It was about five years ago when a boy walked up to me and asked, “Hey Mr. Spencer, can you talk to the district and see if they’ll open up the library over the summer?”
“I don’t think they can,” I answered. “But the city library is just down the street.”
“I can’t go there. I lost a book when we moved apartments and now I have late fees and a library book I have to pay for.”
“When was that?”
“In the third grade,” he answered.
“What about a bookstore?”
“Those are for grownups,” he said.
“Kids are allowed in.”
He shook his head. “They all say ‘adult’ in big letters.” I later checked on Google Maps. He was right. Our community had no actual bookstores. It struck me, in this moment, that our school library had been a lifeline for him. This boy had fallen in love with reading years ago because of the climate and culture a librarian had created.
But the truth is librarians do so much more than we realize.
Why Librarians Are Vital to our Students
I often hear people ask, “If we have the internet, why do we still need librarians?”
This is something I’ve heard since the days of dial-up and continue to hear right now. It misses the vital role that librarians play in our students’ lives. It’s true that the information landscape has changed. It is easier than ever to create a work and publish it to the world and with a tap of a button, we access information from anywhere at any time.
But actually, that’s why librarians are more vital than ever. Here are some of the things librarians do:
- Guide Students through Media Literacy: In an age of instant information, librarians help students learn to ask better questions, find valid sources, and deconstruct the information. Take a quick glance at Facebook and you’ll see people falling for fake news and failing to understand media bias. We are in desperate need of media literacy and librarians are the ones best poised to make this a reality.
- Model the Curation Process: Librarians teach students the art and science of content curation, where they learn to connect ideas from multiple sources and apply a unique lens to the information. Content curation has become a critical skill in an age of instant information and librarians are often the ones with the most practice in this area.
- Inspire Passionate Readers: They ignite a passion for learning, whether a student is geeking out on an informational text or getting lost in a fantastical world of fiction.
- Develop Divergent Thinking: Librarians inspire students to think divergently and experiment with innovative ideas. The best libraries are spaces with a free exchange of ideas.
- Cultivate Creativity: Using design thinking, librarians can help students engage in research and development as they create empathy-driven design products. A.J. and I both added two sections to design thinking (in the LAUNCH Cycle) that included inquiry and research. Since then, we’ve seen countless librarians empowering students to own this process. Along the way, they learn systems thinking and project management, which are both critical skills in just about every industry.
Every week, my son and my daughter get excited about library time. To them, it’s like a candy store where they can find a new novel, make a new product, or chase their curiosity.
In a world of constant noise and shallow distraction, libraries are a refuge where children grow in wisdom. Librarians inspire creativity, critical thinking, empathy, and systems thinking. In other words, they help our children become the kind of people we want them to be.
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