Why Are School Libraries Essential?

Eight school librarians share their answers.

(What we do is more than offer flashy technology)


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Every child needs a safe place to fall — a place where they can explore things without worrying about failure and judgment. A library is one of those places. You can learn by following your nose in a library, which is very different from someone telling you what you should remember. Once a kid knows a library is hers to use as she wants, the world opens up.; I’ve seen it happen. It happened to me. -Bill Harley, Grammy-winning Singer, Songwriter, and Storyteller

School Librarian Day, National School Library Week, School Library Month; it is easy to get caught up with labels, titles, and spontaneous celebrations. However, do the above recognition days help define a school librarian's roles every day? It seems very easy to overlook the responsibilities of a school librarian. Luckily, first-hand accounts from school librarians in a comprehensive, geographic area help bring tasks into focus, which we have been able to use to represent the importance of school libraries for you.

Like sorting through countless holidays and celebrations that appear daily, weekly, and monthly, school librarians help others sort, organize, orient themselves, and create information.

Why are we telling you this? Here’s how librarians can take a diverse range of needs and provide solutions in various ways based on their experiences, as told by school librarians around the country. (What we do is more than offer flashy technology).

School Librarians Spark Creative Sustainability

We just completed an outreach program with our public library partnership. The librarians came in, and our students learned a bit about hedgehogs. We crafted hedgehogs made out of weeded books. It was a great experience and allowed our students to do an activity that was visual, auditory, and kinesthetic! -Cindy, North Carolina

School Librarians Plan and Report Data

I think during Covid, we were finally recognized as having some expertise. Once the curriculum people realize we can share resources, they would invite us to the planning meetings. We also promote our programs and try and share positive things happening in the district and build newsletters. -CK, Wisconsin

School Librarians Oversee Curriculum Collation and Sources Interpretation

One of the newest collaborative tasks I have worked on recently has been the Library of Congress Grant given to the social studies team district-wide. I was asked to help collate sources from the Library of Congress for curriculum-based lessons. I don’t think the administration and teachers know our expertise in this area. I was able to find sources more efficiently because I understood identifiers in the catalog that teachers are not trained to use. I collated forty-eight pages of modern history sources available digitally. In today’s digital world, it is assumed everything is available digitally. As librarians, we can educate our staff and students on all sources. We can help them navigate and differentiate between credible and inaccurate information. -Kim, Delaware

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School Librarians Foster Safe Spaces and Mentorship

Until recently, I have seen my role in high school as that of a mentor and provider of safe spaces. However, I have shifted my focus to change how our school and community view reading this year. Our test scores were not good, and the students needed to embrace reading. I plan to be the one to make this school one with a culture that reads. I have five years until retirement, and I have made drastic changes in the [library] environment to be welcoming. In hindsight, I realize that the environmental change and the relationships HAD to come first so that the students would trust me. Now, I have students who aren’t “readers” coming to give it a try again. They say they haven’t read since elementary school and are an accelerated reader. -Michelle, Georgia

School Librarians Are Community Connectors and Cultural Guides

My big goal has been to bring the library to life this year. I don’t want students to think it’s only a place for books. To that end, I’ve brought in interesting Chicagoans to bring our community and our city to the forefront at school. We have had visits from local authors, a snake expert, an architect, and a member of Blue Man Group. It gives kids a chance to see people living out the activities they read about in books and teaches them how to ask good questions and follow their curiosity. -Laura, Illinois

School Librarians Are Experts in Technology Liaising and Feng Shui Design

I have enhanced students’ ability to do research by teaching them about databases, how to critique what they find on the internet and discern if it’s true or not, and to help them vet sites on the internet to determine whether the information is reliable or not. I believe I am encouraging a love of reading (re-introducing them to books). At the high school level, they are so involved in other activities, like social media, sports, theatre, music, work, driving, etc. They let reading go. I introduced Sora (a student reading application of the Ebook provider, Overdrive) to school before the state started sponsoring it. My students could access books online via Sora and Overdrive during the pandemic and reached out to me for how to use them. I run book trailers on my TV in the library; I use social media to promote new books and my presence in the school. TikTok (a popular video-sharing application) is a favorite, and I think students view me differently because of it. My space is inviting and not restrictive. Students feel safe here. We have a single stall inclusive bathroom for students and a personal care cabinet with hygiene items for all students but primarily for our homeless and struggling population. Staff feels included in the library too. We have a coffee bar, kitchen, and copier here. -Debbie, Delaware

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How Does This All Connect?

Visually, how does this all connect and become represented visually? Check out Run Librarian, Run! from Nikki, a librarian from New Zealand who does just that. A former elementary librarian colleague with myself at the American School Foundation in Mexico City and supporting the InterBaccalaureate Program. Visually, Ms. Jayne captures the role a librarian fulfills daily outside the confines of what many do not realize about the librarian occupation. Now employed in New Jersey, Nikki finds there are no geographic borders to the skills school librarians perform daily.

In Conclusion 

Returning to the question, “what in the world would we do without our libraries?” so eloquently posed by actress Audrey Hepburn, we discover that based on the above insights, the answer to Ms. Hepburn’s inquiry resides in each of us. Answering and magnifying answers to this pertinent question are possible during May’s National Library Month. The responsibility of receiving and providing opportunities is up to us as lifelong learners and school librarians who define themselves as purveyors of technology, sifters of accurate information, and locksmiths of accredited professional communication. All you have to do is open the door.