Ten Tips for School Library Media Specialists

Embracing technology will change everything about your school library media program.  When this happens to you, think outside your traditional role and services.

1. Focus on Instruction and Resources, Not Things

The media specialist should be the go-to person for technology in your school, but make sure you’re not only about the “stuff.”  Encourage teachers to think: “What would be the best resource/tool to teach this concept in my classroom?” NOT “I want to use Twitter (or clickers) with my students.  What could I teach to do this?”      

2. Share Ideas and Suggestions

Send out e-mails or tweets updating faculty on the best new resources you’ve found or curriculum connection for their classes. For example:  “Teaching Mythology? Take a photo tour of Rome using Google Maps.  Let me know if I can help!” or “Know you’re teaching cell structure.  Dr. Smith at XYZ University has students who are willing to Skype with Biology classes. I have his contact info.”

3. Be Willing to Share Space with the Technology Hub

Yes, this means being the deployment launch site, finding an office for the technology facilitator, sharing your back room with the help desk, partnering with the tech staff to introduce 1:1/BYOD at parent meetings and student orientations.  (Yes, even at night and on weekends.) Today’s library media specialist should be an essential part of a school’s technology program.

4. Make the Media Center a Place for Creativity and Collaboration

When people think projects, creativity, and fun, make sure they think of the media center first. Set up Creation Stations with the best computers, color printers, and commercial programs that students can use for special presentations, graduation projects, college application portfolios, etc.  Have them together in a special area or in one of the conference rooms, so students can collaborate easily. Repurpose another conference room as a Collaboration Station.  Put a large white board on the wall, lots of markers, flip charts, a table and chairs. Make it the go-to space for faculty as well as students. Invite PLCs to meet in the back of the media center; host curriculum planning sessions in a conference room. If you can afford the bottomless coffee pot or candy jar, do so.  We all know, “If you feed them, they will come.”

5. Turn Part of the Media Center into a Maker Space

Maker spaces where students can experiment with a variety of media – both high and low tech – and engage in do-it-yourself (DIY) projects is rapidly gaining popularity in our nation’s schools. They may be expensive but a 3-D printer is a must for a Maker Space. You’ll also want to consider providing: film-making software, quilting supplies, a craft corner, a disaster box (think lost button, stuck zipper, bandaids).  Recently a media specialist brought in a sewing machine, some fabric scraps, ribbon, doilies, and paper for high school kids to make Valentines.

6. Keep the books, but consider why and which ones

Easy books, early readers, YA books, and pleasure reading all still have a place in your collection, but how many reference books do you need?  Are you still holding on to that encyclopedia?  Weed, make space for something different, something that will attract teachers and students. Help students understand the value of the in-depth information found in books over the oftentimes more cursory treatment found in web resources.  It’s a life skill to understand when the old standby book is the best option. Think about shelving by genre rather than Dewey.  (Yes, I know.  Just think about it . . .)  

7. Consider a school-wide book study

Offer both digital and paperback copies of the title so readers can choose their preferred format.  Create a variety of hands-on activities that surround the book, some high tech, some not so much.  Get teachers and students to help you plan; involve everyone.

8. Get out of the office and into the classrooms

If teachers won’t come to you, go to them. This means team teaching in the classroom, taking a small group for reading or teaching a skill, or just occasionally trouble-shooting the balky printer if you have time. One elementary media coordinator used to take a book of poems the cafeteria when the lunch line backed up.  The students loved it when she would call, “Poetry break!  Poetry break!” and everything quieted down and moved smoothly as she read Shel Silverstein or Robert Frost. Leaving the library does not mean it should shut down. It can run without you if the teachers and principal are aware. The doors should never be locked! 

9. Be playful; don’t take yourself too seriously

Some media specialists host Technology Tuesdays or Tech-therapy Thursdays.  They provide just-in-time, 1:1 PD for any teacher who shows up.  They are always eager to collaborate and assist with unit planning or teaching. Other media specialists have given “baby showers” for the new books that have arrived in the media center.  They served light refreshments, mingled with students, and talked about the new books. “Reserved” lists were handy so students could sign up for the title(s) they wanted to read. Others have held holiday book fairs with local book stores, or hosted the holiday shopping center where students could buy or make gifts for their siblings and parents for only pennies. One sponsors the “Prom Dress Closet” for a couple of days in the spring.  Girls recycle their prom dresses and choose a “new” one, moms hang out and help daughters and friends shop, and everyone is happy without spending a penny.  No, academics are not the focus here, but no one’s stopping people from using the media center, and parents and teens walk away with lots of good will towards you and your program.

10. Ask teachers and students what they want

Don’t be afraid to ask what resources and services people need.  Above all, make sure you ask the principal.  You may think you know what they want, but do you really?  You can’t be sure until you ask; and you can’t be relevant to your customers – or change their minds about what your relevance ought to be – unless you actually know.  So take a chance and ask.  Good luck!

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