When entering a modern school library, it’s easy to get lost in a world of books, podcasts, video archives and even 3D printers.
If the school’s budget isn’t stretched, there will be spaces dedicated to downloadable books for students to take away on their digital devices, high-tech areas especially for students to create their own podcasts and videos, and collaborative capsules where learners can practice their group presentations or begin working on school projects together.
And most importantly, a supportive school librarian who guides learners through the different section of the library and teaches them how to use the library’s devices and resources.
Confirmed by non-profit educational news organisation Chalkbeat, the rapid decline of these roles is affecting many schools around the world, but in the US state of Michigan, school librarians are becoming an endangered species.
“92% of schools statewide don’t employ a full-time, certified librarian. Even if you count part-time librarians, the numbers hardly budge. Plus, the number of school librarians in Michigan declined 73% between 2000 and 2016, one of the sharpest declines in the country.
“The disappearance of school librarians comes at a pivotal point for literacy in Michigan. Beginning this year, districts will hold back third-graders who are more than a year behind their peers in reading,” Chalkbeat explains.
A widespread concern, the lack of school librarians could result in a decrease in reading activities and student collaboration efforts.
Offering refuge to students who require silence to concentrate on their weekly assignments and guidance through their textbooks, school librarians are an integral part of the library learning experience.
We’re looking for the next School Librarian of the Year! Enter and tell your school library story so it can be shared with your peers. https://t.co/Hau8gHvl3a @sljournal #SchoolLibOTY pic.twitter.com/BpuyGFDIyK
— Scholastic (@Scholastic) September 3, 2019
Naturally, the addition of digital tools to libraries is a benefit, but shouldn’t schools be striving to keep the human element of their educational areas?
Siena College Principal, Gaynor Robson-Garth doesn’t seem to think so. Earlier this year, the Roman Catholic girls’ school in Australia made the headlines with the complete eradication of its school library.
Talking to The Age, the principal confessed that their library was replaced with a new “learning centre” and that librarians have been replaced with “change adopters who host discussions with students and teach soft skills such as ethical and creative thinking.”
Despite being labelled an “experiment” by the principal, their learning centre features permanent additions of 3D printers and robotic tech tools.
“If you think about it, you don’t need to go to a library to do research and you don’t need a librarian to talk to you about interesting literature or books,” Robson-Garth notes.
With titles such as ‘change adopter’ catching on, the school librarian role may not be totally lost, but instead given a new name to survive the digital shift.
Similar to how some school teachers are now known as ‘learning engineers’, it may be a simple nip and tuck of the title, yet the fundamental essence and expectations of the role remain.
Fundamentally, what should matter is that schools hold onto the notion of inspiring students with the ability to learn, explore and to challenge themselves.
Whether it’s called a library or a learning centre, there should be dedicated staff involved who are passionate about improving a students’ love for literature, ready to steer them to the suitable bookshelves and enhance their academic progress with new educational technologies.
The traditional roles of ‘school librarians’ may be vanishing, but for a school to truly thrive in uncertain times, a student’s love for learning must remain.