David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
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Who Needs ‘Em?

Ok!  This is not fair.  But the fact is that many people see librarians exactly this way.  They see computer and think that all they need is a technician.  It’s not about the computer!  It’s about the information!

While at the National School Boards Association Conference the other day, more than one school board member came up to me, a tech guy, and asked, “We’re trying desperately to find ways to deal with budget crunches.  With all of these computers and access to online information, do we really need librarians or libraries any more?”

This is one of those questions that I absolutely love to hear — if I have an hour to answer.  It’s a question that I hate, if I only have a minute to answer.  I said that the key word here is information, that information has not only become infinitely more important than it was ten years ago, but its very nature has changed (digital, networked, overwhelming, and containerless).  In most schools there is only one person who understands this and is qualified and equipped to help the schools adapt — the librarian.  I think that this answer got me about one step toward the destination I was after, but I needed to get about a mile further.

If you have only a minute to support librarians, what would be your elevator answer?

Thanks in advance!

Image Citation:
Martian, Betsy. “nape.” Betsymartian’s photostream. 8 June 2006. 29 Jan 2007 <http://flickr.com/photos/betsymartian/163213450/>.

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  • http://kumaryu.wordpress.com Ray


    You leave out two very important people in this mix…. First, is the Instructional Technology Coach/facilitator who helps find the information and helps get it to the teachers to use with the students. Second is the Technology Support Personnel/IT staff who make sure the information is able to be accessed through the computers, ActivBoards and other forms of access.

    The Media Specialist/Librarian has an important job in finding all types of information, but cannot disseminate it alone.

  • Diane Cordell

    Dave, My quick comeback would be that the information may be out there, but you need a guide to help you find it – the librarian. Our “tech savvy” students – and staff – may be good at surfing, but not at searching. Librarians hold the key to information location; the computer is just the portal.

  • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com Dave

    Ray, I guess that Tech was the wrong word. I should have said, computer people (ed tech & IT). The perception seems to be that with computer people and the computers, who needs a librarian?

    Thanks for the comment and for helping me clarify!

    – dave –

  • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com Dave

    Diane, I have a question for you, but I’m going to wait and let some more answers to my question come in first.

    – dave –

  • http://joycevalenza.edublogs.org Joyce Valenza

    David, a good librarian is the best bargain in town. If you have a good librarian, you already have your integrator, your reading motivator, your instructional technology coach, your knowledge manager, your trainer, your CIO.
    (Administrators also love to see my stats!)

  • http://mgolding.wordpress.com Megan Golding

    There are two very concrete reasons that librarians are irreplaceable: keyword searching (ala Google) generally sucks and only a small percentage of the world’s books are available for Google searching.

    *ding* — here’s my floor.

  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    I would not attempt to defend the traditional role of librarians, as information brokers. Publishers do not want intermediaries to recommend works, they want to market directly to students, and thus render libraries (which they never really liked) and librarians obsolete. And because the role of information broker is rapidly being replaced by things like Google (or even just your friendly neighbourhood blogger) the publisher’s tactic is likely to be successful.

    I would instead support librarians – those that are willing to make the change – by appealing to their role in organizing and making available the content produced by the school or the university. A librarian plays a vital role in supporting each institutions’ contribution to open access. By supporting open access, institutions can save the money they spend on books and periodicals. This helps support the hosting of institutional archives, and helps the institution spend more time and money on the production of quality scholarship.

  • http://www.elizrosshubbell.com Elizabeth

    From the get-go, the librarian’s job has been to help us find information, differentiate between different genres of writing, and cross-reference for accuracy. Their purpose hasn’t changed; only the media has evolved.

  • http://www.elizrosshubbell.com Elizabeth

    From the get-go, the librarian’s job has been to help us locate information, differentiate between genres, and cross-reference for accuracy. The job hasn’t changed; just the media has evolved.

  • http://www.Pass-Ed.com/blogger.html Andrew Pass


    I might be completly off. But, I’m not so sure that I agree with the importance of librarians. All teachers had better be able to find information or I’m not sure what they’d be able to offer their student’s that’s actually worthwhile. My thoughts migth be skewed, but I just feel as if everybody needs the skills that were once limited to librarians.

    Andrew Pass

  • http://www.meadows.msd38.org Sally Roof

    A highly qualified professional librarian collaborates with a teacher and enhances the students’ and teacher’s information knowledge. The librarian is an invaluable asset in directing the various entites to the best sources of knowledge. The librarian finds where the inquirer or researches is currently, identifies where the the researcher needs to go and directs the way in the research. Joyce Valenza said it best and it is worth repeating: integrator, your reading motivator, your instructional technology coach, your knowledge manager, your trainer, your CIO. The School Board Association should look to at the waste in paper, supplies and discretionary funds.

  • http://robdarrow.wordpress.com Rob Darrow

    Right on! An engaged, up-to-date credentialed librarian’s role in the school is integral to increasing student achievement as research has shown. (See: http://www.lrs.org/impact.asp ). It is unfortunate that recent “21st Century” schools that are heralded in news articles as better meeting the needs of students have not included a credentialed librarian nor a space called the library. (See: http://www.scienceandtech.org/ in Denver and http://www.microsoft.com/education/schooloffuture.mspx in Philadelphia).

  • http://evalenza.edublogs.org/ Emily Valenza

    If information is a jungle, the internet would be the tourist guidebook written by a person who has never been there. A librarian would be the guide who has lived there all his/her life.

    Sure, the guide book would give you some interesting possible facts about the jungle, but the librarian would get you through that jungle safely, and using the most efficient route while pointing out anything you’d want to know along the way.

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  • Richard

    I wrote an article about this. Short version:

    In one day:

    Kid 1 finds a reference to what she wants online but not full text. I locate it in the library collection.

    Kid 2 finds a reference to what she wants in a print guide. I locate it free online.

    Kid 3 finds a subject covered very briefly over and over online. I find him a book that covers it in depth.

    Without me, all three leave the library without the information they need.

    In my county there are 78 librarians for 586 schools. That’s 508 schools filled with kids who will never have these experiences.

  • http://www.tourmarm.blogspot.com The Tour Marm

    1. What happens when the server is down?
    2. What is a primary document?
    3. Humans beings are still the best search engine: Desk Set with Tracy and Hepburn still rings true.

  • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com Dave

    Rob Darrow points to an article in the San Jose Mercury about an elementary school librarian who is making a difference (Librarian Does it Right). Here impact is so keenly felt by teachers, that they are holding bake sales to keep her. You see, the national average of school librarian (according to Darrow) to student is 1 : 871. In California, it is 1 : 4,541.

  • Tony Doyle

    What never ceases to amaze me is the disconnect between what people think they know about information and what they actually know. Even our young “tech savvy” teachers have poor information evaluation skills. Overestimating their own skills, they also overestimate what kids know about information. Many instructional hours are lost in fruitless and pointless “research.”

    A librarian, collaborating with a teacher, can create more meaningful projects which have a greater impact on the students. And precious instructional time is used more efficiently. Students also gain skills that will serve them the rest of their lives. Few other teachers have the expertise, and none have the time, to teach those skills.

    This is just one facet of the modern school librarian. Librarians are also resource managers, staff trainers, literacy and literature experts. Talk about a bargain.

  • Nancy Walser

    Hi Dave,
    I think I was one of those school board members you mentioned. Actually, our choice is not between librarians or no librarians. My district is lucky to have one full-time librarian per school. We also have full-time tech specialists or part-time tech teachers in every school. We are also being lobbied for more tech personnel due to the increased need/desire to do more with computers.
    All school board members are attempting to respond to 21st Century needs while being responsible to taxpayers who support public schools. That sometimes means doing more with less/changing models/asking people to take on different roles.
    I’m curious: in terms of librarians and tech people — about what kind of staffing would be most efficient for a 21st Century school or district?
    Thanks for the opportunity to throw out this question.

  • Wendy

    I believe that we forge ahead in education, forgetting that we are “training” our students to succeed in the real world. Consequently, if we don’t provide a trained person to train the students, then we are neglecting our obligation, and setting ourselves up for oblivion. Some day, those students, untrained, will be providing US with information . . . . .do I want to be advised to eat a Happy Meal after my heart attack?

  • Heather Hartman-Jansen

    I have been both a classroom teacher and now a school librarian here in the state of CA. And oh how I wish that I had had some one like me to help find information and extend the learning opportunities I provided my students! Some one mentioned that all teachers ought to have the skills of a librarian, but the reality is they don’t, whether it is due to time, lack of skills, or interest. I’ve been there and I know that to be true. Classroom teachers don’t have the time to focus on the information literacy skills librarians do. Most don’t even know what information literacy is and recommend Wikipedia or Googling as their information sources. Classroom teachers also don’t have the skills and training to provide quality print materials to students. Many think that a book is a book – irregardless of when it was published. Look at how little many classroom libraries get used because of the teacher’s lack of knowledge or willingness to promote the books there.

  • http://csslibraryblog.blogspot.com janet pedersen

    One minute in an elevator…..okay. It’s one thing, and an important thing, for a librarian to be able to show students or patrons where to find information. But that’s no longer enough….what librarians do in a digital world is to help students become critical thinkers. Information may be easier and easier to find….but good, accurate, current information is harder and harder to find as it is often buried in the jungle of information. We are the guides in that jungle as another post mentioned. We wouldn’t want to send our children into that information jungle without skills and a guide. Why am I suddenly having images of pith helmets instead of buns with pencils in them…….

  • Lydia Smith-Davis

    Information expertise:

    1. access: how do I find it?

    2. evaluate: is it credible?

    3. use: now what do I do with it?

  • Kathy

    A librarian who’s collaborating with teachers to provide authentic meaningful assignments raises the ante for kids who don’t have the experiential background to suss out the good from the questionable information so easily found on the web. Teachers are burdened with standards, lesson planning and instructional goals–librarians leaven the load. Want an integrator of technology and learning? Want an in-house staff & tech integration trainer–who also teaches kids information literacy? Look to your librarian.

  • Kay

    Several comments that have been left here that suggest that non-librarians don’t know what they don’t know; which is why professional librarians are required to go to graduate school.

  • http://sentimentsoncommonsense.blogspot.com Andrew Torris


    You know….. we should all be able to answer the same question about our OWN jobs in schools, not just our dear, hardworking and dedicated librarians.

    The saying “a good (insert job title here ie. librarian, PRINCIPAL, SUPT., custodian, teacher) is worth their weight in gold!” rings true always!


  • diane

    Andy, Excellent point! As budget time nears in our district, the Superintendent, and ultimately, the voting public,is questioning which “non-essential” staff members to lay=off: the pre-K teacher, the “extra” Art, Phys.Ed., Mustic teachers, the Special Ed. Teaching Assistants, all people who make a daily difference in some child’s life.We shouldn’t have to continually justify our professional existence. Let our results speak for themselves. diane

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  • Randy Bowley

    The question itself is an insult to intelligence. But since you asked, the sales for Juvenile hardbound books rose 19.6 percent from 2002 to 2005 – “Juvenile” books, books for a generation supposedly born with its hand on a mouse.
    In the US alone, sales of books for 2005-2006 was – wait for it – 25.6 billion dollars. (See AAP statistics at (http://www.publishers.org/industry/index.cfm).
    How many of these books are available online? I would venture to say zero. If the same information contained in all these books were available online, would publishers even go to the trouble and expense of printing them? No, they would get out of the book binding business altogether and market websites.
    If quoting recent sales figures of books aren’t enough, then tell your elevator companion this: I was talking yesterday about cancelling our library’s subscription to Seventeen magazine, because it is already available through one of our online databases, when one of the seventeen year olds in my library screamed, “IT’S NOT THE SAME!” Exactly. And this from someone as techno-savvy and iPod-crazy as anyone else in her generation.

  • http://www.deptford.k12.nj.us/67342101093851/site/default.asp? Debby Dietrich

    Librarians are information specialists. Who better to teach information skills? Our students would never utilize the wonderful online databases provided by the State of New Jersey without instruction, yet databases are where the best information is located.

    But even databases are limited. Gale’s Literary Resource Center is a wonderful database, but our library has an extensive collection of Gale’s For Students series. I found the online database contained only about 20% of the information available from the book. If I go to “The Raven” in Poetry for Students it will, the database will have the biographical information on Poe and an the Overview section. It will not have the other 80% of the article which deals with historical context, theme, style and critical analysis. For the best stuff you still have to go to books.

    Most importantly, what happens to recreational reading in schools with no library? My co-librarian work hard to keep an up-to-date and enticing fiction collection. We have implemented a wide variety of tactics to lure our students to read and have doubled the amount of fiction being checked out. Study after study has shown a direct correlation between recreational reading and student achievement. I can’t think of a better place to invest money, with a guaranteed return in student achievement, than in the school’s library.

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  • bd22

    I completely agree and support librarians. Librarians are not strictly limited to books- they are people who provide support to people who need to find information- in any medium- who are overwhelmed- by the internet or by the reference section. LIbrarians, like the rest of us, need to learn how to use this thing called the internet, but they are certainly not obsolete. On the contrary, it will be nice to have someone available at the library who can help you do an effective search ont he internet. We all need to become familiarized with the internet, and, as always, we’ll have librarians to turn to. For heaven’s sake, support your librarians!!

  • http://www.practicaltheory.org Chris Lehmann

    Here’s my two sentence sell:

    We live in the information age, and librarians help all of us navigate through a blinding amount of information. The 21st Century librarian is not a gate-keeper, but a tour-guide.

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  • Bob Moore

    Elevator speech: (I work in a research facility). Many of my users know their little part of the world and are comfortable searching in their known world. When they have to move beyond their known world, as they all peridically must, and in five minutes realize Google ain’t doing it for them, that’s when they call the librarian.

    Or, as I once promoted in a research facility, “If after 15 minutes you haven’t found what you need, seek professional help.”

    Lastly, my favorite description of the web: the world’s largest bookstore, but all the books are on the floor.

  • Tanya

    Guiding someone through the endless amounts of information available in today’s society is only one part of a librarian’s job — especially in a school library. What about motivating students to read by finding books that interest them? Librarians keep up on the new books that are being produced and can share that info with the whole school staff. Also, teachers have limited time because of all they do. I look at one aspect of my job is to make their life easier by finding books, websites, etc. that helps them with their lessons. Collaboration is a big part of the job — computers and the Internet can’t do that.

  • http://storytrail.com Judi Moreillon

    School librarians with classroom teaching experience and graduate-level coursework in library science, better known as teacher-librarians, are partners with classroom teachers in co-designing, co-implementing, and co-assessing standards-based information literacy lessons and units of instruction. If a school board wants to foster job-embedded professional development for educators, then providing them opportunities to learn alongside their peers in collaborative teaching situations during the contract day is the best practice. Co-teaching also lowers the student-to-teacher ratio at the point of instruction offering students more individualized support.

    If I were given another minute, I would note that I have taught preservice classroom teachers whose teacher preparation program did not include courses in teaching information literacy or research skills or children’s or young adult literature. With more and more new teachers entering the profession, a wise school board would hire professional teacher-librarians who collaborate with their classroom teacher colleagues to ensure effective information literacy teaching in their schools.

    If I were given yet another minute, and with all due respect, NONE of the tech people I worked with during my eleven years at the elementary level had classroom teaching experience. They did not understand standards-based lesson planning, implementation, and assessment. They could teach how to use the tools, but not how to integrate the tools to meet curricular objectives. Information literacy is a process. It’s much, much more than how to use the tools.

  • Debra LaPlante

    It may be interesting to note that the School Board meeting our board members did not want to end was the one at which the Teacher Librarians gave the board a snapshot(using technology) of what they do in the district. They wanted to talk libraries all evening. The most effective teaching comes from collaboration and sharing, not isolation. If we are to make a difference in student’s information literacy, we should be looking at ways in which the increase in technology is being used in collaborative teaching to integrate standards and curriculum. Librarians tend to have the most experience with this–when they get the chance. Too often administrators in trying to work budgets ,use them as a separate “special” without encouraging teachers to collaborate and extend the curriculum learning.

    If librarians are not necessary, why then do major companies and professions employ librarians to assist in finding both information and analyze it to make decisions?

    If technology is the answer, then why not just itinerant techs installing computers at home for self-teaching? No buses, no lunches, no custodians, no nurses, no adminstrators–perhaps no learning.

  • Molly Munson-Dryer

    You are right on Dave! I would be in information overload without the help of a librarian! How would I know whether to “key word search” or use “subject headings”? I don’t know if I could figure out the approapriate way to truncate my searches on the various databases. Librarians are information guides. They can show us what databases to use and how to use them. They are aware of the premier journals in a field. They can also remind us that we must look beyond online searches in order to fully saturate the research.

    Librarians are more important than ever. As access to information increases, we need the professional judgement of librarians to help us manage it.

  • http://www.rochester.k12.mi.us/index.asp?item=165&name=Media20Center&school=6 Bethany

    Please read “33 Reasons Why Libraries and Librarians are Still Extremely Important”

    Number 5 mostly represents my School Media Specialist position. This full study is at the following link: http://www.alliancelibrarysystem.com/illinoisstudy/PressRelease.pdf

    The full 33 reasons are at the following link: http://www.degreetutor.com/library/adult-continued-education/librarians-needed

    Quoted #5:
    School Libraries and Librarians Improve Student Test Scores
    A 2005 study of the Illinois School Libraries shows that students who frequently visit well-stocked and well-staffed school libraries end up with higher ACT scores and perform better on reading and writing exams.

    Interestingly, the study points out that access digital technology plays a strong role in test results, noting that “high schools with computers that connect to library catalogs and databases average 6.2% improvement on ACT scores”.

  • Connee

    Hi Dave,
    My one minute elevator answer would be:
    The traditional librarian who was aligned with collecting, organizing, archiving, and disseminating information has evolved into an information specialist who can lead a reference team, implement transformative technology such as IM, blogging, wiki use, podcasting, and streaming audio/video as well as participate in traditional reference services. Most importantly they help students seek information and develop searching/research skills.
    Previously libraries were associated mostly with books. Today, information arrives more in the electronic medium. Librarians tame the WEB. They are a virtual tour guide. They can be invaluable to educators in acquiring materials for classroom instruction.

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  • Nancy White

    Teacher-librarians have many roles. To assume they can be replaced by the internet assumes that the person making the judgement is only familiar with the role of administrator –the keeper of books. Today’s teacher librarian serves as a curriculum specialist. Just yesterday I was having coffee with an assistant principal who was marveling at the fact that her teacher-librarian could sum up the culture of the school and strengths and weaknesses of every teacher in the building without even batting an eye. In a moment, she was able to assess how who to approach, how to approach, and what needed to be done to increase integration of information literacy – “learning skills” and technology into classroom practice. It was somewhat amusing that she was both taken by surprise by this observation – and overjoyed to know that she had a real ally to accomplish the goals of her school and the district.

  • Betsymartian

    Hello. I’m so glad you like my photo. But I’m not being unfair to librarians, I am one.

  • http://doodeesthailand.blogspot.com/ Doodee

    Thanks for sharing

  • http://klwyrbju.007sites.com/map.html Berttonfoge

    I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting! Look for some my links:

  • Adrienne

    Many people have commented about having technology specialists on campus and how they can be a replacement for/liaison with a librarian. However, I think that the main issue is that a school librarian is really another teacher on campus who has the ability to show students paths to understanding. Librarians have the unique ability to not be burdened with lesson plans and still have a powerful impact on their students. Technology specialists have a similar job, but are far too often focused on ensuring functionality and less on building critical thinkers. Schools would be doing their students a disservice if they only provided their students with an infinite amount of information without teaching them to use it effectively as a means to an end. Enter the school librarian – someone with a passion for education who is trained to do that very thing.

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