Library Media Specialist Roles

The Roles of the School Library Media Specialist


Leadership is integral to developing a successful 21st-century School Library Media Program (SLMP). As informa­tion literacy and technology skills become central to learning, the School Library Media Specialist (SLMS) must lead the way in building 21st-century skills throughout the school environment. Do­ing so involves a willingness to serve as a teacher and a learner who listens to and acts upon good ideas from peers, teachers, and students. Leadership also requires increased professional commitment and thorough knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing the profession. By becoming an active member of the local and global learning community, the SLMS can build relationships with organizations and stakeholders to develop an effective SLMP and advocate for student learning.

Instructional Partner

As outlined in Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning, the SLMS works with members of the school community to develop the policies, practices, and curricula to guide student learning. The SLMS collaborates with classroom teachers to develop assignments that are matched to academic standards and include key critical thinking skills, technology and information literacy skills, and core social skills and cultural competencies. The SLMS guides instructional design by working with the classroom teacher to establish learning objectives and goals, and by implementing assessment strategies before, during, and after assigned units of study. In a 24–7 learning environment, communication with classroom teachers and students now takes place virtually, as well as face-to-face.

Information Specialist

American Association of School Libraries (AASL) survey respondents and Vision Summit participants both identified the crucial role that technology plays in every aspect of the SLMP. As an information specialist the SLMS uses technology tools to supplement school resources, assist in the creation of engaging learning tasks, connect the school with the global learning community, communicate with students and classroom teachers at any time, and provide 24–7 access to library services. The SLMS introduces and models emerging technologies, as well as strategies for finding, assessing, and using information. He or she is a leader in software and hardware evaluation, establishing the processes for such evaluation to take place. Doing so requires frequent evaluation of the use of technology in the school library media center through regular data analysis.

Expertise in the ethical use of information also remains a cornerstone of the SLMS’s role as information specialist. As copyright options continue to expand for creators, the SLMS must be versed in the theoretical grounding and practical application of such laws in order to teach the ethical use of information to the learning community. This involves new understandings of fair use and forms of licensing that allow users to modify original content. Students, teachers, and other members of the educational community look to the SLMS to set guidelines for navigating fair use issues.


As teacher the SLMS empowers students to become critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers, and ethical users of information. The SLMS supports students’ success by guiding them to:

– read for understanding, breadth, and pleasure
– use information for defined and self-defined purposes
– build on prior knowledge and construct new knowledge
– embrace the world of information and all its formats
– work with each other in successful collaborations for learning
– constructively assess their own work and the work of their peers
– become their own best critics.

The SLMS advocates for reading for pleasure and supports reading comprehen­sion skills across all formats. By being conversant with new research about reading, the SLMS can build a collection that reflects the needs of learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, and with diverse abilities and aspirations. A leading SLMS stays abreast of both national trends of popular reading material and student interests within the individual school community. He or she advocates for reading in all formats, such as graphic novels, periodicals, and online sources.

Program Administrator

As program administrator, the SLMS ensures that all members of the learning community have access to resources that meet a variety of needs and interests. The implementation of a successful SLMP requires the collaborative development of the program mission, strategic plan, and policies, as well as the effective management of staff, the program budget, and the physical and virtual spaces. To augment infor­mation resources available to the learning community, the SLMS works actively to form partnerships with stakeholders and sister organizations at local and global levels. The SLMS also addresses broader educational issues with other educators in the building, at the district level, and at the professional association level.

All of these five roles—leader, instructional partner, teacher, information special­ist, and program administrator—are interconnected; one cannot be performed without the support of the others. Teaching for learning requires collaboration with classroom teachers and students to design engaging lessons and units of study (as an instructional partner), knowledge of what technologies can support learning (as an information specialist), effective program administration to ensure quality resources are available for learners, and leadership to establish the way forward.

Excerpted from Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs by the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association, copyright © 2009 American Library Association. Used with permission.
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