Updated: Mar 22
Over the last few years, we have seen the numbers of schools employing a professionally qualified school librarian diminish. There is regular chatter online when a new school librarian job is posted and it's usually focused on the very poor salary that accompanies it. Schools are finding that they can't fill these roles and the cynic in me thinks that perhaps schools can at least say they tried. But what if schools really don't know what they need beyond someone to issue and return books? Whose responsibility is it to correct this misunderstanding and what are school librarians doing about this?
Imagine that a school librarians job was advertised at a school that you really wanted to work at. Would you be willing to apply whatever the salary or would you feel confident enough in your own expertise to contact the school to talk about what the school would be getting by employing a professional librarian and what that means as far as a professional salary is concerned?
I fear that not many school librarians would be willing to have this conversation even within the school they are currently in, never mind in a new role, but if they don't nothing will ever change. Many professional people regularly ask for a pay rise and school librarians are no different. If you don't ask you don't get, as they say, and maybe it is time to realise this. Do school librarians believe enough in their own expertise to ask for more and are they able to articulate why? Why should teachers be paid a full year when school librarians only get term time only? Professional school librarians are more than administrators of their library stock so how do they go about affecting change?
Understand your own worth
This change starts with the school librarian and whether they like it or not it does come from their own professional development and journey. This is not a 'qualified or unqualified' discussion, this is about understanding what the role of the professional school librarian is. Ask yourself this. Can you explain to me right now, what your role should be as a professional school librarian if you didn't have to deal with all the barriers in place?
I would hope that you would be able to explain some of it but now look at the IFLA School Library Guidelines and read Chapter 5. How much of this are you doing or did you know you could/should be doing? Remember knowledge is power and this document based on 60 years of research is the perfect starting point. If you can talk about the opportunities you can bring to your students because of your expertise you will not only begin to feel empowered but you will be perceived differently. Are you someone who works in the library or are you an expert with skills that your students and teachers need? If you don't believe this why would they?
Next, you need to find support, you won't be surprised to hear me talk about The FOSIL Group. This group of Librarians, Teachers and Academics are all willing to give their expertise and knowledge to you if you are prepared to reach out. FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) not only gives you another tool that can support your expertise but also a group of people who are willing to support you using it. However, you can't become an expert in using these tools without learning about them yourself. Barbara Stripling makes this very same point in a current discussion on the forum about Empowering Students to Inquire in a Digital Environment "I have learned the most about the skills I need to teach students by engaging in inquiry as a learner myself and reflecting on the process".
To become a real expert takes time and it truly does not matter, at this point, if you are qualified or not, what does matter is your understanding of your own role and your place within your school and the curriculum. Good quality professional development starts with you and along with that comes the ability to talk about and explain why you are worth more.
Update - If you are ready to find out more about the IFLA School Library Guidelines and FOSIL I am running a small group training morning on the 8th April where I will be explaining both tools more fully. Find out more here