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Professional Opinion

Tech project changed how we view our librarians

School librarians and media specialists are vital part of team leading digital transformation
Mary Reiman is director of library media services for Lincoln Public Schools
Mary Reiman is director of library media services for Lincoln Public Schools

Public education is embarking on a digital transformation. We are shifting from consumption-based learning to creation-based learning. These are moves in the right direction, but they require us to provide our students with access to the tools and devices needed to connect them to all the available resources.

Enter “Project Connect”—a panel of school leaders working to connect the library, classroom and administration through information technologies. It has changed the way Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska views its librarians.

Think about the vast resources available on the internet: primary sources, e-books and applications accessible with a click or tap. It is an unbelievable toolbox that, unfortunately, many teachers and curriculum departments don’t know how to leverage.

Gail Dickinson, associate dean for the Darden College of Education at Old Dominion University and fellow Project Connect team member, says, “The use of digital tools enables the teacher/student interaction to happen in a more engaging way.” Therefore, it is vital that school librarians and media specialists are part of the team leading the digital transformation, maximizing resources and expanding knowledge in our schools.

Instructional leaders

The Lincoln district is in the second year of a five-year, $55 million digital transformation. While not a 1-to-1 implementation, we are developing a device-assisted learning initiative. This will create the environment that puts technology into the hands of our students when it’s the most appropriate tool for learning.

Our librarians are at the table and on committees helping us plan and implement. They are instructional leaders aligning the curriculum with subscription and open-source digital content. The librarians are showing our teachers, students and parents how to access these curated resources.

The changes take time and require everyone to be “all in.” Superintendents, principals and district leaders have to mobilize librarians as vehicles for change. The work of librarians has to evolve, and the schools have to change the perception that students receive information through a didactic funneling approach.

Disconnect over roles

The Lincoln district still has work to do in this arena. An internal survey of the role, capacity and perceptions of librarians revealed a disconnect. For example:

  • To the phrase, “I am / my librarian is a master teacher, delivering developmentally-appropriate lessons aligned with our curriculum,” 98 percent of librarians answered “yes,” while 75 percent of principals said “yes.” 
  • To the phrase, “I am / my librarian is an instructional leader, consulting with teachers on best practices and instructional strategies,” 83 percent of librarians responded “yes” but only 60 percent of principals said “yes.”

It’s obvious there’s a gap, but we know we can close it. Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina has proven to be a leader in digital conversion. Superintendent Mark Edwards and his team completely transformed the way teachers and students learn.

“Leaders are everywhere and media specialists and librarians have this natural opportunity to meet and know all students, and to meet and work with all teachers,” Edwards says. “It just makes sense that we would activate and really build capacity for that leadership.”

Mark Ray, director of instructional technology and library services at Vancouver Public Schools in Washington, echoes this vision.

“The discussion about how to leverage librarians is not limited to just librarians,” Ray says. “We need to have administrators, educational leaders and agencies realizing at the same time around the same table that the school libraries/media centers and librarians/media specialists can be a solution to a lot of challenges.”

Learning to collaborate and merge our skills and expertise—librarians, superintendents, teachers and principals—is crucial to ensuring the right resources are in place in order to provide the best learning environments for our students and to create change.

Stephen Joel is superintendent of Lincoln Public Schools. Mary Reiman is director of library media services for Lincoln Public Schools.