Our world is desperate for assistance right now: College students need more support, families seek help with distance learning, and teachers require ready access to ebooks and databases their districts may not be able to afford. This crisis provides an opportunity to remind audiences what librarians do and how we can help the young people we once saw on a daily or weekly basis.
This past summer, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) created a document and chart titled “School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning Conditions” to assist K–12 librarians as they encounter a variety of situations this school year. The document analyzes the five key roles that we fill—instructional partner, teacher, leader, information specialist, and program administrator—in the context of three learning models: face-to-face (with social distancing requirements), blended (at home and school), and distance (no face-to-face contact).
Recommendations address the challenges of our constantly changing work environments while also highlighting the ways in which school librarians may adapt roles, strengthen relationships, and create inclusive learning cultures. For example, in our role as instructional partners in a blended-learning model, we might create and curate instructional videos for the classroom. As information specialists in a distance-learning model, we may focus on incorporating free open educational resources and appropriate assistive technology in ways we hadn’t before. And as program administrators in a face-to-face model, we have the unprecedented duty of managing library capacity, seating arrangements, and the safe handling of materials.
In creating these resources, AASL aims not only to share crowdsourced ideas but also to give school librarians a tool to communicate what they do to administrators and community members seeking solutions amid our new normal.
Overwhelmed librarians who are wondering how to advocate for our profession in current conditions might want to press the pause button and reflect on what author and speaker Simon Sinek means when he says we should start with “why.” In his TEDx talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” he puts forth the idea that “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” The pandemic can reset and reconnect the work we do serving young people and make our motivations visible to our communities in crisis.
This crisis provides an opportunity to remind audiences what librarians do.
One way to do this is by building partnerships. Librarians can amplify their work by collaborating with nonprofits and corporations to serve children, particularly the most vulnerable ones. Checking in with local homeless shelters, food banks, social service organizations, and existing outreach programs—and sharing that information with our networks—extends our influence as librarians and helps us reach more of the youth who need us.
Our profession’s dual focus on human connections and data collection can also illustrate our value to the people who decide how personnel, hours, and dollars are ultimately distributed. By using survey results and contextualizing information with seminal research, librarians can show their expertise is needed in areas most exacerbated by the pandemic, such as learning loss, digital literacy, and internet access. We can use this same data-driven approach to write grant proposals when community needs are not covered by our budgets.
Though this pandemic has shaken many traditional institutions and norms, it is important to note that every librarian—not just school librarians—has the inherent power to lead. When we accept this charge and work together, we make our communities stronger and serve more of the young patrons who need us.