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I know we need a school librarian, but I can't remember why...

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

Advocacy for school librarians

I often write about advocacy for school librarians and the need for us to constantly tell school leaders about the benefits of working with or employing qualified school librarians. I regularly wonder why many school leaders do not know about the positive impact of employing a school librarian especially when there have been numerous studies showing their impact in raising academic standards in schools.

Only the other day I was delighted to find another study written by Lance and Kachel again emphasising the importance of qualified librarians in schools highlighting that,

"When schools have high-quality library programs and librarians who share their expertise with the entire school community, student achievement gets a boost" (2018).

The article by Lance and Kachel talks about several studies showing the rise in academic attainment has nothing to do with schools being in well paid affluent areas or private schools that can afford good school libraries, but that simply any school employing a qualified librarian sees an improvement. If this is the case why do schools not employ librarians or worse why do those that have librarians not see them as an asset? Lance and Kachel highlight the position that I believe most schools find themselves in.

"Unfortunately, school leaders seldom recognize librarians as essential technology leaders, and often they perpetuate stereotypical views of the librarian as the “keeper of books” "(Johnston, 2015; Lewis, 2016)

When budgets are tight this is a significant problem if senior leaders do not understand the role of the qualified school librarian. It makes it so much easier to ignore the evidence in defence of having to find savings somewhere. This is why it is important for school librarians to talk to senior leaders about their role and help them understand what they are losing by removing or not employing a qualified librarian.

A qualified school librarian is someone who can:-

  • collaboratively plan with teachers

  • co-teach digital and information literacy in the classroom

  • Provide professional development for teachers

  • facilitate the use of technology by teachers and students

  • provide reading incentive programmes for students

  • Serve on key leadership committees

(Lance, Kachel 2018)

School library staff working together

I do feel that I have to qualify this arguement as I know there are many people working in school libraries who are not qualified feel hurt that I keep going on about the need for qualified librarians. If a school is employing a non-qualified librarian to run a library they're expecting someone to run the library, i.e. check the books out, keep the library tidy and look after the reading scheme etc. all of which are essential but some of these staff are doing so much more than this too. I am definitely saying that if you are employed as a non-qualified 'school librarian' on a low wage and you are doing the job of a qualified librarian that this is not fair.

I am not saying that it is not possible for anyone to learn the job of a professional librarian, just as it is also possible for anyone to learn anything if they have done it long enough. We could all be teachers, accountants and lawyers for example but I know that if I knew my children's teachers were not qualified or that my lawyer had learnt the job as they went along I would be concerned and rightly so.

The problem is that it is possible to work in a school library without a qualification and we call that person the school librarian just as anyone who works in a library is called a librarian. The more non-qualified school library staff we have the more watered down our profession becomes. Who is going to teach, mentor or support these 'school librarians' and teach them what is expected of a professional librarian? If the school and senior leaders do not know what a qualified school librarian does how is someone who has taken on the role of a 'school librarian' supposed to work it out. If they are motivated and driven, they will do lots of reading and research and find out what the best school librarians are doing and they will do so much more than they are being paid for. I am delighted that there is now the opportunity via CILIP for those staff who have gone over and above to now Charter to acquire a professional qualification but this, wrongly, still does not lead to qualified pay in schools. Others, quite rightly are not bad at their jobs, they are are perfectly happy to do the job they are paid for but these staff are also understood by schools to be 'school librarians'.

This problem is not going to go away until school leaders understand the difference between qualified and non-qualified school librarians or until non-qualified school librarians start saying that it is not right that they are expected to do so much without the recognised training or pay. This is why the need for advocacy from those of us who are qualified is essential. We need to share any new research such as the Lance and Kachel report to help senior school staff understand what they need from a school librarian. We need to support our non-qualified low paid staff to stand up and say that this is wrong. We as qualified staff need to be brave and talk to our senior leaders and help them understand the expertise they get from qualified librarians, if we don't then no-one else will.

Where will it end?

Whilst writing this I came across a humours twitter post by Sarah Pavey @Sarahinthelib showing the decline in professionalism of school librarian jobs since 2008. The following chart shows perfectly the lack of understanding of the professional role of the school librarian. Whist we may laugh at the future column but how far away are many of our schools to having no school library at all and is it not time we actually did something about it.

Finally, one last reminder from Lance and Kachel why we need to fight for our profession and for our students right for quality school library services

"Fully integrated library programs with certified librarians can boost student achievement and cultivate a collaborative spirit within schools"

Let's do this!


Lance, & Kachel. (2018). Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us. Retrieved April 1, 2018, from Phi Delta Kappan:

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

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