Some Thoughts on School Libraries and Librarians (IFLA Satellite, August 2015)

As an academic librarian, I’ve long been interested in K-12 education and how students are prepared for success in college and in life. As I have always worked in academic libraries at institutions that educate future teachers, I’ve also worked to ensure that future teachers understand the potential of partnering with their school librarians.

When I worked at Illinois State University, I founded the Central Illinois Library Instruction Group to bring together librarians concerned with student learning from K-College. During the two or three years that the group met, I became even more aware of just how challenging the school library sitution is in our state. Unfortunately, I know that the Illinois story is not unique in the United States. In spite of clear evidence that school libraries with a trained school librarian contribute to student success, school libraries continue to struggle for funding, staffing, and legitimacy, especially as technology makes information content accessible online. From my service on the ALA OITP Digital Literacy Task Force, as well as the ALA School Library Implementation Task Force appointed by then-ALA President-Elect Barbara Stripling, I also know that working together across library types helps to strengthen support for school libraries and to amplify the message of the importance of school libraries.

These reflections are prompted by the opportunity I had to attend the IFLA Satellite Conference on School Libraries & Guided Inquiry: Taking Stock & Taking Action in Cape Town, South Africa. The event was co-sponsored by IFLA’s School Libraries and Information Literacy Sections and as a member of the Information Literacy Section Standing Committee I was pleased to be able to participate as a delegate in the meeting.

The keynote speaker, Cameron Dugmore, presented an exciting vision for school libraries in the Western Cape, but the follow-on panel made clear how many challenges exist for bring that vision to reality. Ross Todd, LIS professor from Rutgers, spoke in the afternoon and reminded us all that “no is not an answer if we want to move forward.” The attendees were noticably lifted in spirits by Ross’ can-do attitude and passion for the importance of their work. On the second day of the conference, attendees could attend one of two workshops related to guided inquiry – one focused on curriculum integration and the other on digital technologies.

The challenges faced by school libraries and librarians have many commonalities across the globe. Coming together to share stories of obstacles, strategies, and successes is just one way to build the school library community of practice.

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