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School Librarians - A reflection: Can we really be all things to everyone?

Coffee at the top of Mount John, New Zealand

I have just been on holiday for 4 weeks visiting mainly New Zealand but also popping into Australia and Singapore. I tried really hard to stay away from work emails and social media and I did ok. But why do I feel the need to keep checking in? Is it because I don't believe my team can do without me? I don't think so! Is it because I felt guilty for taking a whole month off? Possibly, but I still can't let go when I only have 2 weeks off so it can't be that either. Sad to say on reflection, I think it is because if I get an email from a teacher asking for something, if I don't respond it is a missed opportunity. They generally wont follow it up with the out of office referral suggestion and therefore it is a ball dropped and an opportunity missed.

Why does this matter? I have worked really hard to get my teachers to know and understand what I do and sad to say that it only takes one missed email and I have to start all over again reminding them that I am here to help. This is the same when a teacher leaves you have to start all over again with the next one.

I follow many great school librarians on twitter but recently saw the following tweet from Emma Suffield who is the current School Librarian of the Year and it made a connection with the way I felt whilst I was away. How can we possibly do it all?

I recently shared a blog post from the Australian School Library Association that talked about everything that school librarians can do called What is a Teacher Librarian? and I don't personally think that this is a complete list either. I myself have written blog posts like this and each time I see a new list it has something else that I have not thought about or am not doing so are we putting pressure on ourselves?

Even though I am part of a brilliant team we all have our own schools, our own timetables and our own school demands, this last one is the most significant. Each school is individual, each school expects or wants/needs something different from each of our librarians and each librarian has a different skill set.

  • Some are great at promoting literacy

  • Some are great at advocacy

  • Some are fantastic with technology

  • Some are great teachers

  • Some are brilliant leaders

  • Some are great at running book clubs and creating book displays

  • Some are quiet, some are not.

What I am trying to say is that like everyone else in the world, school librarians have their own individual areas of expertise and that is ok. Just like any other profession our own personalities will come into it but it should not just stop there.

No other profession, that I know of, has this same problem. 'What do school librarians do?" We are very lucky that we can, on the whole, create the job we want in each school. This is because very few schools really understand our role but this can be a curse as well as a perfect situation for some of us. It works if you are a leader, someone who knows what your role is, someone who is willing to fight your own corner. This can also be frustrating if you know you can do more but can't get the school to understand how to support you. It also does not work if you are the kind of person who is very happy to do what is asked of you but finds it difficult to push forward.

This is why I believe we as school librarians need to come together to support the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign. If we can get an understanding between us about what our role entails we then have a way to move forward. We will have something that we can share with our schools to say that this is what they should be expecting of our school librarians. If this list is not too broad we can then still tailor our jobs to our individual schools. If we spread ourselves too thinly we will end up doing lots of things badly and we would be far better to do fewer things well.

To find out more about this campaign take a look at their website.

Having said all of this I did have a wonderful holiday! I saw and did lots of amazing things and you know what? The Schools' Library Service is still here and teachers are still wanting to work with me... It's all good. I just need a shorter list!


Australian School Library Association . (2019). What is a Teacher Librarian? Retrieved March 5, 2019, from ASLA:

1,166 views5 comments


Unknown member
Mar 31, 2019

Thanks for commenting Beyond Books Media! Yes I feel that there is a wind of change. School libraries are important for our children and this is what the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign is all about. Putting book and great research skills into the hands of our children and helping them to make the future better for themselves.


Unknown member
Mar 31, 2019

Excellent points well made and I visit hundreds of schools, some don't even have a librarian or library, that scares me the most. My friend Cathy Cassidy said the same at a conference yesterday. Keep posting and sharing the # it's worth it, eventually with a consensus things could just happen.


Unknown member
Mar 11, 2019

I think you are right Elizabeth - together we can do much. Not just in terms of advocacy but also drawing upon other's strengths and expertise.

We have the training, we see the potential, we see lost opportunity, we see the future, we have the skills.... this might be true of many professions but as librarians we are uniquely placed. We are far enough to see the forest and close enough to make a difference to every little tree that we come across.

I think our constant need to prove our relevance leads us to "be all things to everyone". I look forward to the day when we no longer have to do justify our existence because then we can…


Unknown member
Mar 05, 2019

It's a small world! I had a fabulous holiday, thank you Manja! It was the perfect spot to reflect on all things school libraries and lots more :) You live in a very beautiful place...


Unknown member
Mar 05, 2019

Ha ha, classic. I had just been thinking as a new librarian, that so many folk I follow are from overseas - but often echo similar issues. Then I saw your tweet and recognised Mt John in my home country and had to do a second take. Wait what!? That's NZ! And one of my fav spots! Hope you had a great break.

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