Now that a major wave of technological resources has been absorbed into the independent school environment, it is time to recognize the strategically critical role of the school library media specialist in integrating these resources to a school's best advantage.
Advances in information technology are advantageous in the school environment mainly to the degree that they forward the ultimate goal of producing information-literate students. To accomplish this goal, schools need to understand the library media specialist's role in integrating information technology and information literacy in curricula. The potential contribution of library media specialists in this context has been too frequently overlooked – both in the theoretical literature and in the practical sphere. We believe that the library media specialist's vantage point is uniquely useful. Independent schools would be wise to take full advantage of the multifaceted roles that contemporary library media specialists are prepared to play in the educational culture.
As the information explosion and the burgeoning of new technologies have preoccupied the attention of educators, an increasing number of articles devoted to integrating technology into the curriculum have been published. Regrettably, the trend in these publications has been to overlook the obvious connection of libraries with classrooms and technology. The Spring 1998 issue of Independent School, for example, was devoted to the role of technology in the independent school – yet only passing mention was made of the major role the library program plays in the use of technology. In an earlier article in School Library Journal, called "The Invisible Library Media Specialist," Margie Klink Thomas lamented that a 1996 report about ways to structure the American high school ("Breaking Ranks," from the National Association of Secondary School Principals [NASSP]) included no library media specialists in its preparation and barely mentioned the library media program in its contents. As further evidence of neglect within the educational community regarding the importance of library media programs, Klink refers to a survey that sought to elicit "principals' perceptions and knowledge of the role of library media specialists." This survey, published in the September/October 1993 issue of Emergency Librarian, revealed that "education programs for teachers and administrators made almost no mention of library media services."
Fortunately, the tendency within the literature and educational practice to neglect the key role of library media specialists is not universal. One encouraging counter-example can be found in a 1998 publication from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). This book, called Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (popularly known as IP2), clearly outlines how schools might go about creating learning communities with the library at the center, thereby ensuring that students will be adequately prepared for the Information Age. We draw on this valuable work for examples and analysis here.
Standards for Defining "Information Literacy"
Chapter two of IP2, entitled "Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning," lays out nine principles or standards that should be embedded in curriculum and that should characterize an information-literate student. The information-literate student is one who masters the lifelong skills enabling him or her to become a discerning and effective user of information. It is not enough to access information; a student must be able to gather information efficiently and effectively, evaluate it critically, and then use and present it accurately and creatively. Ideally, an information-literate student would also become an independent and socially responsible user.
An interesting contrast emerges when one compares the standards for information literacy published by AASL/AECT in 1998 with standards published that same year by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), known as The Technology Foundation Standards for Students (NETS). Both sets of standards overlap in several areas. Not surprisingly, however, the NETS standards emphasize the need to teach students the use of equipment, productivity and presentation tools. In contrast, the AASL/AECT standards for information literacy focus more on the process of acquiring and using information. Both facets of technology integration are important, of course. But new technology always poses the danger of attracting too much attention to the means at the expense of the ends – the tail wagging the dog. If our goal is to prepare students for successful participation in an information-driven society, then the skills embodied in the AASL/AECT information literacy standards need to be clearly understood and continually reasserted. Ideally, such standards would be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum by personnel equipped to mediate between both ends of the spectrum, technology as such and the intellectual development it is being used to serve. It is our contention that such integration can and should naturally emanate from the library program. A careful reading of IP2 suggests that the school library media specialist is the natural catalyst who, in concert with other members of the particular academic community, can best channel information technology resources toward the goal of producing information-literate students.
In addition to setting out standards for identifying information-literate students, IP2 provides a blueprint for establishing successful library programs. Independent schools, which are less encumbered by governmental bureaucratic structures than public schools, are uniquely poised to create information-rich and technology-rich environments with strong information literacy programs led by library media specialists.
The Record So Far
Profound changes have, in fact, been taking place in school libraries across the country and nowhere is this more evident than in independent schools. The introduction of information technology in the form of automated catalogs, Internet connections, electronic databases, and telecommunications is probably the most striking. Schools have renovated their physical plants and have built new ones to accommodate the infrastructure necessary to convey information at faster rates and to more points of access. Unfortunately, many new facilities have been designed as attractive marketing tools for schools without necessarily reflecting the clear educational vision needed to integrate the new information technology in the service of curriculum.
As schools have poured money into technological hardware and infrastructures, library media specialists, often understaffed and under-funded, have continued to play a major role in effectively integrating these new resources into the educational program. Even before the introduction of computer networks, the Internet, and digitized information databases, library media specialists were typically in the forefront of integrating technology (books, films, video, and audio resources) in the curriculum. Both then and now, library media specialists have emphasized and continue to stress that mere access to information is not enough. The priority must be to teach students how to find and use information effectively, irrespective of the format. That emphasis must be preserved, even as many educators committed to the "technology" side of the equation take center stage. The role of the librarian as a person with allegiances and expertise on both sides of the equation – to the world of technological innovation on the one hand, and to the total educational mission on the other – remains just as crucial as before.
The Librarian's Complex Role
Underappreciation of the school library media specialist's potential role in guiding the assimilation of technology may be related, in some respects, to a widespread lack of clarity about the diverse functions he or she normally performs – or at least could perform, in an optimally managed educational setting.
A 1987 article in Independent School characterized librarians as "caretakers," "catalysts," and "colleagues." The role of "caretaker" suggests that librarians are merely guardians of library resources – a minimalist description that falls far short of the multifaceted roles that qualified library media specialists perform. "Catalyst" and "colleague," though not complete descriptions, are more accurate reflections of the reality of a school library media specialist's contribution in the ecology of the learning environment. The prevalence of one or the other of these characterizations can have a practical impact on how effectively a particular library program serves the school in which it is placed. In schools where library media specialists are seen mainly as caretakers, for example, the potential value of a highly qualified human resource is overlooked and students and teachers are shortchanged. This one-dimensional and insufficient description, unfortunately, may correspond well to a stereotype present in the minds of many students, teachers, and administrators.
The 1998 IP2 provided a more precise and updated description of the school library media specialist as "teacher," "instructional partner," "information specialist," and "program administrator." These richer descriptions of the school library media specialist's role, expanded upon below, should, of themselves, suggest many ways in which library media specialists' leadership is crucial in the assimilation of information technology in the educational environment.
As "teacher" and "instructional partner," the library media specialist is uniquely positioned to work with classroom teachers and technology specialists to ensure that students acquire the necessary information technology competencies and information literacy skills, as well as the opportunities to weave those skills into the existing curriculum. Furthermore, as a member of the academic team, the librarian is capable of contributing significantly to the design of the curriculum as it relates to information literacy. For a school to benefit fully from these advantages, however, the school library media specialist must be a full participant in the curriculum design process. Where curriculum committees are in place, the librarian should be an active and valued member. Curricula designed in collaboration with a school library media specialist are likely to have information-literacy and information technology skills comprehensively embedded. In addition to design, the librarian can also be an invaluable partner to the classroom teacher in ensuring that information literacy skills are seamlessly integrated into the curriculum. IP2 has identified collaboration between media specialists and classroom teachers as critical to "support authentic, information-based learning." The library media specialist is the obvious catalyst for collaborating with all the constituents of the learning community.
As "information specialist," according to IP2, the school library media specialist "has expertise in acquiring and evaluating information sources in all formats." Coping with the tidal wave of new information sources requires someone not only pedagogically informed and aware of the specific school's curriculum, but skillful in selecting appropriate material to support that curriculum and meet the specific educational needs of students and teachers. The acquisition of information sources is not limited to the Internet and electronic databases; it encompasses all formats. Traditional print sources are often more appropriate and helpful, especially for students, than the increasingly popular blind venture onto the Internet. One important educational goal is, in fact, for students to develop the ability to judge which format is most appropriate for the task at hand.
In addition to seeking and extracting information, today's students must become adept at using technology to manipulate and present information in the most expedient and creative manner. In this area, the technology specialist's expertise as a member of the collaborative team is invaluable. Once students have acquired the information, the technology specialist can help them determine how and when to use electronic media to demonstrate their command of the information they have gathered. For example, a research project that culminates in a multimedia presentation using PowerPoint or a Web publication would require specific instruction in the use of those tools. Here, too, the school library media specialist can be a facilitator among teachers, students and technology specialists by providing a general sense of what technological opportunities there are and what questions to ask.
As "program administrator," notes IP2, the library media specialist is "proficient in the management of staff, budgets, equipment, and facilities" and works with other administrators and teachers to form policies, design activities, and provide leadership that would ensure outstanding use of information and information technology. One of the key components for effective program administration is the provision of adequate staffing. It is well known that many independent school libraries are still one-person operations. Regardless of the size of a school's population, support staff, including both professional and paraprofessional personnel, are required if the library media specialist is to deliver a truly integrated library media program. Ideally, professional library media specialists need to be freed from clerical and technical support duties to serve as teachers, instructional partners, information specialists, and program administrators. Expert technology staff is equally essential to provide ongoing support and active participation in assisting classroom teachers to integrate information technology in curriculum.
As program administrator, the school library media specialist also plays a critical role in ensuring the optimal distribution of finite resources. Here it is critical to avoid the temptation to err in either of two directions – to waste valuable resources on unproductive novelties, on the one hand, or to neglect valuable tools because of misguided conservatism or a misplaced fiscal prudence, on the other. Keeping abreast of emerging technologies and assessing their compatibility with the needs of teachers and students are an ongoing challenge for administrators, technology specialists, and library media specialists. Adequate funding must be provided to ensure robust information technology and information literacy programs. Here again, school library media specialists have a unique and informed vantage point from which to evaluate the real benefits and costs of proposed new technology.
Colleagues in the classroom need assistance in harnessing the new technology for both teaching and learning. Librarians provide a critical and unique form of leadership in this arena because of their knowledge of pedagogical principles, their global perspective on the individual school's curriculum, their training as information managers, and their experience in forging cooperative partnerships with classroom teachers. Regrettably, the literature reveals that these critical roles of school library media specialists are not widely understood.
It is time for independent schools to fully recognize and utilize the central and critical role of the library media specialist in the selection, administration, and integration of technological information resources in the curriculum and the wider school environment. Independent schools must exercise informed judgment that embraces technological resources not as mechanical add-ons, but as something organically embedded in the curriculum, and acquired only with a due sensitivity to the actual needs of the curriculum and those of teachers and students. The school library media specialist can contribute to this process in a way that no other member of the edu-cational community is typically equipped or positioned to do. A school-wide information literacy plan, designed to take full advantage of the multifaceted role of the library media specialist, will insure the successful integration of information literacy in the curriculum and will be a keystone in preparing our students for success in the Information Age.
Kathleen V. Ellis is the library/information technology director and grade dean at Berkeley Carroll School (NY). Mary Anne Lenk is the director of library and media services at the Convent of the Sacred Heart (NY).
- American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.
- Bronnert, Elizabeth H. "The School Librarian: Caretaker, Colleague, Catalyst." Independent School 46.2 Winter (1987): 23-30.
- Independent School 57.3 Spring (1998).
- "Information Power: Nine Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning." 25 August 2000 American Association of School Librarians. 11 March 2001 (www.ala.org/aasl/ip_nine.html).
- "National Technology Standards for Students." 16 August 2000 The International Society for Technology in Education. 11 March 2001 (cnets.iste.org/sfors.htm).
- Thomas, Margie Klink. "The Invisible Media Specialist." School Library Journal. Nov. 1996: 49.