As innovative maker spaces seem to be pushing out book stacks in school libraries, the American Association of School Librarians posits that there’s room for both—and that certified school librarians are the most qualified professionals to give students the best of both worlds.
Some schools are opting to hire “innovation specialists” in lieu of school librarians, who have earned master’s degrees and librarian certifications.
According to a recent job post on LinkedIn, an innovation specialist would do the following: “Under the supervision of building leadership this position is responsible for supporting teachers and students through innovative practices to increase student achievement.”
Job requirements include a teaching license and previous experience as an elementary school teacher; noticeably absent in the requirements are a library-related degree and certification.
“As an association, we certainly see the trend,” said Audrey Church, president of the American Association of School Librarians. “We’re not happy with it because the research demonstrates when you have a strong certified librarian, student learning is higher.”
In a recent story, The Kansas City Star reported that the Shawnee Mission School District hired a handful of innovation specialists to run grade-school libraries next year. Although district administrators told the publication they’re not avoiding hiring people with a librarian certification, they did acknowledge that “grade schools haven’t much need anymore for the libraries of 20 years ago—when they stocked books, gave research help, suggested age-appropriate literature, and provided a cozy corner in which kids could turn pages.”
Church, however, pushed back against this yesteryear definition of a school librarian’s job description.
“I think many people have that stereotypical view of libraries and librarians of the past,” she said. “Perhaps, that’s what they experienced when they were in school. Twenty-first-century librarians are not like that at all.”
Instead, Church said, “I would describe today’s school libraries as active learning spaces, where you see children engaged in all sorts of learning activities. Certainly there’s still books [and] literature. But there’s so much more to today’s libraries. People will say we don’t need a librarian—I would argue that we need them more today more than ever.”
But many school districts are increasingly facing pressure to do more with less. According to a 2015 School Superintendents Association survey [PDF], 83 percent of respondents reported that their district was “inadequately funded,” and 22 percent of respondents reported that they had eliminated positions each year between 2007 and 2015.
One of the reasons behind hiring an innovation specialist in a school library is that a district can fill two jobs for the price of one. Innovation specialists can both helm the school library and integrate “makerspaces” or innovation spaces, places where kids can use technology to create and invent.
But Church said that this is where there’s a huge misunderstanding. She said that school librarians are already receiving training and instruction on integrating this kind of technology in between the bookcases. In fact, Church, who is also a professor at Longwood University, is teaching an “Emerging Trends” course on this very topic this summer.
“With a school librarian, you have a master teacher, a technology integrator, and an innovation specialist all rolled into one,” Church said. “It’s a matter of getting the recognition that school libraries and school librarians deserve. Librarians are already creating makerspaces in their libraries, while still honoring stories and literature.”
To that end, she says that there are advocacy efforts under way. “We’re working to define what an effective school librarian is,” she said. “We’re helping our members become more vocal at the state and local level.”