Anyone who works in the LIS field knows that librarians spend a pretty good chunk of their day explaining why their jobs are important/still relevant in the Age of Google. It’s exhausting, to say the least, but I’ve come to realize that these conversations are absolutely vital. As stories of library closures and funding cuts continue to permeate our news cycle, it’s becoming more and more important that we learn to speak up and defend our work — not just for the sake of our careers, but for the benefit of the communities we serve.
Since transitioning from public to school libraries last year, I’ve become much more concerned with the state of our province’s school library programs. Did you know that in 2017 only 52% of elementary schools in Ontario reported having a full- or part-time teacher librarian? (To put things into perspective, that’s down from 80% in 1998.) The regional inequities are also disturbing: while 93% of elementary schools in central Ontario are staffed by a librarian, only 11% of northern libraries are.
I consider myself very lucky to work in an independent school that understands the value of (and can afford to hire) a full-time librarian. But I know many public schools in the province don’t have this luxury. That’s largely because provincial funding is provided to school boards on a per-student basis, allowing them to hire just one librarian for every 763 elementary students. In my hometown, for example, three schools are required to share one traveling librarian — leaving the library unstaffed for the duration of the week. When I hear stories like this, all I can think about are the students and teachers who are going to suffer as a result.
To people outside of the LIS profession, this may not seem like the end of the world. A library is just a room full of books, right? Why should we pay to have someone sit there all day? This response always stings a little, but it’s also an important reminder that we still have a lot of work to do in terms of advocacy. That’s why I wanted to take a moment to share what a day in the life of a school librarian really looks like:
Collection Development: One of the most important parts of my job is building the library’s collection of print and digital resources. This isn’t just a matter of browsing the shelves at Chapters and buying whatever looks good; collection development requires a great amount of thoughtful consideration. When making collection decisions, librarians factor in everything from critical reviews and cultural relevance to faculty input and gaps in the existing collection. This allows us to make sure we’re buying quality works that support both the school curriculum and our students’ reading interests.
Research Help: I also provide ongoing research help to students. This could be as simple as helping someone locate a book on the shelf — but more often it involves speaking with students about reliable sources and critical reading, and working with them to develop effective skills that will guide them through the research process.
Instruction: Another big part of my job is instruction. Throughout the year, I provide regular workshops for students in Grades 6-12 on topics such as academic honesty & citation, information literacy, and general research skills. I also offer a lot of one-on-one support to students working on their IB Extended Essays and other major projects.
Readers’ Advisory: This is one of the absolute best parts of the job, IMO. Readers’ advisory is the practice of pairing readers with books they’ll love. It can be active, such as when a student walks into the library and asks for a recommendation, or it can be more passive, with things like book displays, reading lists, and shelf-talkers. There’s no greater feeling than finding a book that really speaks to a student, and I think good readers’ advisory is one of the most important things we can do to convince non-readers to pick up a book.
Other Activities: In addition to these daily library services, I also have the opportunity to host a lot of really fun activities and clubs. At our library, I run two monthly book clubs — one for Middle School and one for Senior School — and I coach the school’s Kids’ Lit Quiz team. (If you’re new to KLQ, it’s an awesome book-trivia competition where students compete against other schools to answer questions about popular children’s books.) I also hold author readings and writing workshops, and run an ongoing book-review program. Sure, the days can get pretty hectic, but the work is always rewarding.
I could go on and on about my love for libraries and the need for improved funding models, but instead I’ll end by saying this: school libraries are absolutely essential to our students’ education, and as a province we should be investing more money in them, not less. Having access to a fully functioning school library — and an informed, capable librarian — can have a profound impact on a young person’s life. It allows them to explore new ideas in a safe, comfortable environment, and helps build vital information literacy skills that will stay with them throughout their academic careers and beyond. School librarians support teachers and students by offering a diverse range of hand-picked resources, and they help to foster a lifelong love of reading. All while creating a setting that is at once fun, engaging, and educational.
I’d like to see Google try and do that.
All stats borrowed from the People for Education annual report on Ontario’s publicly funded schools. I encourage you to read the document in full here.