Tips & Advice

The Difference a School Librarian Can Make, According to One Dad

by Tom Burns

Photo credit: Ridofranz, IStock/Getty Images

A few years ago, we moved our young daughter to a new school district.

When we toured her new school before the year started, she noted with interest, “Hey, they have a librarian here. A real one.” At my daughter’s last school, they only had a beleaguered media specialist who was shared with four other schools. When the specialist wasn’t in the building, the library was considered “closed.” So, my daughter — a big reader — was excited to learn that her school library would actually be open every single day. But that excitement barely compared to the state of near-euphoria I found her in after her first day of fourth grade.

“DAD!” she gushed. “Our librarian is so nice! And they have a whole wall of graphic novels! And we like a lot of the same books! And she said that I had her permission to take out extra books! And she made a special book-box just for me where she’s going to keep books that she thinks I’ll like! And she let me borrow this!”

It was a copy of Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Which is pretty much the PERFECT book for my daughter.

That was the moment when I truly realized how vital school librarians are.

This librarian had known my daughter for less than an hour and yet she’d already gotten my kid excited about reading AND matched her with an incredibly insightful book recommendation … on the first day of school. That’s impressive.

We live in a world that painfully undervalues teachers, but school librarians are overlooked just as much. I’ve met people who see school librarians as a luxury or some kind of educational throwback. A librarian? In every school? Like how each school used to have its own nurse? Times have changed. Can’t the English teachers just help them get their books?

Here’s the thing — the English teachers are already doing enough. They’re doing MORE than enough. School librarians, however, play a very specific and very necessary role in the educational development of our children. They don’t just shush noisy kids and guard their precious books. They curate knowledge, and they teach kids how to seek out knowledge for themselves.

School librarians aren’t gatekeepers. They give kids the keys and teach them how to use the gate.

In a world where so many choices are driven by algorithms, it’s wonderful to get a recommendation from a real person. And school librarians are generally the kindest, warmest, most intuitive recommendation-givers ever. They get to know your kids. They get a sense of them. They’ve learned through study, hard work, and practice which books will work for particular students and which ones won’t. School librarians build actual relationships, so they know, on a personal level if “this kid would love The Hunger Games” or “Oh wow, this kid definitely isn’t ready for The Hunger Games yet.” The sophistication of their recommendations is staggering.

It would be impressive enough if that was all that school librarians did, but they do so much more. At my daughter’s school, her beloved librarian also taught the kids how to research, how to use Google Docs and PowerPoint, and how to give presentations. The librarian led robotics classes, ran afterschool clubs, and organized the school-wide Battle of the Books. (Have I mentioned yet that my daughter’s team, which I coached, won the Battle when she was in fifth grade? Not that I’m ridiculously proud of that or anything.)

The value-add of having these librarians in schools is indescribable. They’re not some kind of personal book concierge service that only makes sense for kids in rich school districts. They’re not a “nice to have.”

School librarians matter. They matter to every kid in their districts.

I consider myself lucky that my daughter got to experience having a really amazing school librarian. I can’t begin to tell you the difference it made to her elementary school years. Every kid deserves that experience. So grown-ups, do the next generation a solid and support school librarians whenever you can.

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