What Is the Role of the Library Media Specialist in a Professional Learning Community?
Recently we received a letter from library media specialists who objected to one of the proposals we offered to give teachers time to collaborate in our book, Learning by Doing. We suggested that an elementary school schedule could be constructed to ensure all of the students at a particular grade level were assigned concurrently to specialists: an art teacher, music teacher, physical education teacher, and library media specialist. Our belief was that this strategy would not only enable students to receive instruction in these critical areas from the people with the greatest expertise, but also provide grade-level teachers time to collaborate. This is one of several options we suggested, but it raised the ire of these library media specialists who contended we had an "antiquated notion" of the role of the library media specialist. To reinforce their point, they sent the 2008 edition of School Libraries Work!, a document designed to make the case for the importance of school libraries and the need for qualified library media specialists to staff them.
We reviewed the document carefully, and found ourselves agreeing with its major findings, including:
- Schools should be provided with the resources to provide up-to-date print and nonprint materials in all school library/media centers.
- Schools should be staffed with highly qualified library media specialists.
- School libraries can play an important role in student achievement and school improvement.
- Library media specialists can have a positive impact on student learning when they collaborate with classroom teachers to teach and integrate literature and information skills into the curriculum.
- Library media specialists enrich the teaching and learning process when they teach skills and strategies students need to learn and achieve, are partners in educating children, teach students how to become effective users of ideas and information, and instruct students on how to seek, select, evaluate, and utilize electronic resources and tools.
- Certified school library media specialists should collaborate with teachers regularly to provide resources and activities for course, unit, and lesson integration and to meet the intellectual needs of students.
Repeatedly throughout the document, there are references to the importance of library media specialists teaching students. We strongly and enthusiastically endorse that position. In fact, the schedule we described in Learning by Doing was specifically designed to ensure that these specialists were able to teach the critical skills students need throughout their elementary school years.
We also strongly and enthusiastically support library media specialists collaborating with grade-level teams. In fact, we advocate time being built into the school calendar and schedule to allow the specialist to work with teams to identify how the specialist could contribute to each team’s curriculum, priorities, and goals.
In short, we fully endorsed the positions of this organization, and we have presented recommendations that are consistent with those positions. We can find no reference in this document that the library media specialist must attend every meeting of every team, and in fact, in middle and high schools it would be virtually impossible for them to do so. We do not interpret collaborating with teachers "regularly" to mean weekly, and we doubt there are many schools in America in which the media specialist spends time each week with every collaborative team, particularly when most schools don’t even organize teachers into collaborative teams. We can think of no logical reason a library media specialist should be the only person in the building to attend every team meeting, nor do we argue that teachers in a K-5 building should spend one hour per week working with colleagues but the library media specialist should spend six. Clearly this would not be the best use of time for professionals who have unique skills and insights that all students should have access to on a regular basis. In fact, if we argued library media specialists must attend every meeting of every team every week, we have no doubt that we would be criticized for placing an unfair burden upon them. Finally, we can find no reference in this resource that library media specialists should not spend time each week teaching students. In fact, that point was repeatedly stressed throughout the report.
School Library Works! has confirmed our belief about the important role of the library media specialist in schools. We will continue to recommend that these professionals teach children and that they can be scheduled to do so in ways that contribute to making time for their colleagues to collaborate. We will also continue to stress that the school schedule and calendar should provide time for the library media specialist to work directly and regularly with the teams of teachers as important contributors to the collaborative process.