For the Last Time – I am NOT a Media Specialist!

I take umbrage at being called a media specialist.  This puzzles the person who is speaking, because I am sure she thinks she is complimenting me by not calling me a librarian.Here’s the thing:  I AM a librarian!

Those in my position have had numerous titles passed around as we try to define ourselves in a world that resists seeing us a modern, information-technology literate professionals.  Yet those defining us wouldn’t want to offend us by calling us old-fashioned librarians, as that word connotes wire-rimmed glasses, bunned hair, and a spinsterly demeanor.  But for me, the term “media specialist” connotes another negative image – a middle-aged woman in a jumper with sensible shoes pushing an AV cart or carefully mended a 16MM film.  That’s not me.  My library has not housed AV equipment for at least 15 years;  And I don’t own a jumper!

Our profession has been caught in the conundrum of deciding on a name that actually defines us.  The term media specialist evolved in the 70s when district level materials centers closed and librarians assumed this responsibility of cataloging, housing and integrating multimedia. Still, this is inadequate, and now often inaccurate, when describing our multi-faceted roles.

Proposed names have run the entire English language spectrum, it seems. Some prefer the term “teacher-librarian,” a title I have no problem with, since it does reaffirm that we are teachers first.  I am a teacher first, then a librarian.  Others don’t like this term, I suspect, because it does not acknowledge our role in information literacy and technology integration.

Some prefer the term “school library media specialist.”  I don’t know why this term doesn’t bother me, but it doesn’t.  Probably because the term librarian is present.  AASL has adopted the term “school librarian” as our formal title.

As for me, I have introduced myself as the “Goddess of All Information, Both Real and Imagined,” but generally speaking this moniker was ill-received.  I found that it encompassed all my responsibilities rather nicely.  But since folks don’t want to call me a goddess, I prefer that the call me something else that encompasses all of my responsibilities – a librarian.

I earned my MLIS when my kids were  little, balancing a full-time and a part-time job, school and their dance classes.  I spent countless hours thinking and rethinking about teaching to achieve National Board certification. And I put in 320 clock hours to become a Technology Integration Specialist even though real school librarians were technology integration specialists long before someone cleverly coined the term.  I did all this to become what I am very proud to be:

An ALA card-holding LIBRARIAN.  I don’t apologize and won’t let others condescend by calling me a “nicer” name.






It is difficult to believe I have just completed my 20th year at Brookhaven Elementary and my 28th year as a school librarian.  (A total of 34 years as a library professional, for those keeping score.)  Obviously a lot has changed during that time in terms of technology and philosophies of service within our profession, but I think maybe the biggest changes have been within me.

When I began my library service, I didn’t truly understand the concept that school librarians are teachers first.  I saw my role as  a provider of resources.  It seemed logical to me that students should intuitively grasp the concepts of library arrangement — after all, I did.  I took a long time for me to reconcile myself with different learning styles.  Also, I have come to recognize with the vast array of materials available to my students, it is not necessary to teach how to use a specific tool, but it is extremely necessary to teach them a process for finding the information they need.

The advent of additional library technologies certainly has expanded the library’s collection and has caused me to rethink my position on collections of fiction and nonfiction alike.  What information is reliably found online?  What is provided by state or district databases?  What will my students most likely access online?  Again, my assumption ran smack dab into reality, as I realized that my students don’t readily gravitate to the digital format.  As teachers embrace these digital materials, more students adopt the digital as well.

My biggest transition by far has been from being a librarian who taught to being a teacher who has a wealth of information and resources at her fingertips – and who knows how to use them.  I have dug deeper into the aspects of pedagogy and curriculum, but I have backed these up with the commitment to public service that sprung from my library school background.  I don’t walk the line between these two worlds;  I have integrated librarianship into my teaching.

I am still committed to providing students with the best information and experiences I can possibly find.  Universal Design for Learning is not a difficult concept for one who wants to assess learning, as opposed to assessing the ability to do well on a textbook vendor-supplied test.  In 2016 we should not be beating students with the same stick.  It is a lot more work, but we must provide be prepared to provide on-demand content in all curriculum areas.

I will not be working in school libraries for another twenty years, and I cannot envision what changes might occur.  In roughly three years, I hope to transition into part-time public library work and full-time school library advocacy.  Perhaps I will work on my Ph.D., just to stay in touch.  There will still be school libraries 20 years from now.   The question is, who will run them and what will they be called?  It is up to all of us school librarians to make sure the transition to having a library run by the untrained not take place.