Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about the instructional role of librarians — so much that I plan to do two posts on the topic. Here’s part 1.
Belated kudos to Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian, for her June 12 posting , “Dear FCC and ALA: Do You Really Not Get It?” (See
In response to a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to establish a “Digital Literacy Corps”, Buffy (and several commenters) point out that such a corps already exists: in the form of school and public librarians who, embedded in the classrooms and communities, teach digital and information literacy skills. Indeed, why does such a corps need to be invented, when it already exists?
I agree wholeheartedly with Buffy and the commenters that this is exactly what public and school librarians need to be doing. However, she and several of those who commented mention what, in my opinion, is the key problem: not enough school and public librarians really are engaging with the community and teaching these essential skills. Too many are content to perpetuate an outdated model of librarianship that enables them to sit tight in their libraries … for now.
The research I did for my book, The Embedded Librarian, confirms this view. Despite the efforts of innovative professionals, and the codification of new ideas in the publication Information Power and other sources, a study done for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in 2008 reported that most school librarians did not have well-developed collaborative relationships with classroom teachers. (R. Todd, School Library Monthly, v. 24 no. 7, p. 54-58.)
So we are in a Catch-22 situation right now. There are effective school and public librarians who are reaching out, forming partnerships, and addressing acute community problems like the creation of essential 21st-century knowledge. I consider them embedded librarians: they focus on relationships, understand the domain and context of their work, share responsibility for achieving common goals, and bring outstanding librarianship skills to bear. However, their efforts are undermined by traditional librarians and their enablers who see the librarian as a custodian of books. As long as they give credence to the old stereotypes of the librarian, people like those in the FCC will think they have to create new corps of professionals to do what some librarians are already, and all should be, doing.
What to do? Among other things, redouble our efforts to move the center of gravity in the profession to a new, connected, active, embedded model. For starters, maybe the FCC could give the money for that Digital Literacy Corps to the IMLS for a program to really create a corps of embedded public and school librarians!
… Well, it’s a thought …