Darlene Rankin, Director of Instructional Technology for Katy (Texas) Independent School District, says the district’s modern school libraries offer its 85,700 students
a variety of essential ed tech.

Jul 08 2022

Tech-Savvy School Librarians Provide Value to Modern Learners

Librarians’ unique expertise helps schools adopt and integrate technology for teaching and learning.

Ask librarians how technology has changed their work in recent years, and you’re likely to be kindly yet firmly corrected.

“School librarians have always been at the forefront of technology in our schools,” says Jennisen Lucas, president of the American Association of School Librarians. “A lot of times, we are the first adopters.”

Clunky microfiche readers, research databases, computers, 3D printers — all made their school debuts in the library. However, research shows research shows that between 2009 and 2019, the number of K–12 librarians fell by almost 20 percent.

According to the American Library Association, although most schools have libraries, only 61 percent had full-time librarians in 2019. In Washington State, research has shown that students at schools with high-quality libraries and certified teacher–librarians are more likely to graduate and perform better on standardized tests.

With the increase in educational technology, many librarians spend much of their time addressing one of the core challenges of modern education: integrating technology into pedagogy in ways that fundamentally elevate learning.

As specialists in information science, librarians also teach students how to evaluate and use digital resources effectively to create their own content and collaborate on group projects. Such skills are so central to 21st century work, learning and citizenship that librarians often consider this an essential aspect of their role.

“Librarians have been at the helm of digital responsibility with our students,” says Darlene Rankin, director of instructional technology for Katy Independent School District, about 30 miles west of Houston.

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Librarians Partner with Teachers to Support Student Success

Kari Heitman was previously the librarian at Katy ISD’s Paetow High School, which opened five years ago. Paetow’s library offers students standard devices such as Chromebooks and desktop computers, and newer technologies such as 3D printers and other makerspace gear to spur creativity and critical thinking.

Now, as the district’s library systems coordinator, Heitman spends most of her time co-teaching. She also curates digital resources, helps teachers scaffold research lessons across grade levels and creates video tutorials that teachers can use with their students.

“That’s one of the hallmarks of the library role today: We are co-teachers, co-partners, collaborators with teachers to help students be more successful,” Heitman says.

The district has standardized library technologies to ensure that all schools have the same resources, including Chromebooks, tablets and makerspace tools. Every five years, each site gets a technology refresh.

DISCOVER: How digital resource libraries continue to engage in-person students.

In the newest spaces, the emphasis is on flexibility, says Rankin. Bookshelves are on wheels, and movable kiosks where students can look up resources have replaced permanent stations.

“Rather than built-in cabinetry with desktop computers and built-in wiring, we want students to have mobile devices in hand,” Rankin says. They can work at tables, on sofas or outside, where extended Wi-Fi ensures coverage.

Katy ISD has 72 librarians, 69 library aides and several classroom technology designers, but Library Programs Coordinator Sofia Darcy notes that in smaller districts, the librarian may be the most tech-savvy staff member.

In those schools, she says, “they are the tech department. The library role is much, much broader than people think.

Kristina Holzweiss
The library isn’t four walls. … It’s a culture of inclusivity, accessibility and equity.”

Kristina Holzweiss Educational Technology Enrichment Specialist, Syosset Central School District

New Technology Puts a Fresh Spin on the Library’s Image

In Lumberton, Texas, the school district transformed its library program about a decade ago to focus more on technology, says Mary Johnson, director of communications and community relations. When Michelle LaRue took on the librarian role for Lumberton Intermediate School, she found old, unused equipment taking up space, along with teachers who saw little value in bringing their students to the library.

“Previously, the librarians didn’t teach lessons aligned with the classroom curriculum,” she says. “It was strictly a check-in, check-out book place.”

Perceptions started to shift when the district gave each library an interactive TV and a Chromebook cart. Students realized there was more to the library, and teachers saw how librarians used technology with students.

DIG DEEPER: Here's how emerging technology can supercharge learning.

“When we started doing activities and extensions of their lessons, teachers got excited because the library was helping them with their objectives and learning skills,” says LaRue.

Johnson says the district also set new expectations for librarians, such as helping teachers address the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills learning standards. Today, Lumberton’s librarians serve as liaisons between teachers and instructional technology specialists, helping the latter tailor their support to teachers’ most pressing needs.

Next year, Lumberton ISD will open three new libraries and update two existing ones, continuing the vision of the past decade, says Johnson.

“I have a firm belief that the library is the heartbeat of the campus,” she says.

Students Access Whole New Worlds in School Libraries

For many students, the library might be the only place where they have access to drones, robots and various machines — tools that can spark new interests and, in collaboration with other students, help them develop social–emotional learning skills.

Kristina A. Holzweiss, a certified school librarian and educational technology enrichment specialist at the Syosset Central School District in New York, is an excellent example of librarians’ versatility. Her recent projects, all in partnership with teachers, include helping Russian language students create travel brochures and videos, working on life skills with special education students and finding ways to use technology to boost social-emotional learning.

RELATED: How professional development in K–12 education continues to be important.

That diversity, librarians say, is emblematic of their profession. In the library, students might practice coding, start a business, develop leadership skills, discover a new passion and, along the way, gain skills they’ll need to succeed after graduation.

“The library isn’t four walls,” says Holzweiss. “It’s a culture of learning, of collaboration, of working together, of the right to knowledge. It’s a culture of inclusivity, accessibility and equity.”


The percentage decrease in the number of U.S. school librarians between 2009 and 2019

Source: libslide.org, “Perspectives on School Librarian Employment in the United States, 2009–10 to 2018–19,” July 2021
Photography by Michael Starghill

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