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Who’re you gonna call? The “school librarian” January 17, 2010

Posted by Floyd Pentlin in Check this out!.

After a discussion that involved all members of the board, AASL has redefined the term that describes the certified person who runs a school library (or library media center — that term wasn’t addressed) as a “school librarian”.  Gone is the term “school library media specialist” which has been our official designation going back to the first Information Power (? – not sure about that).

While the discussion was friendly there were partisans for a number of designations but “school library media specialist,” “school librarian,” and “teacher librarian” (with or without the hyphen) were the top three choices of the group. Surprisingly “teacher librarian” fell by the wayside fairly quickly which will probably elicit some interested reactions by those who feel strongly that this is the appropriate label for our current teaching emphasis.

While the label has been a discussion item for some time, the Affiliate Assembly brought the issue to the Board’s table because of the lack of clarity of the various names we call ourselves was thought to be muddying our message and even our advocacy efforts.

When all of the dust settled (and actually there wasn’t much dust that was kicked up) “school librarian” was the overwhelming choice of those in attendance.

The next step will be to reboot the label into the twenty-first century and to blast away the accretion of negative stereotypes that have clung to the label over the years.

Maybe we can get J. K. Rowling to give Madame Pince a makeover in a later edition to get things off to a rousing start.


1. Alice Yucht - January 17, 2010

Can you tell us how/why teacher-librarian ‘fell by the wayside.’

2. Cathy Nelson - January 17, 2010

Is there an available recording or transcript of the Affiliate Assembly’s discussion available at least to members? If I continue to call myself a Teacher Librarian, is this hurting our cause?

3. WEEK 4 Thing #8: RSS Feeds « - January 17, 2010

[…] keep up with the news and decisions being made. For instance, my official title, according to a new decision made by the American Association of School Librarians is no longer Library Media Specialist. We are […]

4. Gayle Keresey - January 17, 2010

Was this Affiliate Assembly at this Midwinter or last summer? Thanks for providing some details.

5. Floyd Pentlin - January 18, 2010

@ Cathy and Gayle – This was the information that was part of the packet when we started discussing the issue:

Annual 2009 Affiliate Assembly statement of concern requested action of AASL “for future publications, AASL should remove the “media” from the naming of professionals. Whether we are called School Librarians, Teacher Librarians, Library Teachers, or
Teaching Librarians is a state option. The American Association of School Librarians should choose a term for its professionals that is clear to other educators, administrators, and the public and also indicative of our role as teachers.”
Cathy, I can’t imagine that what title you choose to use will “hurt our cause.” There was a lot of discussion about the fact that perhaps the title wasn’t very important in the long run but what we actually did in our job that will make the difference.

Personally, I was hoping that we would really pull a title out of left field — I was hoping for “Ming the Merciless” — but that didn’t seem to have much traction with the group.

6. Floyd Pentlin - January 18, 2010

@ Alice — I’m not sure what “teacher librarian” wasn’t more of an issue. There was only one person on the Board who stated his preference for it and no one else spoke up.

7. Terry - January 18, 2010

Wow, can we possible dig the hole any deeper? Why select a moniker so anchored to the past? Labels matter. Some of our constituents (policymakers, legislators, BOE’s, administrators, parents) still see “school librarians” as the position holders of the past. In states where “school librarians” are categorized as “instructional support” instead of teachers, “school librarians” are among the first to fall under the budget axe. Sure, ideally our “brand” would have caught up “with what we do in our job”, but we aren’t there yet. So, why knowingly take on the battle of recasting our roles by using an old job title? I would think AASL could be more of a help to us in the trenches, by at least supporting the positive connections between teacher and librarian, “teacher librarian”. That which is articulated, gets heard…

8. Ann - January 18, 2010

Hi All – I am going to post the entire motion that came to the board for a vote. It provides some of the rationale for the motion. Also, to reiterate what Floyd said, it is the individual librarian in each school that helps or hurts the impression of who we are and what we do.

Please also know that the national legislators understand “school librarian.” When advocating to legislators please use that term. When we respond to them with 10 different titles it appears that we are 10 different professions and our responses are not as effective.

Here is the motion.
Whereas, the overarching strategic goal of the American Association of School Librarians is to achieve universal recognition of school librarians as indispensable educational leaders; and

Whereas, the AASL Affiliate Assembly requested that the AASL Board of Directors choose a title for its professionals that is clear to other educators, administrators, and the public; and

Whereas, a recent AASL survey indicated confusion, misperceptions, and inconsistencies about various job titles in our profession; and

Whereas, AASL needed to agree on a common nomenclature for all publications and advocacy efforts; and

Whereas, the AASL’s leadership reviewed the data, identified the advantages and disadvantages of the various titles, and held a focused and extensive discussion.

Therefore be it resolved, AASL officially adopts “school librarian” as the title which reflects the roles of the 21st century school library professional as leader, instructional partner, information specialist, teacher, and program administrator; be it further resolved that AASL will advance and promote the title “school librarian” to ensure universal recognition of school librarians as indispensible educational leaders.

The following guiding principles govern these actions: Open dialog concerning knowledge of our stakeholders’ needs, wants, and preferences; the current realities and evolving dynamics of our environment; the capacity and strategic position of our organization; and the ethical implications relevant to this decision.

9. Ms. Yingling - January 19, 2010

I’m a horrible “media specialist”, an okay “school librarian”, and a good “readers’ advisor”. I’ve called myself a librarian for years, and I don’t think my students read less because of it. If “media” isn’t in the title, does that mean I don’t have to fix VCRs or overheads?

10. Alice Yucht - January 19, 2010

on second thought: maybe the Association can’t approve the term “teacher-librarian” because there it would cost too much to change the Association’s letterhead. ;->

11. Greg - January 19, 2010

I guess this was a political move since the board members don’t really understand what a “real” school librarian does. If they did, the the title “School Librarian” would not even been a consideration.

12. Stacey Greene Wicksall - January 19, 2010

I am completely disheartened by the decision of AASL leadership to make my professional title officially: school librarian. How dull, uninspired, unmotivated and, quite frankly, pathetic. Is this the best that this organization’s leaders can do?

Our job title creates our public relations identity. What sort of identity does “school librarian” conjure? The connotation is “keeper of the books in a school.” After all, this title is not tied to anything active. A school is a building not a verb. The title librarian is derived, also, from a name for a building (or worse yet, in the case of a school, one room within a large building). If we are trying to promote ourselves to the public at large (many of whom will never see us lead and guide young students in person), then we need a title that is active, not passive.

What is it that we do? We teach people how to access and assess knowledge found in a plethora of formats in order that this knowledge may be used productively for personal growth, academic inquiry or, most exciting of all, as a catalyst for the creation of new knowledge. We deal with knowledge as it may be extracted from all genre and format types; we are not, for example, exclusive agents of the non-fiction domain of books found in print format. We guide our students to find, evaluate and use knowledge in any format and from within all imaginable genres. We guide them on how to present what it is that they have discovered and, if we have done our job well, promote the unique product that they have created.

We are Knowledge Educators. “KE” for short, which, is quite appropriate since we are the key to student learning. We do not merely teach students about a particular area within the universe of knowledge, we lead them and guide them in the use of all knowledge. If we must label ourselves, let’s label ourselves with what we do. Bind us to our actions, don’t ensnare us within buildings that will come and go. We are Knowledge Specialists. We are the keys to learning and can lead youths in pursuing the inquiries of tomorrow.

What does a school librarian do?

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14. Judy Desetti - January 20, 2010

Verbally I tell people I am a school librarian. On my cards I use teacher-librarian. I want to be considered as a teacher. I teach students, staff, and parents. I was a teacher in the classroom for 20 years, now in the library for 8 years. I see things as a teacher. I think it helps the other teachers to relate to me and view me as a collaborator working WITH them to teach students. So can I still use my business cards? The ones I am so proud of that I just got made for myself after being in education for 33 years? I have never had a district or business make cards for me. I decided I was important enough to have one after all I am a teacher-librarian and work with children, what could be more important?

15. Rocco A - January 20, 2010

Does anyone know what the actual vote of the AASL board was?

16. Rocco A - January 20, 2010

Also are the results of the survey that was conducting available online?

17. Maribel Castro - January 20, 2010

First of all, I am one of those board members who proudly voted to be officially called a school librarian.

Second, I am a “real” librarian, as are all of us who serve on the AASL board. We fully understand what our emerging roles are in the school library: teacher, administrator, manager, technologist, information specialist, and media specialist.

Finally, all of the issues you have raised in your responses to this decision were all brought up in the meeting. We thoroughly and thoughtfully discussed each one, no stone was left unturned. Overwhelmingly we voted to keep “school librarian” as our title because it is a title understood and can be related to by all stake holders.

Would we have achieved universal agreement by the profession had we changed our titles to any one of the other terms? I don’t believe so. A title will not help us keep our jobs, but how well do our jobs can.

Maribel Castro, School Librarian

18. Cathy Nelson’s Professional Thoughts » Blog Archive » School Librarian: Is the name change a step backwards? - January 21, 2010

[…] that our title was changing back to school librarian. The change has garnered some attention here, here, and here,  and even wider.  I should say though that my surprise was not by the title […]

19. Elisabeth A. - January 21, 2010

I wanted to add my support to AASL and say: I love being a School Librarian! Thanks!

20. Confluence: The SELCO Librarian - January 22, 2010

AASL votes to adopt professional title – school librarian…

Michael Scott, Assistant Director The American Association of School Librarians (AASL)…

21. Ernie Cox - January 27, 2010

In the book “How the Mighty Fall” business guru Jim Collins found that failed corporations share several characteristics . One of them was an overriding concern with “titles” and a lack of focus on “responsibilities”. This debate needs to turn to what makes good school library practice. A title will do very little for the profession.

22. Book Blog - Bookends - Children’s Book Reviews - Booklist Online » Blog Archive » Call me Ishmael…I mean…School Librarian - February 5, 2010

[…] voted to change our official name from “School Library Media Specialist” to “School Librarian.” We think it’s about time they caught up with us. We don’t have to worry about […]

23. ‘School Librarians’ and Libraries – Seeking Relevance & a Future? « - February 11, 2010

[…] check out American Libraries magazine, School Library Journal’s Talkback, AASL’s blog, Cathy Nelson’s blog, Bookends blog, just to name a few, and clealy the debate […]

24. Linda Shantz-Keresztes, President, Canadian Association for School Libraries - November 15, 2010

Interesting discussion that AASL is having regarding the re-labelling of school librarians. In Canada, we value the label teacher-librarian, as this designates a professional with a teaching degree and also graduate level education in school libraries, teacher-librarianship, library and information studies, etc. Library technicians, have technical college training, and library assistants/clerks have grade 12 education but no library training, except on the job. Canadian school library staffing standards believe it is important to differentiate the various library staff, according to their roles and skills.

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