Never before has the question “What’s up with libraries today?” been asked with such alarm and urgency regarding the role of libraries in society. That’s why a group of school library leaders led by Dr. Christopher Harris, director of libraries services for Genesee Valley (NY) Board of Cooperative Educational Services,(BOCES), took that question to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, resulting in a multi-year effort made possible in part through an IMLS grant. With the conclusion of two years of online forums engaging school librarians from across the country it is a great time to dig into the final report to glean what is most valuable going forward.
Libraries.Today contains video archives from May 2022 and March 2023 online forums with a wide range of notable presenters, including Dr. Stephen Krashen, Dr. R. David Lankes, Dr. Debbie Reese, PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman, Kelly Jensen, Roger Rosen, John Chrastka, and Mark Ray. It also includes a wide array of panel presentations and thought pieces, including several by WLA school library members. Hot topics such as building a collective voice and professional support networks, addressing book challenges, and responding to the challenge of being “one in a building,” as well as AI in the future of libraries are among those addressed by leading librarians, authors, and academics. There’s even a series of “pep talks” kicked off by Dr. Carla Hayden and including Ellen Hopkins, Torrey Maldonado, Mindy McGinnis, Jarrett Learner, Josh Funk, and Neil Schusterman. All make great prompts for important professional discussion and reflection. Dig in!
To banish misconceptions of what librarians do, it’s sometimes best to tell our story as a “what if” worst-case scenario. Gaping Void Media took librarians’ input from an October 2022 symposium to create an ebook, The Day the Librarians Disappeared (released under a Creative Commons license), that tells a cautionary tale to help librarians to spark discussion with administrators and colleagues. The well-crafted images may be reproduced as posters, social media images, and swag for your library.
John Chrastka at EveryLibrary wrote the preliminary and summary reports and recommendations for the project. Among the key deficits that can be seen as opportunities to strengthen the profession:
Lack of mentorship for new librarians and fatigue among long-time librarians poses a threat to the future of the profession.
Fragmentation and lack of unity within the education ecosystem points to school libraries as “the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, reflecting broader issues within the education system.”1
Low inclusion of school librarians in library ecosystem building highlights the “need to improve the inclusion, consultation, and collaboration with school librarians, education stakeholders, and unions” in conversations among regional and national library associations.
Other actionable items for our school districts, state-level associations, and training programs to consider include:
Integration of advocacy in librarian training and ongoing professional development
Dedicated library positions at state education agencies and boards of education
Integrating the work of school libraries into educator and administrator training programs
Strengthening the training pipeline for school librarian support roles
Big-picture issues like these can point us toward strategic individual efforts, to involvement with mentorship programs, engagement in support for library leadership positions at the district and state levels, and productive engagement with paraprofessionals working in school libraries. As Dr. Harris notes, “School library leaders should actively define and communicate the librarian's role to non-librarians within the educational community, highlighting their contributions to addressing learning loss, social-emotional learning, and school climate.“2
Dr. Harris concludes: “It is vitally important for the restoration and strengthening of school library programs to have current, accurate, and robust data about the school library workforce, the funding formulas that support programs and positions, the conduction of facilities, and the relevance of the collections to students.”
It is worth noting here that the School Librarian Investigation-Decline or Evolution? project (SLIDE) https://libslide.org/ is an invaluable source of current information on school libraries. Numerous reports and recommendations are available along with district, state, and national data tools with which library advocates can compare local conditions to larger trends. A video archive of a panel presentation on SLIDE by lead researcher Dr. Keith Curry Lance, along with librarians Suzanna Panter (Tacoma) and KC Boyd (Washington DC), is available on the Libraries.Today website.
Mine the Libraries.Today website for resources and potential allies that speak to your local situation. Reach out to allies near and far to build a stronger response to local issues. Everyone has a stake in the future of library programs and can contribute to collective success. As Harris shared with ALA leaders at the annual conference in June, “It is essential that we all reach out within our professional networks to gather more participation in the ongoing work. We must also build additional capacity within our profession to elevate more school library leaders willing and able to engage in the ongoing work and communicating that will make success possible.”3
Through our professional association, and as a Libraries.Today advisory group member, I’m keen to share the findings and ready-to-use resources created by this group and to encourage others to find their path that will help shape school libraries, today and into the future. With all the resources and roles at our disposal, take a step forward today. Connect with others and gain confidence that all across the country librarians are moving our communities forward together.