Thanks in part to the generosity of NHSLMA, I was able to take a course on reference resource collection for schools. I have come away from this course with many new, or deeper, understandings. I have a much clearer understanding of what constitutes reference materials and had my first exposure to databases. Before taking this course, I had no idea what separated reference from non-fiction. Now I understand that reference materials contain a broad spectrum of information in quick, easily accessible segments that serve as a jumping-off point for further research. I also understand that reference materials extend beyond print collections into “materials that provide access to ideas, learning and stories in non-traditional ways” including “access to a collection of ‘things’ or ‘experts’” (Donham & Sims, p. 101).
I also have a broader vision of the librarian’s role, including our “primary goal [which] is to help students become effective users of information” (Donham & Sims, p. 3). In particular, this course has helped me view the librarian as an advocate, a provider of equity, a collaborator, a curriculum expert and a leader.
For elementary students, library time can be highly regimented; many elementary schools only permit students in the library during their weekly library class. At secondary schools, flexible library time can be hard for students to find. As a future school librarian, I can advocate for students to have more time in the library (Donham & Sims, p. 16). I can also advocate for different types of learners by pushing for “various forms of presentation” of student learning (Donham & Sims, p. 185). Finally, I can advocate for the varied learning needs of my students by encouraging a move to constructivist and inquiry-based learning, which I’ll discuss more later.
As a school librarian, I can help provide equity for my students in several ways, such as by “meeting the needs of exceptional learners that might not be able to be met in the classroom” (Donham & Sims, p. 3) and by helping to bridge the technology gap of economically disadvantaged students (Donham & Sims, p. 6). One aspect of a “future ready school” is that “all students have equitable access to qualified librarians, digital tools, resources and books” (Alliance for Excellent Education, p. 1). In addition, AASL considers it the job of a school librarian to “champion equity [and] access” (AASL 2018, 111).
My goal as a school librarian is to help students succeed, and student success depends on “students, parents and teachers… working together toward shared goals” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2017, para. 4). This means that collaboration between classroom teachers and librarians is essential, because “if the library program remains isolated from the learning events of the classroom, it has little potential to contribute to the learning experiences of students” (Donham & Sims, p. 83).
Collaboration makes it necessary that I, as a librarian, become an expert on my school’s population as well as curriculum (Donham & Sims, p. 111). I like the idea of “curriculum mapping” (Donham & Sims, p. 28) so that I can get a big picture of the areas in which collaboration with teachers would be most effective. I need to be able to show teachers how collaborating with me can benefit them and their students. I particularly resonated with the idea that a school librarian can promote constructivism and inquiry-based learning through offering collaboration and bringing professional development to teacher; since “that engagement in inquiry creates the need for information that brings students to the library,” I should “make explicit… this connection between inquiry in the library and the constructivist classroom” (Donham & Sims, p. 23).
All these concepts convened to show me that, as a future school librarian, I will need to become a leader in my school. AASL argues that a school librarian should be an “instructional leader” who “contributes to curricular decisions and facilitates professional learning” (AASL, 2018, p. 2). I will make an effort to connect and build a rapport with teachers, educate myself on the school curriculum and standards, and show initiative in finding ways I can support educators and students. For example, one realistic goal would be to pick just a couple of research projects that I can collaborate with teachers on over the course of the year, helping the teachers tweak or design them to be more constructivist. Then the next year, I can pick a couple of different ones, and over time develop a set of collaborative projects that we repeat. I can also seek opportunities to teach students information literacy and help teachers, such as during a professional development session, to hone how they teach students to use websites and databases to be more efficient and responsible.
My goals at the beginning of the course were: 1. “To learn how to evaluate websites as reliable or unreliable sources of information,” and 2. “To come out with a clear understanding of what differentiates reference books from non-fiction, how to locate and evaluate quality reference materials (print or non-print), and what sorts of reference materials create a well-rounded school library.” I have definitely met my goals. When reading news or information online, I now try to access information about the veritability of the source to begin with, and often find it frustrating now that I realize how little information about authors is often available on websites. In addition, I have a much better grasp of what materials and subjects should be included in an well-rounded reference collection, so if I need to purchase materials or update a collection when I get hired, I am well prepared. I am grateful for the knowledge and experience this course has given me.
Alliance for Excellent Education. (2016). Future ready librarians factsheet. Future Ready Schools.https://futureready.org/thenetwork/strands/future-ready-librarians/
American Association of School Librarians. (2018). Definition of an Effective School Library. American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements.
American Association of School Librarians. (2018). Instructional Role of the School Librarian. American Association of School Librarians. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements.
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2017). English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Informational Text » Grade 5. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RI/5/
Donham, J., & Sims, C. (2020). Enhancing Teaching and Learning: A leadership guide for school librarians. ALA Neal-Schuman.