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Mythbusters: School Libraries Edition

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Today’s school library is not your library of the past. You know the old stereotype: a librarian with metal-rimmed glasses shushes everyone in the library. The manila check-out cards with the stamped due date. But today’s library is so much more than a quiet place to read. School libraries can be bustling places that engage students -- providing more than just books. School libraries enable students to do research for school assignments; school libraries are launching pads for creative exploration of students’ interests.

There’s so much more to know about school libraries and how they aren’t your (or your mother’s) school library of yore. Let’s break down five school library myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1: Librarians just shop for books on Amazon.

If only it were that easy! More than a million books are published each year, yet a library is a finite space. Librarians develop collections, bring in new books, and remove older, outdated, or unused materials. Licensed school librarians have a master’s degree in library science. Librarians select books based on professional experience and criteria in alignment with their library’s collection development policy.

School librarians don’t just click on overnight delivery for the top 10 books on Amazon. Books are ordered after going through a specific selection process. Considerations include professional reviews, the needs of the school or community, interests of the readers, representation of multiple viewpoints, literary and artistic standards, format, and appropriateness for the age, emotional development, and abilities of students using the materials.

Myth #2: School librarians aren’t teachers.

To be a licensed school librarian requires a specific teaching license. Most school librarians come to work in the school library from the classroom. They are adept at using instructional strategies -- encouraging inquiry and literacy, while creating lesson plans that support the work of classroom teachers.

School librarians have expertise in a variety of topics. In addition to recommending good books tailored to students’ needs and interests, they teach students how to complete research using digital tools. They also provide instruction in media literacy, helping students understand how to navigate information effectively. Many school librarians are the go-to experts in the school regarding digital citizenship and the ethics of responsible use and creation of digital products.

Myth #3: School libraries are a luxury and aren’t necessary for good educational outcomes.

Studies show school librarians and student access to a well-equipped library have a positive impact on student performance on standardized tests and literacy rates.

Without libraries, students and teaching staff don’t have access to librarian-curated books, learning resources, and research materials. Wisconsin is the only state in our country with dedicated funding for library resources established in the Wisconsin Constitution. The Common School Fund ensures all students have access to robust school libraries. School librarians also offer programs and services not found in the classroom. Programs and services that promote literacy and lifelong learning such as makerspaces, book clubs, self-publishing areas, quiet reading corners, research studies, and more. Without school librarians, it all disappears.

Myth #4: Everyone who works in a school library is a librarian.

While a school has many amazing staff and volunteers, not all are librarians. Licensed school librarians hold a master’s degree in library science in addition to certification and an educator's license. Librarians have a unique skill set, developed through their education. Librarians manage the spaces and the budget, develop procedures, build community relationships, and lead the way for creating the most inclusive and useful resource areas possible.

Myth #5 School libraries are the same as public libraries.

Public libraries provide community access to a variety of resources from books to digital media, community events, and educational programs for library users of all ages. Whereas school libraries are part of educational institutions; their charge is to nurture students' intellectual curiosity, to support the educational mission of their school, and to equip students with the skills necessary to continue lifelong learning. School librarians coordinate with teachers to combine library resources into lesson plans, assist students with their research projects and homework assignments, and teach skills that enable students to navigate and evaluate our vast, information rich world effectively.

Think of an additional school or library myth we can bust? Let us know! Submit a suggestion here.