Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Myth #3 - With Everything Becoming Available Electronically, We Will No Longer Need Librarians

There have been many articles and blog posts lately debating the future of libraries. It is hard to imagine a school without one of these learning centers (where else would faculty meetings, testing, and baby showers take place?), but this post focuses on busting the myth that librarians will become obsolete.

With the threat of Kindles, Nooks, and Google taking over the world of research and reading, do students need to be taught Information Literacy skills, or are they doing fine without librarians? I believe that as our access to information grows, the need for teachers of Information Literacy will only become more crucial.

In searching for data to back up my claim, I read three articles that highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world of librarians and research:


In the March/April 2012 issue of Knowledge Quest, published by the American Association of School Librarians, three teachers shared their co-teaching project at Prosper High school. The librarian (Stacy Cameron), the English teacher (Adria Butcher), and the instructional technology coach (Christine Haight) collaborated and co-taught a multimedia project in which student created their own public-service announcements that included evidence of ethos, pathos, and logos, contained correctly selected and cited copyright-friendly music and images, and used a variety of technology for the final product. After the initial collaboration meeting, Stacy and Christine created web pages together, with the links and tools students would need. 

This  article brilliantly outlines the power of co-teaching. Each teacher focused on her area of expertise while supporting the others, modeling for the students what a group project should look like. With three experts in the room, students were charged with taking responsibility for their learning, seeking out the support they needed for their personal areas of weakness.  By bringing in the technology coordinator to instruct students at the beginning, much of the chaos that comes with technology productions was avoided.  And throughout the project, Adria was able to focus on teaching the elements of english, rather than simultaneously become a resource and technology expert, to ensure all students learned the targeted objectives.  

This is the ideal of teacher-librarian collaboration.  Who would not want this type of instruction and learning for their students? 


Moving from the ideal to the reality, at too many school libraries, is the article What Happens When Media Positions Are Cut? from the May/June 2011 issue of Library Media Connection. In her article, Mary Alice Anderson notes that librarians are often cut when budgets are tight, and then itemizes the cost to students when Certified Librarians are cut.

  • Less research takes place in the school.  Teachers become frustrated by the growing burden of finding resources alone
  • Staff development provided by the librarian is cut or may not occur, leaving teachers without the knowledge to share online resources
  • Collaboration occurs by e-mail only 
  • Library hours are reduced
  • Collection development suffers with less time for librarians to read reviews, seek suggestions, weed, browse, and perform collection analysis. This results in duplicates or holes in the collection.
  • Para-professionals, who may lack the necessary content knowledge to do so effectively, are left to locate resources and fill requests
  • Loss and theft of resources increases, costing precious dollars
  • Priorities shift... MARC records may or may not be accurate, making it difficult to locate materials
  • Websites and databases fall into disrepair, with dead links or unused subscriptions
  • Advocacy diminishes.  "How do you spread the word when you are spread thin?
  • And worst of all, as one librarian said, "We have lost students and teachers seeing us as partners."

Ann and I have faced each of the consequences above as we moved from being responsible for one library then four libraries then six and now we each face the task of overseeing eight libraries for the upcoming school year.  Yet, as the article concludes, librarians continue to make the best of their situations. In our district, we continue to work to build relationships and strive to fill all requests, but it is not the same.


So what is the long-term effect of cutting librarians? What happens when students in grades K-12 are not being taught information literacy?  Students enter college without the skills they need to be successful. Professors must teach skills that were once introduced in elementary school.

In her 2004 article for College Teaching, It's the Information Age, So Where's the Information? Why Our Students Can't Find It and What We Can Do to Help, Jill D. Jenson addresses students' inability to distinguish between types of materials for research.  Unlike the differences between print journals versus print magazines, which can be seen and felt, distinguishing between online resources is difficult for students because one computer screen looks much like the next. Students lack the experiential background in a real library with real, print materials to make the jump from traditional research to electronic research without instruction. 

Students rate themselves computer literate, but they are unaware of how much they do not know.  Current teaching objectives need to include what students must learn to simply begin their research. Jenson explains that "Whereas students could previously get by with learning terms such as "periodical," "journal," "index," "bibliography," "citation," "card catalog," "Library of Congress Subject Headings," and "call number," they now must learn a whole new language in addition to that previously required: "Boolean operator," "meta search," "general database," "specialized database," "text image," "verbatim image," "full-text image," "access date," "marked list," "search wizard"the list certainly could go on."

I am happy to note that part of Ms. Jensen's suggested solution included collaboration with a librarian as well as taking students to the physical library building.  As someone who sends high school graduates off to college, I feel it is my role to teach many of these terms and skills. Teaching freshmen or graduate students these skills so late in their education robs them of learning opportunities along the way. Information literacy includes skills a life-long learner needs to sate their appetite for knowledge.

What does the future hold for librarians?  I wish I could predict.  With so much more for students to learn, who is going to teach it, if not a librarian?  

What do you think?

Works Cited
Anderson, Mary A. "What Happens When Media Positions Are Cut?" Library Media Connection 29.6 (2011): 16-19. Print.
Cameron, Stacy, Adria Butcher, and Christine Haight. "In Their Own Words." Knowledge Quest 40.4 (2012): 28-33. Print.
Jenson, Jill D. "It's the Information Age, so Where's the Information? Why Our Students Can't Find It and What We Can Do to Help." College Teaching 52.3 (2004): 107-12. Web.


  1. I find that as more and more information is found on screens, parents are wanting their children to read for enjoyment and learning from print material. There are more and more studies coming out that reveal the physical and psychological problems inherent with too much screen time.

  2. "It is hard to imagine a school without one of these learning centers " Unfortunately this is increasingly the case in the UK where many schools have sacked their librarian and turned the library into a computer suite, or in new Academy schools, many of which are being built without a library at all. Schools library services, which support libraries in secondary (high) and primary (elementary) schools have also been widely cut and there are only a handful left throughout the country. The legacy will be a generation of children whose enjoyment of reading is minimal and whose skills in finding and using information effectively will be severely compromised. What shocks me most of all is that these decisions are being made by people who call themselves educators.