Open Educational Resources

Redefining the role of school librarians

September 1, 2017

Open Educational Resources
Illustration: ©HaywireMedia/Adobe Stock

As more schools across the nation use open educational resources (OERs), school librarians find that their roles as digital content curators are expanding or even being redefined.

A natural fit

“Librarians, by nature, curate resources,” says Jennifer Scotten, library media specialist at South Middle School in Lawrence, Kansas. Those curation abilities make librarians invaluable for implementing OERs, which can be overwhelming for first-time users browsing a seemingly endless catalog of online resources. For Kelly Hart, a 7th-grade English and language arts teacher at the school, Scotten’s expertise enabled her to exclusively use OERs for the 2016–2017 school year. “I couldn’t have done it without her,” Hart says.

“Librarians bring that skill set, that ability to find information, evaluate information, and then curate that information in a way that’s useful to others,” says Sara Trettin, a former librarian who is now policy advisor at the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.

In addition, librarians see the process of OER creation with a bird’s-eye view. “The librarian is coming from a position within the school where they see all of the students, and work with students across all grade levels,” Trettin says. Because librarians also work with teachers throughout the school, they are in a position to be an OER evangelist. Hart calls Scotten, for example, “the little bee who goes out and disseminates everything to everyone.”

At Parkway School District in Chesterfield, Missouri, teachers promote librarians as a go-to source for information. “Our librarians are the ones who are looked to for technology, for resources,” says Bill Bass, innovation coordinator for technology integration, information, and library media at the district. When it comes to OERs, Bass says, “One of our successes is that we have developed a greater sense of trust between librarian and teacher, and librarian and student, because they are having different conversations now about the content and where that content came from.”

Many librarians are also deeply invested in ensuring educational equity among students, and OERs can facilitate that goal in powerful ways. Scotten, who describes herself as passionate about equity, believes that it’s important for classroom materials to “reflect multiple perspectives” of students. “Even if you’re in a classroom without that diversity,” she says, “it’s still important for students to have materials free from bias, to learn about subjects from multiple and diverse perspectives.” Bass calls OERs “another avenue” for increasing equity in content access and throughout the curriculum.

Teaching curation

As the amount of content available to students and teachers skyrockets, curation is becoming a necessary skill for everyone—and librarians are often best equipped to teach it.

“We need to teach kids to be librarians,” says Mark Ray, director of innovation and library services for Vancouver (Wash.) Public Schools. He adds: “When you’re using your devices, walking down the street, you don’t have a librarian there telling you: ‘No, that’s not quite right.’” Students are increasingly capable of curating their own content at the touch of a button, and they need guidance on how to do it appropriately and effectively. “The librarian plays a vital role in helping kids and teachers be critical thinkers,” says Bass.

OERs are the perfect catalyst for teaching curation outside the library. Because OERs can be challenging and are constantly evolving, they present an inherent professional development opportunity for both librarians and teachers, as librarians transfer their knowledge of curation and teachers absorb new tactics for assessing and presenting information, as in the case of Scotten and Hart, who worked together to get OERs into the classroom.

“In districts that are starting to use open resources and involve their teachers and librarians, it really is reshaping how they do professional learning,” says Trettin. “Instead of one day where everyone comes in, engaging everyone in this [OER] process is providing some sustained opportunities for professional learning.”

For Scotten, OERs also present an opportunity to have “tough conversations” with teachers about open licensing and copyright infractions, as well as bias and diverse perspectives. Those lessons are then passed onto students. “Often those are anecdotes teachers bring into their classroom,” she says, and teachers use missteps as an opportunity to talk “about credit given where it’s due and really protecting intellectual property.”

Redefining the future

Ultimately, the curation of OERs in primary and secondary schools is reshaping the role of school librarians.

“In the past, librarians curated collections for their physical libraries. The shift now is that librarians are curating beyond the classroom,” says Ray.

Bass believes that this has led to an expansion of the school librarian’s role, “because of the overwhelming amount of content and the overwhelming need for everyone—students, teachers, parents—to vet and look for content, to recognize where the problems are, and recognize what is high-quality content.”

OERs are going to help with this, Bass says. “I think what we’re going to see over time is more reliance on the expertise of librarians, and also of teachers, in creating experiences that aren’t dependent on a specific set of text,” he says. “What the OER is doing for us right now is providing opportunities for [librarians] to rethink, redefine themselves, and provide a different experience and service level.” As OERs become ubiquitous, school librarians will become even more integral to making sense of it all.