October 20, 2017

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Parsing the New ALA School Librarian Competencies Framework

Left to right: Dorcas Hand, Sara Kelly Johns, and Susan Ballard

An ALA committee has defined eleven professional competencies that emphasize leadership and growth.

Using the work roles of school administrators as a guide, an American Library Association (ALA) committee has released a set of professional competencies for today’s school librarians. Part of ALA President Julie Todaro’s “Libraries Transform: The Expert in the Library” initiative, the effort was presented last month during the ALA Presidential Program in Chicago.

Spearheaded by Susan Ballard, a senior lecturer and program director Granite State College; Dorcas Hand, retired Houston-area school librarian; and American Association of School Librarians (AASL) past president Sara Kelly Johns, the task force, including a group of respected practitioners, created a document that provides a nuanced understanding of school librarians’ administrative roles and responsibilities, describing their role as much more than simply providing resources.

The committee “saw the Todaro initiative as an opportunity to provide for school librarians a personal, professional growth tool,” Johns says.

In crafting the competencies, the committee first studied those that had been adopted by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and by the Association of College and Research Libraries, both divisions of ALA. But they ultimately aligned their statements with the Professional Standards for Education Leaders (PSEL).

The PSEL, developed by the National Policy Board for Education Administration, are a set of standards that undergird the library media certification program at Granite State College. PSELs cover areas ranging from “meaningful engagement of families and community” to developing the professional capacity of school personnel. The School Librarian-PSEL Competencies are framed as personal, professional competencies to be used for individual self-assessment rather than as external evaluation instruments.

With the addition of an 11th, literacy-based competency, the school librarian competencies mirror those for school leadership, establishing a common vocabulary with school-based and district administrators. Johns suggests that the overlap in language helps administrators see that librarians are working toward the same goals.

The group worked doggedly on the project, using mobile connectivity and cloud-based document sharing to facilitate creation and refinement of the statements and associated LibGuide. They constructed a rubric and started gathering the resources that they saw as signposts to move a library professional’s work along the continuum. ALA, AASL, School Library Journal, Teacher Librarian, and ABC-CLIO, an academic and reference works publisher, granted permissions to share articles for the project.

School librarians are encouraged to first choose the competency they want to work on and then use the associated rubric to determine a level of expertise, progressing from ineffective to emerging to effective to highly effective. Each competency features a collection of journal articles and AASL and ALA resources and toolkits to support growth in that area.

According to the “community of care and support for students” competency, for example, “Effective school library leaders cultivate an inclusive caring and supportive school community that promotes each learner’s academic and/or professional success, personal interests and well-being.” The rubric states that highly effective school librarians develop a responsive collection of material in multiple formats and languages that reflect many different cultural perspectives and world views to support reading for information, pleasure, and to promote lifelong learning. They address differentiation with classroom teachers to support students’ comprehension of a wide variety of sources, and they promote resources and library programming reliant on the foundational literacy of reading.

School librarians might be considered ineffective in that capacity if they don’t know how to promote reading for enjoyment or purchase resources in multiple formats or understand reading strategies used in the classroom. For that indicator, school librarians are directed to articles relating to student involvement and voice by notable school librarians like Melissa Techman and Andy Plemmons in addition to articles emphasizing strategies for collaborative instructional planning.

With Ballard writing and Johns implementing the forthcoming version of the AASL standards, the ALA committee was able to maintain this suite of competencies as distinct and as supporting, rather than replacing, both the current standards and those to be released in November.

Johns says the competencies can provide practitioners with a baseline measurement of efficacy. “To say ‘I can do this,’ it’s empowering. It’s exciting to think school librarians can be even more ready for the standards,” she says, adding that the competencies can serve as a “bridge between current practice, where we would want to be with their practice and the excellent new standards which will come out in November.”

The professional roles that the competencies reflect are not static, Johns says, but will develop with the standards and their implementation as “another tool for excellence in school libraries.”


Wendy Stephens worked as a high school librarian in Alabama for 15 years before becoming library media program chair at Jacksonville (AL) State University. She is a past president of the Alabama Library Association and is AASL Region V director.

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Comments

  1. Dorcas Hand says:

    The last page of the LibGuide is the rubric: http://researchguides.austincc.edu/c.php?g=554360&p=3891603
    The other LibGuide pages also contain useful reading, but the spectrum of competency expertise appears on the “School Librarian-PSEL Competencies: Building Our Expertise” page.

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