Quick, which is better: Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress? If you answered "Whaaaa?" or "Could not possibly care less," you are probably not cut out to become a school librarian. If, on the other hand, you responded, "Jeez, I don't know, there are so many compelling arguments for each," read on.
For many students, the school library is the best room in the school, and not just because it's the only one that's air-conditioned. From first grade through high school, the school library is the place where students can escape the persistent peer pressure, the bullying, the stress of trying to outperform their classmates, and the whizzing dodgeballs. They can disappear into a book, or a podcast, or an educational website, and learn—or not learn, if they choose—for the mere pleasure of it.
Impact studies demonstrate that well-staffed, well-equipped school libraries "contribute significantly to gains in student learning." The quality of a school library, the size of a library's budget, the size and currency of a school library's collection, and the frequency of student visits to the library all correlate to higher test scores on state, national, and international reading exams. Libraries, like the words they contain, have consequences.
As a school librarian, this repository of sanctuary and wisdom is your domain, your stately pleasure dome. Take that, Kubla Khan. Interested in learning how to take your place behind the checkout desk? In this article, we'll cover:
Once upon a time, the school library was a place for books. Fancy ones had magazines too, but that was about it because that's what people read: books and magazines. (They also read comic books, but most libraries didn't have them because they weren't called graphic novels yet.)
The modern librarian needs to master a much broader range of media. In addition to print materials, a contemporary school library also houses audiovisual resources (CDs, computer games, audiobooks, DVDs, and Blu-rays) and online resources (both subscription-based and those that can be accessed for free over the internet, databases). Librarians need to know all these resources well enough to assist teachers and students in using them effectively and efficiently.
School librarians do a lot more than check out books and teach people how to use resources. Their many responsibilities include:
At the elementary school level, they also read to the kids.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elementary and secondary school librarians earn an average annual income of $63,720. Glassdoor reports that school librarians earn a base salary of $51,024, while PayScale.com estimates annual income for school librarians at $50,113. According to the Library Journal, school libraries in the Pacific region pay the highest (22 percent above the national median) while school libraries in the South Central states paid the least (26 percent below the national median).
The term "school librarian" is typically applied to librarians who work in elementary or secondary school libraries. Although librarians at colleges and universities are also technically "school librarians," no one calls them that. They're just librarians.
School librarians can work in the public school system or for a private school. Although no data are available comparing public and private school library income, as a general rule, private schools do not pay as well as public schools. This is undoubtedly true for teachers and almost as undoubtedly true for librarians.
As in all hiring matters related to public education, professional requirements for school libraries are set by the individual states. Necessary qualifications for the school librarian position accordingly vary from state to state.
There are some constants, however. To be considered for a job as a public school librarian, you will need, at a bare minimum, a bachelor's degree. School systems that hire librarians whose highest degree is a bachelor's typically expect, or require, a degree in library science, library and information technology, information technology, or another related discipline.
Many school systems, however, require school librarians to hold a master's degree, and most of those require that the master's come from a program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA), the American Association of School Librarians-Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (AASL-CAEP), or by the appropriate state department of education. These degrees carry a variety of designations, including:
While the names of these programs vary, their content is similar. In all of these programs, you will study:
Many ALA-accredited programs offer this degree online, so you are not limited to local options, nor do you need to relocate to pursue this degree. 100 percent online library science programs offering a school library concentration include:
There is no official certification for school librarians. In most states, the primary requirement to qualify for a job as a school librarian is graduation from an appropriate accredited master's program. You may also need to obtain a teacher's license; according to the ALA, "many states first require certification or licensure as a teacher in another subject area before the librarian certification can be obtained."
Teaching licensure requirements vary by state, but typically include:
School libraries typically do not hire a large staff, so there isn't much in the way of hierarchy or advancement at most school libraries. You might start working in a school library as a page or assistant, in which role you would reshelve books and answer basic questions from students. Some school libraries hire a media specialist with expertise in digital media; this expert might also be responsible for managing the school's Internet and internal network.
The one way up the ladder is to advance to the district or state level. This would put you in a management role, in which you would oversee all the libraries and supervise all the librarians in a district or state. You would receive a pay raise in this role; you would also no longer work in an actual library, as your office would likely be at the district Board of Education office or in a state government office. If you aspire to this sort of job, you should focus your efforts on budgeting and personnel management, and on impressing supervisors with how well you handle these tasks.
Hermione Granger, of Harry Potter fame, has a default solution to all her toughest challenges: "When in doubt, go to the library." Are you like Hermione? Do you believe that the answers to most problems can be found on bookshelves? If so, a career as a school librarian is probably a good fit. You'll spend your days surrounded by the resources you love and encouraging others to love them as much as you do. You'll help faculty and students enhance their school experience, and while you won't get rich, you will make a decent living. If all that sounds good to you, then school librarian is a career you ought to check out.
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