The Decline and Evolution of the School Librarian

Seattle-based freelance journalist Hallie Golden recently interviewed Debra E. Kachel of Antioch University Seattle and me about our research on the apparent decline and possible evolution of school librarianship. Those interviews are quoted at length in her September 4, 2019, CITYLAB article titled The Decline and Evolution of the School Librarian.

Our quoted remarks as well as background information we provided are based on our March 2018 School Library Journal articles in the series, School Librarian State of the Union:

School Librarian, Where Art Thou? (Lance)

A Perfect Storm Impacts School Librarian Numbers (Kachel)

There’s Little National Data About School Librarians. What Happened? (Lance)

Excerpts from the article:

“It is clear that we are losing school librarians in alarming numbers,” said Keith Curry Lance, a consultant with RSL research group who has done extensive work in library research and statistics. “We also know, although we don’t have specifics about it, that in many cases those jobs are disappearing, or at least appear to be disappearing, because in many districts, in many states, school librarianship is evolving into many something elses.”

The role has evolved significantly in the time since. Gone are the days when the responsibilities of all school librarians revolved solely on printed books and card catalogues. Schools across the country have come to rely on librarians to contribute to—if not lead—lessons on technology and digital information gathering. In some cases, these expanded roles even come with new titles. Schools in North Reading, Massachusetts, have taken to calling school librarians “Digital Learning Specialists,” and in Burlington, Vermont, they are called “Library Interventionists,” according to Debra Kachel, affiliate faculty at Antioch University’s education school.

Today, the amount of data available on school librarians is fairly scarce. Although the National Center for Education Statistics offers a glimpse into how many school librarian positions currently exist, further insight into these positions and how they’re evolving is practically non-existent. In 2012, the education statistics center and the American Association of School Librarians both opted to stop producing their comprehensive surveys of the profession.

Lance said the result has been many unknowns when it comes to how many schools are actually eliminating librarians and how many are simply revamping these employees’ roles and titles. For example, if a librarian is no longer called librarian, they may not be included in a study on the profession.

2 comments on “The Decline and Evolution of the School Librarian

  1. I am now referred to as the library Media Specialist. In past years I would pull books for English classes and they would come down to do research papers. Now I am lucky if any classes come down. I would have the Freshmen class come down to do a scavenger hunt around the library to familiarize them with the library. I have no interest in them coming down to do that anymore. They do everything on the chrome books and many students don’t even open a book anymore. It is sad.

  2. Paula, thank you for your comment. If you don’t mind my asking, how do you believe your principal (and other school decision-makers or influencers) perceives your position and your library at this point? If you are “now referred to as the library media specialist,” what was your title before–librarian or something else? Are you involved with your school’s technology resources, or are those someone else’s “turf?” How is your relationship with the technology person at your school, assuming there is one? I’m very curious about the situations of school librarians like yourself. Best wishes, Keith