A School Librarian’s Purpose

I never thought I would be a school librarian. Since I was 5, I always wanted to be a teacher. I would play teacher with my stuffed animals, tutor my friends as we grew up, and convinced myself (and others) that was that. Not a principal, not a mom, not an architect, my dream was to be a teacher. Then, about 5 years into my teaching career, I started looking for something new in education, so I began taking library classes. And I was hooked. I thought teaching fit me perfectly – and some parts definitely do – but it didn’t stand a chance at how perfectly being a school librarian fit my personality, interests, and beliefs.

When I became a librarian, it was an interesting shift from being a teacher. New responsibilities, other things I didn’t have to do anymore – like parent meetings, progress reports, and grading over the weekend – and I needed a new focus. A purpose. In order to be who I wanted to be for my new students and staff, I had to figure out my purpose as a librarian.

We already explored the idea of figuring out your library’s purpose last year. Similarly, we really need to process the question, “What is my purpose as a school librarian?” and how it aligns with building community in your school. This should be something deep, something that can guide you when faced with choices, a difficult decision, or how to determine which professional development is best for you this year. It could be a sentence or a paragraph, but probably no more than that. Consider this image, created by multivariablesolutions.net: 

purpose-studio-insights-by-michael-david-sturlin

Source: http://www.multivariablesolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/purpose-Studio-Insights-by-Michael-David-Sturlin.jpg

One of my purposes as a librarian is to build community by making connections and helping kids and staff learn and grow. That learning might be about figuring out the best way to edit videos or redesign a cardboard structure in our makerspace, pointing them in the right direction when they are looking for resources on a particular topic, or teaching their class about how to determine what’s credible online and what’s not. Helping kids grow might look like introducing them to a new author, or listening to them about a problem they are having and giving advice, or helping them to think deeper about why an author may have included a scene they may not have been comfortable with. 

What’s the connecting part, though? As a librarian, I love connecting the learning and skills students are acquiring in multiple classes – whether that is helping students see those connections in passing, by informing staff what skills students have learned in other content areas, or connecting students with other readers who like the same genres they do. I love making the connections between library and content area standards; many teachers don’t know by osmosis that libraries and librarians have standards, too, and they intersect in so many ways (stay tuned for a series later this year about this topic!). Finally, I love helping to build my community of staff by connecting those who are all reading the same book – but don’t know that their colleagues are, too! (true story: many of my staff were reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and had no idea anyone else was!)

Making connections is what I do as a librarian. Since I work with the whole school, who else is going to notice how skills, lessons, and units connect with each other, with technology, and with the library? Being proactive about making these connections among content areas and students helps make the school community closer and more efficient as learners and as people.

In short, I love being a librarian. My kids and staff need and deserve a thriving, stimulating library environment in order to be their best. And I know we don’t necessarily like to “toot our horn” about ourselves as librarians, but I see the impact I make in my school – and I know I’m great at my job. Whether being a librarian means selecting books for students and staff to expand their horizons or enhance their learning, conducting professional development for staff in order to help kids learn better or connect new resources with lessons they have already developed, or being the non-biased adult a student needs in a particular moment, I believe I have truly found my purpose – not only in my school, but in life – as a school librarian.

This upcoming school year will be a big adventure for my school and the library – we are in the throes of renovation and our library is moving its physical location in the school. My co-librarian and I also get to have input into the new library! All kinds of change. Knowing my purpose as a school librarian is to help kids and staff learn and grow – in whatever way that may be – will help me navigate those tough decisions, those times when I don’t know what to say, do, or prioritize.

So, what’s your purpose as a school librarian? What’s going to guide you, advocate for you, and focus you? Only you know! And if you don’t know, ask your staff and kids. It might be interesting (fair warning: and perhaps disheartening) to hear what they have to say about your impact on their school and their lives.

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