On December 28th, 2020, this question was posed in the Future Ready Librarians forum on Facebook:
“I’ve see a lot of various comments that have had me thinking and was wondering where people stand on these questions—1. How important do you think certification for a school librarian is?2. What did you learn in your certification program that you wouldn’t necessarily know if you didn’t get certified? My answer is in the comments.”
As some of you may or many not know, the struggle for validating a licensed school librarian, as well as justifying the reason for a licensed school librarian is real in the U.S. today. Not so in American Schools Abroad, they get it. A very small minority of schools are able to support and understand the power of a licensed, librarian, better equipped as a Library Media Specialist.
Disclaimer – I have a ton of friends who are para professionals in libraries – definitely they fill a need when there is no regard for a librarian at all in a district, but the grueling and difficulty of the MSLIS is REAL, and should be a definite requirement, as well as every school requiring a licensed Librarian in their institution to best support their students, as well as offering steps for individuals to obtain that licensing. From experience, the licensed librarian supports the school both in and out of school both on and off the clock, and the licensing program is the best tool to create that need.
See below for some amazing feedback and comments from individuals in the field – advocating and answering these above questions.
For the first question I think it’s very important. If it is required for other pedagogy then it should be required for school librarians. I firmly believe that school librarians teach a special set of skills as well as need a special set of skills to run an effective library program.
The second question I learned collection development is a special skill that takes time and research. It can not be done Willy Nilly if we want to have a diverse collection of materials our patrons will use.
The hardest class I had in my M.Ed. library science program was collection development. There is so much more to it than people realize.
It’s not just buying books. So much behind the scenes work involved. I teach this class now and it’s all about what your patrons want AND need. I tell students not to rely on vendors because honestly they are in it to make money.
Certification and degreed librarians, full time, with a full-time parapro to help with clerical tasks, should be the minimum.
Certification courses and my degree coursework helped me with lesson planning and collaboration. I needed a refresher course for middle school psych as well as my middle school methods course, which helped for those times that I needed to be an advisory teacher as well as being librarian.
Organization of materials taught me the basics of cataloging and materials description, as well as classification and materials organization. I know when to keep the suggested Dewey number and when to use a different one. I know why to follow “the rules” and when and how to break them.
My reference and kidlit and YA lit classes made sure I knew the history of both types of lit, as well as past trends and current trends and authors that might be in a library. I had a tech and marketing and media course that showed me the basics of promoting my library as well as how to do basic video editing and Publisher tips for posters and brochures. We had to spend 10,000 or maybe 25,000 on tech and media supplies, before makerspaces and greenscreens and 3D printers were things! I rounded things out with HTML and web design courses, so I know how to fix the code on the website or even within Schoology posts if I want to make it *exactly* right.
My state renewal of my certificate also *requires* continuing education hours related to my certification and my job duties. I have taken modules in Schoology to better understand and use it (our online platform). I have taken many courses in kid and YA lit, with an emphasis on *all* kinds of diversity including sexuality, gender expression, disability, religion, and economic status, not just “middle class but with a different skin color” or “Holocaust” or “slavery / Civil War” books. I know the benefits of hi-low titles and how they’re different from titles for reluctant-but-on-level readers. I know why AR and Lexile levels are NOT how books should be marked or shelved, but why that info is useful to have in catalogs.
I know Destiny very, very well.
I know how and when and why to weed, and how and when and why to market some titles instead, and how and when and why to buy a new edition of the same title with a new cover.
To get my certificate, I had to pass a test that asked me to consider when and why I might buy hardcover, library bound, rebound, or paperback titles for students. I was always asked what should be done to benefit students first, teachers second, and others after that.
And boy howdy, I learned how to create a local collection development and reconsideration process that works with our local but generic board policy for grievance / complaint / reconsideration of materials.
I think the only thing I haven’t gotten formal or continuing education on was how to run a library and book fair from the financial point of view… purchase orders vs purchasing card vs reimbursement accounts! Grant writing and documentation of grant activities! Balancing your LMC “checkbook” for 3 to 5 types of accounts (annual district books, annual district supplies, annual district periodicals, ongoing book fair / fines account, annual district state grant account, small occasional grant account), all of which had different pros and cons and purchasing requirements and send-invoice-to-this-person requirements etc. And that balanced with vendors that have free shipping and free replacement or exchange, versus those who have faster shipping and bigger discounts but who charge smaller shipping fees unless you need to ship something back to them. But some of that is difficult to put into a course or seminar!
Good question, I’ve thought about this a lot.
1)I think that certification is very important. I think it helps to legitimize our profession – just like any other (teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc.) However, I understand this comes with limitations and a great deal of privilege. I started my teaching career in Virginia where are no MLIS programs. My options were to go online (very $$$) or move to another state (also very $$$). I was fortunate to be able to be unmarried, childless, young, and flexible and I moved to go to school full time with a tuition waiver. I think in a lot of situations, experience can replace the degree, but I do not think that experience as an ELA teacher alone is comparable to a librarian. Just as we should not be the “gatekeepers” of information, I don’t believe this profession needs to be limited to those who can pay for the degree. I believe that there could and should be some financial assistance programs.
2) I went to a very traditional MSLIS program where ethics and the Library Bill of Rights were drilled in. These were key in the foundation and theory of a library program that I did not know or understand as a classroom teacher. However, the best classes I took were those by current or former librarians that gave me real-world applications: writing a response to a book challenge, creating a collection development policy, putting together a materials selection proposal, creating a budget. I do find myself giving gentle reminders to my ELA teachers about confidentiality and censorship, so those stand out as key points I’ve learned. I also made a network of professional librarians from my library program that I can talk to on a regular basis about library-related matters.
I would like to add that, given how administrators don’t always understand the value a school librarian adds, it’s easy for them to believe that having a parapro in a library isn’t any different than having a certified school librarian. While it might be possible to learn how to do many library-related tasks well with experience over time, I think that certification helps us and the school district uphold basic standards for what a school library is and does. Letting districts call anyone working in a library without any particular credential a “librarian” lets them off the hook, IMHO. School libraries serve a function in terms of elevating literacy and achievement, and if we recognize their full purpose, the need for a trained professional is a given.
I second those above who have said that collection development was important. Where to look to find new books and how to determine their appropriateness, and how to adhere to a collection development policy that anticipates book challenges, etc. — there is a lot of value in all of that.
School librarians are specialists in pedagogy and librarianship. One without the other is completely different job. If you do not want to be a teacher then become a librarian at a public library. If you are a teacher and do not want to get your certification then go back to the classroom.
I think a teaching credential is critical, as we are teaching students how to find, process, and evaluate information. However, I taught English for over a dozen years before moving into the library, and there is so much about librarianship that I did not know before getting my library endorsement. Collection development and collection management — skilled weeding as well as building a diverse and engaging collection; I learned more about media literacy than I did for my initial teaching license; I learned more about dealing with censorship and book challenges; I learned more about literacy challenges K-12. There is so much more to a quality library program than just about anyone outside of a library is aware of. I also completely agree that a team is necessary — I could not do a fraction of what I am able to if our library assistant were not there doing all of the important work that she is also doing.
I have a masters degree. I think it’s very important to at least of a certificate. I can’t even go in to what I learned, I was in school for over two years earning my masters in library science after a degree in elementary Ed.
The amount of leadership classes is what I think sets it apart, the amount of administrative work that is always behind the scenes… I can go on
Even with many years of library experience at the university level(not certified/MLS) and a teaching degree, I felt it was important to get certified for school libraries. It is a professional occupation/Career.
You will never wish you did not get the certification. In other words just do it! It’s challenging, but so worth it.
There may be scholarships through library organizations.
Very important. It’s one of those jobs that people think it deceptively simple. But it’s a profession, not a hobby. You learn the history of the profession and ethics. Collection development for different types of libraries. How information is organized in databases. How to ensure information is made available equitably. The tech side of the profession, such as cataloging, and different theories about that, again for ensuring equity and diversity. And especially for school librarians, how to integrate a school library into a curriculum, particularly if you were not previously a teacher. I think the only way to ensure the profession’s future is to value the professional training. It exists for a reason.
*Food for thought——-I’ve given this one a lot of thought. I do think the education/certification piece is important but I also am not thrilled with how incredibly difficult it is in some places to even be considered “qualified” and enter into the profession. I personally started out in the library side of things rather than education and I deal with so much discouragement from teacher librarians telling me I should just do something else and I’m wasting my time even though I am passionate about school libraries. I get a lot of flack because I’m getting an alternative credential and i’m made to feel like I’m cheating my way through even though I’m just trying to have a solid TL job before I’m 30 because I’ve worked in a library for 10 years and make $20 grand as a library paraprofessional I’m now in my 3rd year of schooling (masters and teaching credential programs simultaneously) with 1-2 years left to even be invited to take the entrance exam for a local school district. There’s a lot of elitism that I’ve experienced with little guidance for people entering the field (other than just “be a classroom teacher and hope a position opens up for you”)
*-And A supportive response to the above:——I’m sorry but people should not discredit you just because you didn’t have a teaching career before transitioning to the library. I had no education training or experience before going for my MLS and becoming a certified library media specialist. I studied English in my undergrad and people would always ask if I was going to be a teacher, I said hell no lol. I come from a corporate career before transitioning to librarianship and I’m never looking back! The library is where I’m supposed to be…and in my personal experience (not saying this applies to everyone, just some of those I’ve met or worked with), a lot of those who came from the classroom, while they may be better at lesson planning and curriculum and teaching, they are not always good at the “behind the scenes” library stuff. This is also why the MLS is important. Librarians wear many hats and particularly in schools, they do so many things and most often without help (i.e. a paraprofessional or clerk)… If you want to be a school librarian, do it! Sometimes it’s hard, waiting for someone to take a chance on you, but it’ll happen. have faith and be open to any potential positions. Don’t limit yourself. When I was first looking, I applied to any and every school librarian position within 100 miles of where I lived. I got a lot of interviews and while I ran into the “you don’t have enough experience” wall a lot, I eventually got two offers and then had to make a choice and I’m so happy where I’ve ended up.
Very important! As per what many have already said, it’s a highly specialized area and if others in education need a certification, why not also school librarians? We have a hard enough time getting recognition for what we do, I think it’s important to be able to say “hey I have my masters and am State certified, this is my area of expertise.” It’s not right to just call any body in a library a librarian, when so many of us have worked hard for our degrees/certifications. It takes away our value if you can just call anyone a librarian. I was a loyal library user my entire life but there’s so much that goes into being a librarian and maintaining a library that you wouldn’t know without proper training or experience.
Of course there are certain things you can learn on the job over time and under the guidance of other librarians, but there’s specifics you wouldn’t know without going through a program. I think it depends on the program too, I am fortunate that where I went for my MLS, Queens College, has always been accredited by the ALA and is a rigorous program taught by librarians in the field who offer real-world assignments. I have used so many of the things I did for school in my actual job.
I was working in a public library as a librarian trainee while going for my Library Media Specialist certification, and while some things are the same, a lot is different (between public and school libraries). I think the mandatory observation hours and student teaching hours for my state made a difference too.
This is a great discussion and full wonderful reminders.
I’ve been reassigned to teach digital students this year. As I sit in my office, I can hear the parapros that have taken over circulation/shelving responsibilities. As incredible as they are, there are so many interactions that make me cringe – “This book is WAY too easy for you… Why do you always get this book…you’re just getting this because of the bad word…”
YES. There IS a need for certified MS in every school!
In my opinion school library positions should require the person to have the MSLIS & certificate. This is no slight to ppl doing the job without those credentials, I’m sure many do a very good job and try their best. But the job is a teaching position as well as a library management position nits complex and there’s a lot of aspects that need formal training, foundational knowledge, pedagogy, etc. I use the things I learned during my program every single day. I wouldn’t be as good at it w/o these credentials. Instruction, collection development, program development, budget management, etc etc are difficult to do.
I also think it’s wrong that so many school districts hire non credentialed ppl for the job, and then pay them minimal $ while expecting them to do the same amount & quality of work as a credentialed professional would do. But for so much less money.
At minimum every district should be required to pay for the person they hire as school librarian to get the credentials. And then pay appropriately when the credentials are earned
If you’re going to work as a librarian in schools, collaborating with teachers, it seems right that you’re certified as a librarian and in a teaching area of discipline. I have both and a MLIS. I am certainly a librarian, but I am a teacher at heart – that is the key to being Future Ready.
Understanding the needs and demands of our youth, as well as the standards in an area of discipline for teachers, makes us stronger as school librarians when it comes to collaboration – it also bridges the gap between the library world and education. Many educators and students don’t see us as teachers and leaders – this is one way we illustrate our pedagogy and skills are the same as teachers – for we are teacher librarians.
Teachers with extra oomph
In a recent conversation, I learn about certification vs MLIS programs from Dr. Moore. Both do an incredible job preparing students for their libraries https://apple.co/3guP8at
I learned about copyright laws, how cataloging can be different for the same book and the reasoning behind it, way more about research tools and how to co-teach research, make sure you have a procedure for book complaints, how to advocate for library needs, how to build your collection, how to defend your budget, plan your budget, promote your library, ….I could probably come up with more but it has been 16 years ago since I got the degree.
The media center is a like a business in the school and a classroom and there to meet the needs of teachers. It is also a place where volunteers are involved with book fairs. For many students, it is a safe haven in the school. Adults and students alike, bond over books. It has the potential to be the heartbeat of the school.
What a great question! I spent a year in a library as a paraprofessional last year. I LOVED every minute of it, but left because I understood that I didn’t know anything. I’ll be graduating this summer from my program (I was working on it part-time previously) and the things that I have learned and [will learn during my practicum this spring] have shown me that I was right. I didn’t know anything about teaching. There’s a big difference between being a librarian and a teacher. They are not one and the same. I’m grateful for the time I had in the library because I learned a lot about the rhythms and flows of a school year, how to interact with students, etc, but I couldn’t have known what I know without my program/degree/certification.
I think it’s super important. I also know I learned a lot more in my masters program than I did in my undergrad when I got my teaching degree.
I learned stuff in my MLIS that I use daily.
I like that in my district, they make you get at least half a master’s in library science in order to be a media specialist. That way, they can take the important classes. There were definitely a few classes I could’ve eliminated from mine.
Just because you love books does not make you automatically qualified to be a librarian. I student taught in a media center and have been a certified elem. media specialist for 26 years. I’ve had wonderful paras, but I’m tired of training people to do my job that I paid money to learn how to do. We don’t do this with Gen Ed or Admin but with media it’s ok? I’m not ok with that.
MORE Great advocacy tools for Library Media Specialists here: