Reflections on The New School Librarian, LIBR 233

“What is in a name? Over the last 25 years (probably longer) the title of School Librarian has morphed from school librarian to media specialist to teacher librarian. In Canada and California, and maybe other places we are officially teacher librarians. According to AASL we are school librarians. You would be amazed (or at least I am) at the debate and passion this issue incurs. A recent webinar explored the issue, right after AASL’s announcement — yes, we are school librarians. What is your take? Does the name matter? Why? Which would you choose? Why?” (Harlan, LIBR 233 School Library Media Centers)

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Does it really matter what one’s title is, as long as one gets the job done? I have spent years getting my fur up because people called me a paleontologist rather than an archaeologist, told me I was studying astrology rather than astronomy, then that I was a travel agent rather than a tour operator. Partly, I think I get my knickers in a twist because the title of one’s job or field of study is important to that person — it is a sort of status symbol that identifies a person and plays a part in that individual’s self-esteem. Would you rather be called a garbage man or a sanitation engineer?

In the case of the teacher librarian, I recently read in CLARION (Oct. 2010) that “To obtain the (teacher librarian) credential, one must hold a valid California prerequisite teaching credential and be recommended by a CTC-approved teacher librarian service credential program or out-of-state equivalent, or be awarded National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification. Thus, teacher librarians are likely to have around 70 units of graduate work under their belt, far more than for the traditional MLS/MLIS degree. Key competencies are instructional/curricular knowledge and practical library/information skills” (Farmer, 2010:13). This difference in training definitely makes a difference when evaluating candidates for a position at a school library. Do you, as an administrator, want someone who can direct volunteers to shelve books and enter new books into the system, or do you want someone who can be active in curricular collaboration and can serve as a director to align curriculum across subject matter and vertically to align with state standards. With the present state government emphasis on meeting certain test score benchmarks, I would have to say I would hire the second person.

I recall when I first started substitute teaching in about 1997 a friend who was a credentailed teacher scoffed that I could even begin to understand the dynamics of running a classroom without the years of coursework and practical experience she had. At the time I had been a head Teaching Fellow at Harvard and taught undergraduate sections, taught adult education classes, and sports classes. After more than a decade in high school and middle school classrooms, I have to admit Sarah was correct. I didn’t really feel ready to start exploring patterns of effectiveness in the classroom until about my fifth year of teaching. Teaching prior to that was rather blind experimentation and survival.

As a Teacher Librarian we are expected not only to run the school library but to manage, administrate, write grants, proactively seek validation from the parents, community and other stakeholders, and promote life long learning. We have only 24 hours in the day to accomplish our mission. School is only open from perhaps 8 to 3 (7 hours), but we will open the library an hour early for early student studies, or to provide a place to come in out of the rain. We are open at lunch for the student who needs to print a paper due today or who needs an ear and some suggestions on material to read for a personal problem. After school, we are still at the library so students can study while they wait for their bus or perhaps to provide the quiet place to study that the student does not have at home.  Our position goes beyond that of an academic college librarian, an archivist, or the typical public librarian. Anytime you interact with adolescents, much more is expected of you in terms of training, expertise, and soul. You become responsible for guiding the next generation of people who will run our country and protect our environment.

The AASL has a vested interest in calling us school librarians. If our name changes, they would have to change the name of their organization! (I say this only partly in jest). Most school websites now call the library resources the library and media center, acknowledging all the access to technology and technology training we provide to the students. More than ever, we have to stay caught up on the latest and greatest in technology that can be applied to education (and to the technology that may present a threat to our students’ well being). I had a discussion yesterday with a mother and grandmother that we can no longer “protect” our children from some of the seamier sides of society. It is too pervasive and accessible on the internet. We can only give them the tools to be able to make their own decisions of what kinds of information enhance their lives and what undermines society or has the potential to bring unhappiness to them, their families and friends. Knowledge is power. As it is with riding a powerful horse, you have to harness the knowledge to work for you. You can’t let it run away with you.

I think I would prefer being known as a Teacher Librarian for a couple reasons. One is that I was a teacher first. I have additional training graduates with solely an MLIS do not possess. I look at my job as more one of instruction and advocacy, than one of custodianship of a resource (technology and media).  A teacher librarian not only has a passion for books and learning, but a passion for young people.


Farmer, L. (Oct. 2010). California teacher librarians: what’s in a name? Clarion. California Library Association, v. 6:2:12-14.


About KLevenson

I am Teacher Librarian at Piedmont High School in the San Francisco East Bay. I am a part time reference Librarian I for the San Francisco Public Library. I have a Masters in Library and Information Sciences from San Jose State and a Teacher Librarian credential in addition to my teaching credential in Science. My first MA was from Harvard in Archaeology. My students teach me something new every time I am with them!
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