FAQ's and Definitions
We have a public library in our neighborhood. Why does our school need a library and a librarian?
Public libraries have to stretch their budgets to serve area residents of all ages. Therefore, public library resources that directly support local school curriculums are often limited. Unlike most public librarians, school librarians focus on teaching information-literacy skills, in addition to helping students and teachers find information and books they need. School librarians know what topics teachers focus on and when. As a result, school librarians can collaborate and co-teach with classroom teachers. School librarians also provide technology training to students and classroom teachers. The school library is a resource for every student and teacher in the school.
You are fortunate to have a public library nearby! Public libraries are excellent places to find useful information, reading materials, and Internet access. As a bonus, most public libraries have fun and informative activities and events for family members of all ages. However, public libraries can’t replace a school library program lead by a certified school librarian. Students need access to both school and public libraries. Ensure excellence for every student by demanding a school library with a certified school librarian in every school.
Why do we still need school libraries when everyone has access to the Internet?
Students can find wonderful authoritative, unbiased sources of accurate information online. However, those excellent sources are hidden in an overwhelming volume of not-so-excellent content. Finding those wonderful sources is difficult. Only savvy Web searchers know where to look for accurate info and how to evaluate sources. These are among the information literacy skills school librarians model and teach every day. Paula Godfrey, a principal in Tucson, Arizona, has said:
“They [school librarians] teach teachers how to be better at their craft. How to help children evaluate sites so that the research they do is meaningful and allows students’ voices to come out because they truly understand the research that they are doing.” 
By the way, many people don’t have access to the Internet from home—or have access only through their mobile phones. An average of one in four adults the age of our students’ parents doesn’t have broadband access at home. (Our students’ grandparents are even less likely to have fast, reliable access to the Internet.) To read more about who does and doesn’t have Internet access, go here.
Even kids in families that can afford the latest technology and fastest Internet access often don’t use these resources effectively—unless a school librarian has helped the students develop the skills to be safe, effective users of the Web.
How can I convince decision makers that school libraries should be a priority in our school district?
Make your concerns heard! Attend school board meetings, especially when the budget is on the agenda. Speak up at PTA meetings. Talk to the principal. Ask the school librarian what you can do to help get out the word about the effectiveness of the school library and its programs. Grassroots efforts can make a difference! In 2008, three concerned mothers in Washington state reached out to school librarians and to other concerned parents. Through their efforts, legislators were convinced to restore school library funding.
If you don’t have time to go to meetings, send e-mails about your concerns and about your support for the library program. Tell decision makers how important school libraries are for student achievement. Send administrators a link to this website. Write and talk about your children’s interests and explain how the school library supports their pursuit of those interests. Use social media to communicate with other parents. Mention that school librarians connect other educators to current trends and resources for teaching and learning. In addition, school librarians are essential partners for all teachers because school librarians provide print and digital materials that meet diverse needs and collaborate with teachers to deepen student learning.
Many districts’ websites have links for contacting the school board and district administrators. If you can’t find those e-mail addresses, ask the school librarian (or a public librarian) for the addresses. More about getting involved.
We have a school library and helpers to check out books. Why do we need a school librarian?
A school library without a librarian is like a classroom without a teacher. An effective school library program involves more than making books available to students and letting learners borrow those books. An effective school library program supports students’ learning and their exploration of the world. School librarians can:
- match students with appropriate resources,
- co-teach lessons that require research and technology skills, and
- help students develop inquiry and information-literacy skills they will need throughout their lives.
In addition, school librarians provide professional development to other educators in their schools. Certified school librarians make the whole school more effective. They teach students how to learn and help teachers drive student success.
Many school libraries have wonderfully devoted volunteers and paraprofessionals. These helpers can support operation of the school library by handling processing and clerical tasks, giving the school librarian more time to work with students and teachers. These paid and unpaid assistants are to be commended for their important contributions. However, they don’t have the training needed to support students’ development of essential inquiry and information-literacy skills.
School librarians work with every student in the school, teaching students to think critically, providing the resources and support learners need in school and beyond, and nurturing their creativity. In addition, school librarians are leaders in the school, helping to develop curriculum and representing the learning needs of all students and teachers.
What resources are available to help school librarians make a strong case for the value of their school library programs?
The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has free resources that are available to all school librarians, not just AASL members. If you child’s school librarian hasn’t been to the AASL website lately, please suggest that the librarian go here. The resources linked to that page include toolkits that can guide school librarians through the process of defending their school library programs if budget cuts are likely. (You might want to read some of the materials, too—especially if your child’s library program is in danger.)
Librarians and parents can also access resources developed by the American Library Association Office for Library Advocacy. Go here to see what’s available.
Librarians’ associations in states are also good sources of information and ideas. For contact info for state-specific organizations for school librarians go here.
What’s the difference between a school librarian, a school library media specialist, and a teacher-librarian?
These terms all refer to the same job: leading a school library program. Although the American Association of School Librarians uses the term “school librarian,” sometimes a district calls the school librarian a “school library media specialist” to emphasize that modern school libraries contain more than books. Some districts use the term “teacher-librarian” to emphasize that the school librarian is primarily an educator, not a custodian of books.
What do these terms mean?
What do these terms mean?
advocacy: telling decision makers why something is important. Advocates usually describe the benefits and advantages of a program (such as school libraries) or activity (such as teaching students how to find and use information effectively).
digital literacy: ability to use technology (including the Internet and Worldwide Web) safely, ethically, and effectively to solve problems, get information, communicate with other people, etc.
information literacy: ability to:
- figure out what questions must be answered to understand something in our world,
- seek and find information needed to answer the questions,
- evaluate whether the sources of info are knowledgeable and unbiased,
- use the information to answer the questions and achieve understanding, and
- communicate that understanding to someone else.
These are all skills that students can develop with the help of school librarians working with classroom teachers.
21st-century skills: all the skills necessary for students to be effective learners in a world in which information is often presented online. These skills include digital-literacy skills, information-literacy skills, and communication skills such as reading comprehension, ability to effectively organize information and ideas, and then create documents, illustrations, videos, podcasts, etc. that can be used to pass along ideas and info.
Web 2.0 tools: computer software, phone apps, and websites that allow people to interact online and to share information and knowledge.
 “Principals Know: School Librarians Are the Heart of the School” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bihGT7LoBP0
This new digital magazine produced by AASL in partnership with American Libraries, is designed to be shared with parents, colleagues, administration, and policymakers. Available electronically or as a PDF download, this tool can open the door to discussions on the multiple ways school libraries transform learning.