May 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Repurposing School Library Positions | Take the Lead

As we look toward changes in education, we are all formulating our own vision of future classrooms. I see library programs as an integral part of those classrooms, as well as a model of the type of learning space towards which education is evolving.

I believe the system of the future will be one that allows students to construct their own learning and will center on problem solving based on real-world conditions. Students will create end products to impart knowledge from their online research, and these products will be defining each student through a digital footprint.

Some school library programs currently provide the support for the individualized learning opportunities that allow students the chance to acquire and use literacy skills. Resources are offered in multiple formats and platforms to meet individual needs. Students of all ability levels can achieve success. Additionally, students can collaborate with other students on projects to support one another’s learning. Through resources, students are connected to the community and the world.

For this level of a library program to exist, librarians must have the capacity to plan and implement innovative strategies. They must collaborate and communicate about programming and successes with students, teachers, administrators, and the community. I believe that leadership is critical in the development of an effective school library program in order to provide students an opportunity to improve digital literacy skills and academic achievement.

Every library needs a librarian 

The East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) encompasses over 80 schools from rural, suburban, and urban community settings. Our school district is one of the largest in the state and is in the top 100 nationally in student enrollment.

During the course of the 2013–15 school years, many of the EBRPSS principals chose to replace the librarian position with a paraprofessional. Some schools decided to have a current staff member, such as a time out room monitor, secretary, or guidance counselor manage the library. Leading East Baton Rouge Parish Schools in 2016, I called for some new spending in the budget, including restoring job positions cut in the past. I required all schools to have guidance counselors, certified librarians, and clerks. Twenty elementary school librarian positions were filled with as many certified applicants that could be located in the Baton Rouge area. Today, EBRPSS has a certified librarian in every school.

I was proud to be the recipient of the 2017 American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Distinguished School Administrator Award. I mentioned in my acceptance speech the importance of having a librarian in every school, and my ears rang with applause. I did not realize the impact of my vision until I spoke with several librarians at the conference.

I added certified staff into the school’s largest classroom because it was the right thing to do for the school culture. We are creating an environment with a librarian that is surpassing for our students. We want them to understand that the school library is the place they want to be, this is the place they need to be and this is the place they are going to be. How can you have this place without a librarian?

One Team, One Mission

Every person is just as important as the next in educating our children. All educators, including the librarian, are essential in the future of the students in their district. School librarians are unique, because they interact with every student in the school. This contact gives them access to be pivotal in raising student achievement.

We reestablished librarians in our district, but we need to envision them in leadership roles. Many districts/schools are repurposing library spaces. But what about the need to also repurpose the librarian? We need to give librarians the opportunity to be transformational leaders and instructional partners in schools. As I reorganized district leadership, restructuring the curriculum and instructional team, I included library services. I believe librarians are critical to transforming and strengthening instruction.

The effectiveness of the school library depends on administrative support. I encourage all school district leaders to connect with their library services programs. Administrators should empower school libraries and librarians to support students and educators in the 21st century.


Warren Drake, superintendent of schools for the East Baton Rouge Parish (LA) School System, is the recipient of the 2017 AASL Distinguished School Administrator Award.

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Comments

  1. One of the best examples of this is a retired librarian in Dallas Independent School District, Mary Custer. She was the librarian at Alex Sanger Elementary School for many years and was a wonderful role model for what librarians should emulate.

  2. A wonderful article! Now it needs to be submitted to an Administrator’s Magazine. :-)

  3. Joy Rector says:

    At 5am I am reading this article, preparing for a day of workshops at my state’s tech conference. This solidified my reasons for being here, learning to be a better librarian, teacher, colleague, and most of all advocate for my students. Libraries are changing, and I am so excited to change with them even more so as the think tank of our school. I am so ready to learn how to engage our students hands, hearts, minds and souls with just the right books or activities. With this they know that they are valuable, creative, and cared for each day not only sparking and interest in books, but a love for all things. Thank you for being instrumental in reinstating your librarians.

  4. Thompson says:

    With all due respect, why do we need to “repurpose” something that has always had, and still has, a valid purpose? Books and information sources (regardless of platform or technological mechanism), learning, and literacy have never stopped being the primary focus of school libraries. Why do we need to “reenvision” something that has consistently had laser sharp vision in the first place, and has always served a critical role? Why does the media talk of “reinventing” something we already have? The whole idea that libraries ever became irrelevant or somehow obsolete due to advent of the Internet, or that libraries and good librarians haven’t always focused on individualized assistant for learners, is just absurd and frankly insulting to our profession and our patrons. Folks promoting the “be a change agent” paradigm for school libraries either are unaware of what most school libraries already do, or they had become accustomed to and complacent with harboring incompetent librarians in the past.

  5. Christie says:

    It is true that librarians have been doing these things for a long time. But it’s significant, in 2017, to have a superintendent vocally call for our work to be valued and emphasized — and more, to recognize the leadership skills and dispositions that are baked into librarians’ training.
    Thank you, Mr. Drake. Tell your friends.

  6. Cindy Bailey says:

    Maybe repurposing should be changed to constantly evolving? Our purpose should remain access to information and ideas. The way we do that is always changing.

  7. Oh, we’re getting repurposed alright. My school district has at least four (I believe more) media specialists who are also test coordinators. I am evaluated in my role as media specialist, but with all the state testing, I spend most of my time in my “secondary” role. I would give my left arm to be able to perform the job described in the article.

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