Why are school librarians so misunderstood?

Media specialists guide teachers in adopting ed-tech, supporting literacy and maintain diverse library collections
Lauren Mobley
Lauren Mobley

School librarians are misunderstood, even within their own buildings, media specialist Lauren Mobley says. “School librarians constantly have to prove their worth and advocate for their programs,” says Mobley, who works at North Clayton Middle School in Clayton County Public Schools outside Atlanta. “It would be great if everyone understood our value.”

Her roles span guiding teachers in adopting ed-tech to supporting literacy and maintaining a diverse library collection, says Mobley, who is also a featured speaker on the Future of Ed-Tech Library Media Specialist track at the 2023 Future of Education Technology® Conference in January. In this Q&A, she outlines the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for K-12 library media specialists.

1. What are the 3 biggest issues school librarians are facing as the new school year begins?

  1. School librarians are being attacked for promoting the freedom to read. I haven’t experienced this yet, and hope I don’t. However, I empathize with my fellow librarians who are dealing with book challenges and who support students in intolerant communities.
  2. Managing technology or students’ devices has been another issue for many school librarians. I’ve spent too much time dealing with Chromebooks when I would have rather been improving my library, supporting students, or planning with teachers.
  3. There are several other issues, but the last one I’ll acknowledge is the common misconception or misunderstanding of the media specialist’s roles and significance. School librarians constantly have to prove their worth and advocate for their programs. It would be great if everyone understood our value.

2. What were some of your biggest achievements in 2021-22?

I had so much to learn last year and honestly still do. I’m proud of increasing my school’s book circulations and overall use of the media center and even more proud of the connections I’ve established with other school librarians. However, my biggest achievement from my first year in the media center was winning the We Need Diverse Books Educators Making a Difference grant. I remember jumping up and down with excitement when I found out I was a recipient.

3. How do you manage challenges to the books you stock in your library? What advice do you have for other librarians and media specialists?

Thankfully, I have not had to deal with this yet. My district coordinator has provided the school librarians in my county with the arsenal to be prepared for these potential challenges and attacks on reading freedom. By learning the procedures and processes to combat a book challenge, I feel ready for when it happens at my school.

FETC 2023

The Future of Education Technology® Conference takes place live and in person Jan. 23-26, 2023, in New Orleans. Register now!

I would encourage all librarians to learn their local policies and understand there are resources to support them when it’s time to fight. Although they may be alone in their school, they are not alone in the field.

4. How do you ensure your collection is diverse and inclusive?

This was a top priority when I started working in my school. Early on, I ran the numbers, and the number of diverse books in the collection was abysmal. My school has nearly 90% Black students, and the rest of the population identifies as Latinx or Asian. However, only 15% of the collection was categorized as diverse.

Diversity is more than just race or culture, and it was important for me to include books with characters by authors who reflected the student body. I focused on learning about new diverse titles by reading reviews and recommendations and then bringing them into my school. Winning the “Educators Making a Difference grant” supported my initiative to diversify the collection. I was also able to bring in Black comic book authors and illustrators Greg Burnham and Marcus Williams to speak with my students so the children can see themselves as readers and creators.

5. How do you help educators develop their instructional technology skills?

Casual conversation has been the best form of collaboration for my teachers and me. My mentor, Wendy Cope, once told me to ask them, “Hey, whatcha working on?” as a way to insert my skills and my advice. It works like a charm.

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I drop tidbits here and there, and before you know it we are in the mix together. Once my teachers learned I’m a resource, they started to come and ask me for my opinion on improving their lessons with technology.

6. What are the most important skills they need to learn?

Moving beyond the basic substitution level of “Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition” to lead students to become innovators and creators is the most important skill. However, the most necessary skills they require are technology literacy and learning to navigate the LMS, apps, and websites so they can use them with students.

7. How do you help students incorporate new technology into their learning?

Teachers are my major connection to the students. Of course, students come to the media center independently, but showing teachers new technology has been most influential in having students implement it with their learning. I am also able to help students utilize new technology through the clubs I sponsor. Clubs, such as the news broadcast team, are perfect opportunities for expanding students’ technology literacy, creativity, and leadership.

8. What are your goals for this school year and the next few years?

Increasing reading and, subsequently, reading comprehension at my school is a huge focus that I have. This will be a long road, but the rewards will benefit my students, school, and our entire school community. This year I want to tackle my nonfiction section by bringing it up to date, and co-teach a lesson with each different subject.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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