.  Why?  Because a school library speaks volumes about what a school is really about.  So, take a look around and notice that heartbeat and hub of activity.  Notice the students engaged in and excited about reading.  Notice the Eno board, the Mac lab, and the laptop carts.  Listen to the conversations that are occurring between students and teachers—because the library isn’t just for quiet time anymore.  And then find the librarian and remember to thank him/her for bringing life to the school. 

MNPS administrator

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