Meet Your New School Library Media Specialist
A New Breed of Librarian
Not your grandma's librarian...
As workstations replace dust-covered shelves in your district libraries, a new breed of librarian—the library media specialist (LMS)—has become an essential part of a school’s faculty. These are the people who will integrate the digital world into today’s classroom and throughout the curriculum. Specially trained and knowledgeable in the use of information technology, library media specialists have become one of the most important instructional partners, working with teachers and administrators to change what is possible in the classroom.
“Library media specialists empower students to be critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers, and ethical users of information,” says Sara Kelly Johns, president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), one of the 11 divisions of the Chicago-based American Library Association.
The LMS is not confined to the library or to a single function. According to Johns, library media specialists:
* work with educators to design and teach curriculum
* create curriculum and promote an engaging learning experience tailored to the individual needs of students
* evaluate and “produce” information through the active use of a broad range of tools, resources, and information technologies
* provide access to materials in all formats, including up-to-date, high-quality, varied literature to develop and strengthen the love of reading
* provide students, educators, and staff with instructional materials that reflect current information needs.
Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology and Education (ISTE) in Washington, D.C., agrees with Johns’ description. He adds that this role, responsible for ensuring that students and staff are efficient and effective users of information, demands versatility. “The library media specialist is at once a teacher, an instructional partner, an information specialist, and a program administrator,” Knezek says. “They collaborate with teachers, administrators, and others to prepare students for future success.”
Like a school principal, library media specialists touch the educational lives of every student and teacher. Unlike principals, library media specialists work directly and on a full-time basis with students, teachers, and the curriculum. Therefore, it’s critical that administrators responsible for hiring key personnel pay close attention to the evaluation and selection of library media specialists. “School administrators must select an LMS who is knowledgeable about new media and is also capable of integrating technology into the curriculum,” says Kathryn Meeks, ADEPT coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Education.
ADEPT, the professional development system for the South Carolina Department of Education, stands for assisting, developing, and evaluating professional teaching. The program has created a set of evaluation standards and developed a standardized hiring and screening process for prospective LMSs. These guidelines assist administrators in finding qualified candidates, and can be adapted for use by administrators in states other than South Carolina.
“ADEPT’s library media specialist evaluation system begins with educator training programs,” Meeks says. “The ADEPT standards for library media specialists define clear expectations for what library media specialists must know in order to perform their duties in schools.”
Under ADEPT’s guidelines, a library media specialist’s first year in the school is an induction period. During this year, the newly hired LMS is assigned a mentor, typically a fully accredited library media specialist. The apprentice assists the mentor by putting into practice the standards for library media specialists. Depending on individual circumstances, the new library media specialist may be asked to complete a second induction year. Once the induction period is completed, the LMS moves directly into formal evaluation. During this stage, the ADEPT standards are applied, and the candidate’s performance is evaluated by district administrators, the library supervisor, and at least one certified library media specialist. In order to advance, the LMS must successfully complete the formal evaluation process.
ADEPT has also created interview guidelines for administrators to use in screening LMS candidates. (Find a sampling of these questions in the sidebar on page 40.) “We provide administrators with an actual interview form that prescribes exactly what questions the principal should ask LMS candidates,” says Meeks. “The questions are designed to probe in
areas we feel are most salient in terms of assessing the qualifications of a library media specialist.”
ADEPT guidelines are highly prescriptive and are designed to walk an administrator through the entire LMS hiring process. These guidelines include, among other elements, instructions for putting together a review team to evaluate LMS candidates. The evaluation process is based on a number of criteria including the interview, long-range planning, observation, reflection, assessment, and professional development. According to Meeks, however, one requirement stands above the others as “absolutely essential” in the opinion of the statewide committee: the ability to collaborate on lesson plans. “An LMS must be able to work with teachers to plan lessons that utilize technology,” Meeks says. “That requirement separates the library media specialists in the public schools from those in the private sector.”
How to Find the Best and Brightest
Armed with evaluation and hiring guidelines like those offered by ADEPT, administrators are better equipped to judge the qualifications of graduates from the schools that are producing today’s master’s level library information science graduates.
When asked which universities are producing the strongest LMS graduates, AASL’s Johns suggests administrators look for programs that work closely with a school of education. She cites the program at Eastern Carolina University, headed by Linda Teal, where pre-service teachers learn to work with library media specialists, and pre-service librarians work with teachers. “Both sets of students will enter the workforce with skills that will change the world,” says Johns.
“There are a number of outstanding programs,” says Phillip Harris, executive director of the Bloomington, Indiana-based Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). His list includes the University of Maryland, Indiana University, Penn State, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and the University of Georgia.
There are also myriad online university programs producing highly capable LMS graduates. According to Johns, these include Mansfield, the University of South Carolina, and the University of North Texas. “These online programs work hard to keep their curriculum energizing,” Johns says, “and they produce people with degrees who are ready to enter school media centers.”
To take full advantage of the advanced training that today’s LMS graduates receive from the top university programs, administrators may need to refurbish or upgrade their school’s existing library facilities. “Administrators need to make sure their school libraries have an up-to-date infrastructure,” says ISTE’s Knezek. They should also ensure that both students and faculty have unscheduled access to multimedia resources.
A functioning 21st-century library is no longer a place dominated by bookshelves and magazine racks. According to Knezek, a media center today has to deliver interactive media and instruction in the most effective way. Administrators should make sure the library center is supplied with up-to-date interactive multimedia equipment, such as video equipment and MP3 players. It should include distance-learning capabilities and offer unencumbered workstation access. Ideally the media center will also include a whiteboard, which should be an unassigned station where teachers can go and share ideas.
AASL’s Johns expands upon Knezek’s point. Since technology develops rapidly and information is being constantly updated, timeliness is a key concern for an LMS. “Materials can’t be old,” she says flatly. An LMS should also check to see how much cooperation is taking place between teachers and librarians and how many projects they are collaborating on. As Johns puts it, “Administrators should be evaluating how much the library extends beyond the walls of the school.”
AECT’s Harris makes suggestions that might once have been considered unthinkable. Since today’s generation of “digital natives” take technology for granted and is seemingly wedded to its gadgets, Harris asks: Why not use this trend for constructive ends? “Most schools require that students leave cell phones, iPods, and video cameras at home because administrators and teachers find that type of electronic equipment disruptive,” he says. “However, instead of fighting kids in regard to the use of digital devices, we should be encouraging their use in education. We need to find out how we can take advantage of these tools instead of discouraging their use.”
Harris continues, “Consumer electronics equipment is getting more sophisticated every year. Think about how the speed of information processing has changed over the last ten years—in the next decade, it’s going to be at least four times as fast.” One of the forces driving that growth is computer gaming, which Harris predicts will be a significant educational initiative in the next decade. But for now, his vision of the future looks like heresy. “Ask a librarian, ‘What can the kids learn in your library about gaming?’ They’ll say, ‘Well, we don’t play computer games in the library.’”
While the school “gaming center” is a concept administrators might wish only to ponder for now, the school library media center has become an essential component of the 21st-century school model. “In the near future,” Harris says, “everything will revolve around the school library media center.”
Use these questions, drawn from the ADEPT interview guidelines for administrators, when interviewing a potential library media specialist:
* How did you develop your policies and procedures?• How do you communicate these policies and procedures to all members of the learning community (e.g., students, teachers, other school staff,and parents)?
* What hours is the library media center open? How and by whom were these hours of operation determined?
* Show the schedule for the library media center.
* How and by whom was the schedule developed? How does this schedule accommodate classes, small groups, and individual students? To what extent does this schedule provide maximum instructional access to the library media center services and resources (e.g., flexible scheduling, or extended hours)?
* How do you determine your budget needs? How and to whom do you communicate this information?
* What type of purchasing procedures do you follow, and what types of financial records do you keep?
* Which library media center personnel do you supervise, and whattype(s) of duties are assigned to each of these persons?
* How do you supervise each of these persons?
* How do you evaluate the job performance of each of these persons, and to whom do you communicate the results?