When you think of a school librarian, what comes to mind? Is it shelving, stamping, and shushing? That’s the stereotype you’re probably most familiar with.
Librarians are so much more than this, though. We’re the keepers of the information, the resource kids use to explore new lands through the turning of pages – but our role as librarians is one that has historically been misunderstood. Because as times have changed, technology has advanced, and student needs have evolved—so, too, has the role of the librarian.
Who is the modern librarian?
As librarians, our job is to not only give students and teachers access to resources they need to succeed, but to be their guide when choosing these resources. We work with teachers and administrators to create life-long learning patterns in students, whether that’s by curating resources for classroom research projects or by coming into the classroom to teach a lesson on how to do research themselves.
However, no matter how often we curate materials for these students, the larger lesson we impart to them is how to be conscious consumers of this information. Students today tend to think they know everything there is to know about the internet, and although it’s true that they’ve grown up with the technology that some of us are still getting used to, our job is to teach them to evaluate and analyze the at-times overwhelming amount of information that comes to them via their screens.
To be able to teach students these types of lessons, we first have to be able to connect with them. This is arguably the most important part of what it means to be a librarian in 2022. Kids have been virtual for so long that they need a mentor who will pay individual attention to them and listen to them on a one-to-one level. But for them to want to come to us, we have to create an inviting, safe space that fits their needs.
What does a modern library look like?
Building a space that students actually want to inhabit is imperative to facilitating their learning and curiosity when it comes to reading. In some cases, that means out with the stuffy, shush-filled library, and in with the coffee shop vibes. Because as long as a student simply enters the space – even if it’s just to hang out – that gives us the opportunity to make a connection with them.
When it comes to reading for pleasure, students have so many other competing interests available to them – movies, games, social media, and TV shows – that we need to aim to make it an attractive, conscious choice. As librarians, we can do this by offering a range of genres and formats for students to choose from: novels, comics, magazines, audiobooks, print, or digital.
The modern library can also transcend the physical space, existing in a virtual realm without walls – one where students have the option to check out books anytime, anywhere. During the 2021-2022 school year, the Reading School District saw over 13,000 ebooks and audiobooks checked out through the Sora K-12 reading app. This was more than the number of print books borrowed. Furthermore, Weber School District students read over 96,000 hours in the Sora app during the last school year. Digital books give students the autonomy to choose what they want to read based on what they’re interested in, and that sense of freedom in turn inspires a love for reading.
Challenges facing the modern school library
Even as the school library modernizes, some of the obstacles facing it – like book challenges and bans – are not as new. As these issues have become a hot topic over the past year, they’ve made us stop and think about our library collections and the students who read them.
Our job as librarians is to ensure that we have materials that are representative and informative for all patrons, while following all policies set out by our districts. There are so many great resources available that give age recommendations for materials. When we combine the kinds of policies instituted in our district with the drive to include all students in the library, students will be able to see themselves more easily in their reading and learn about new ideas and perspectives.
Additionally, it’s incredibly important to talk to parents and students when they have concerns about materials, and we have to thoroughly understand the book challenge process outlined by our districts. If a parent, student, or teacher would like to challenge a book, we have to make sure that we can follow the policy outlined by our district leadership, which includes studying books in their entirety and examining the placement of materials.
In our (admittedly biased) opinion, there’s nothing more rewarding than being a librarian. Knowing that we played an active role in a student’s learning as we watch them walk across the stage at graduation is a feeling that can’t be beat. It’s crucial that in the coming years, we keep making connections with students to ensure their curiosity, creativity, and love of learning continues beyond the classroom.
It’s our duty as modern librarians to provide students with access to age-appropriate resources that follow policy, while also keeping the needs of each student in mind. This job isn’t for everyone, but for us, it’s just right.