These Superintendents Are Sold on Libraries | Editorial

Four influential superintendents see libraries as catalysts for school success—and librarians as change agents in a disrupted learning landscape.
Superintendents (clockwise from top left) Mat McRae, Karen Sullivan, Pam Moran, and Timothy Purnell at the SLJ Summit.

Superintendents (clockwise from top left) Mat McRae, Karen Sullivan, Pam Moran, and Timothy Purnell at the SLJ Summit.

“Contemporary learning starts with libraries,” said Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County (VA) Public Schools, at the SLJ Leadership Summit last month in Washington, DC. When Moran looked to modernize her schools, she started with investment in the libraries. As she described the need for schools to be Future Ready, she and her peers on the stage illustrated that they rely on the value of libraries and librarians in helping them achieve their goals for their schools.

Moran was joined on the panel by Mat McRae, superintendent, Swan Valley (MI) School District; Timothy Purnell, superintendent, Somerville (NJ) Public Schools; and Karen Sullivan, superintendent, Indian Prairie (IL) CUSD 204. I had the pleasure of moderating the panel and witnessed their enthusiasm for librarians during our preparation and time on stage. The superintendents expressed fine insights into what librarians do in and beyond the library space itself. They voiced excitement about librarians as change agents in a disrupted learning landscape. They shared their need for the evolving skills that the profession brings to the problems they see ahead.

Librarians are “the curators, connectors, collaborators,” and resources for the whole school, Moran told Summit participants, and the library is “the essential space in school for the kind of learning we want to see our students doing.”

Students, Sullivan said, need multiple literacies to be what Moran referred to as “life ready.” Librarians, she added, are the “catalysts for the radical transformation that needs to happen in public education for all kids.”

Purnell explained that he stops by the library first when visiting a school, because it is a “barometer of school culture.” The professionals in his libraries are crucial, he said, noting that “change in my district comes because we hire phenomenal librarians.”

A critical connection zone is around instruction and the need for instructional partnerships between teachers and librarians, the superintendents agreed. Noting that librarians “perform at 300 percent,” McRae urged the audience to focus on building relationships with teachers. “Teachers will not invite you into their classrooms until they know you care about them,” he said.

Librarians, according to Moran, can be models for other educators in the move toward more individualized, connected learning. As the connectors, they can drive positive change. “Will and skill go hand in hand,” she said.

So many school librarians have both the will and the skill—as Future Ready Librarians themselves. These dynamic superintendents get it, and their districts benefit. They are sold on libraries to help them achieve their goals. Their school libraries or media centers—and the professionals who run them—are central to the culture of the school, the learning process, and the success of their students. But don’t take my word for it: take theirs.


Rebecca T. Miller Editor-in-Chief

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