The Role of Teacher-Librarians

By Allie Gillen


What’s In a Name?

School librarian, library media specialist, teacher-librarian.  These are common titles assigned to the person charged with both instructing students and managing an effective and accessible library within a school.  The American Association of School Libraries (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), officially uses the title “school librarian”.  However, that title overlooks the very important instructional aspect of the job.  Therefore, I use the title “teacher-librarian” as I feel it best encapsulates the multi-faceted responsibilities of the position.


What Does a Teacher-Librarian Do?

A teacher-librarian is a teacher.  (S)he teaches information-literacy skills and supports the school’s curriculum in ways such as helping students with research projects, and by reinforcing reading comprehension skills and concepts of print.  Even though the setting is in a library media center rather than a conventional classroom, teaching students is still the primary role of a teacher-librarian.


A teacher-librarian is a librarian.  (S)he promotes a love of reading and literature, and manages information and ideas, both written and electronic.


There are three essential functions of a teacher-librarian: (1) as an instructor, primarily of information literacy skills, (2) as a reading advocate, and (3) as an information manager (Eisenberg & Miller, 2002).


A Teacher-Librarian is an Instructor

As the job title suggests, a teacher-librarian is an instructor, principally of information literacy skills. Most states mandate that licensed school library media specialists are certified classroom teachers in addition to their specialized training required for licensure in school library media programs (Kaplan, 2008).  With such training, teacher-librarians are effective educators because they “understand the foundations of instruction in diverse learning and cultural settings” (Kaplan, 2008, p. 19).


Teacher-Librarians, like nearly all educators, use educational standards as guides for what students should know and be able to do. The American Association of School Librarians developed Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in 2007.  The standards and skills outlined therein ensure that students are able to:

1. Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.

2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.

3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our society.

4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.  (American Association of School Librarians, 2007)

In addition to these national guidelines, many states and districts have also developed local information literacy standards for instruction in the school library media center.


A teacher-librarian’s instruction often extends beyond information literacy in support of cross-curricular connections.  An obvious connection is with reading and language arts.  A teacher-librarian is capable of reinforcing reading comprehension skills, such as literary elements (character, setting, plot), connections to text (text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world), and distinguishing fiction and nonfiction texts.  The teacher-librarian also reinforces concepts of print when guiding students in tasks such as locating a book’s author and/or illustrator, and using non-fiction text features to find answers to questions.  There is great potential for cross-curricular connections within the context of information literacy instruction, as evidenced by the vast commonalities outlined in AASL’s 21st –Century Learning Standards and Common Core State Standards Crosswalk.


A teacher-librarian instructs her colleagues, as well.  “Many [teacher-] librarians often provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators” (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2014, p. 4).  These learning sessions for school faculty are often informal, such as one-on-one support for a particular question or instructional area, but also extend to more formal sessions for groups of educators, especially regarding the use of electronic resources to enhance instruction and student engagement.  Professional development provided by a teacher-librarian can also focus on instructing staff how to effectively search for library materials they desire for their classroom, including general catalog searches, as well as refined searches using parameters such as student reading levels.


A Teacher-Librarian is a Reading Advocate

Teacher-librarians foster reading for enjoyment and as a way to seek answers to questions.  Teacher-librarians provide free and equitable access to library materials and technology that may not be available to students outside of school.  Students who may live in a home that is devoid of reading material have the opportunity to enjoy books from the school library with their families. 


“Good library programs bolster the efforts of classroom teachers and reading teachers, whose responsibility it is to teach students how to read, by helping students want to read” (Menefee, 2009, p. 33).  Teacher-librarians help increase students’ desire to read by guiding them to self-select reading materials that are of interest to them.  This self-selection allows students to gain some ownership of their reading experience.  Many teacher-librarians enjoy “exciting students about books and media, as well as providing easy access to rich book and media collections” (Eisenberg & Miller, 2002).


Teacher-librarians promote quality literature through read-alouds (especially at the elementary school level) and book talks.  Most states have a “children’s choice” book award, such as Wyoming’s Buckaroo Award, that allows students to voice their opinions by voting at their school library for their favorite titles.  This participatory process also provides a way to expose students to quality literature.


A Teacher-Librarian is an Information Manager and Library Program Administrator

The teacher-librarian’s role as an information manager (Eisenberg & Miller, 2002) and library program administrator (Kaplan, 2008) entails much more than the highly visible clerical tasks often associated with the job, such as checking items in and out to library users, and putting materials back in the correct place so that users may find them when needed.  Though these are necessary tasks, in order for a library program to be successful, the teacher-librarian must also continually develop knowledge of books and electronic resources (Kaplan, 2008).  These resources are sought in order to support both students’ and faculty’s reading and research.  To attain such resources, the teacher-librarian selects age-appropriate materials, and organizes information in a way that makes it accessible to library users of all ages and abilities.  Texts in the collection are continually evaluated to ensure resources are current, attractive, and reliable.


Increasingly, access to the library’s resources extends beyond the school walls and hours and is available 24/7 through Internet access.  Teacher-librarians “often have budgetary opportunities and responsibilities to identify digital needs and to purchase and implement technology, including… digital resources, such as subscription databases, web-based services…“ (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2014, p. 5).


As library program administrators, teacher-librarians develop “school libraries [that] offer the most cost-effective option for providing resources, including digital media, to the school community.  Everything that is made available through the library is accessible to every student and faculty member at the school.” (Beth Yoke, executive director of the Young Adult Library Services Association, as quoted in Alliance for Excellent Education, 2014, p. 6)


Why is a Teacher-Librarian Important?

Teacher-librarians are important to students’ education, demonstrated by a “substantial body of research into the test scores and library media center quality in schools in 14 states since 1990” (Menefee, 2009, p. 33).  The research has shown that a “well-stocked library staffed by a certified media specialist has a positive impact on student achievement, regardless of the socioeconomic or education levels of the community” (Menefee, 2009, p. 33).


The work that teacher-librarians “do on a daily basis – teach kids how to be independent information users – benefits public and academic librarians” (Lohmiller, 2009, p. 36), as well as teachers incorporating research in their instruction.  Teacher-librarians tend to “perform [their] work so quietly that no one realizes what [they] have accomplished” (Lohmiller, 2009, p. 36).


In this day and age of fast and easy access to an almost limitless amount of ideas and information, it is of increasing importance to guide students to find facts and answers that are current, accurate, and comprehensible.  “In older models, the librarian was more of a selector, protector and a preserver of resources. Now a librarian, or school media specialist, is more of a discerning cultivator and a matchmaker between people and the widely varied resources that meet their information needs” (West, 2011).


Alliance for Excellent Education. (2014, January). Leading in and beyond the library (M. A. Wolf, R. Jones, & D. Gilbert, Authors). Retrieved from


American Association of School Librarians. (2007). Standards for the 21st-century learner. Retrieved from


Eisenberg, M., & Miller, D. H. (2002, September). This man wants to change your job. School Library Journal. Retrieved from


Kaplan, A. G. (2008, March). Is your school librarian 'highly qualified'? The Education Digest, 17-20.


Lohmiller, D. (2009, October). The librarian in the classroom. Library Media Connection, 36-37.


Menefee, M. (2009, August). The changing library. American School Board Journal, 32-35.


West, J. (2011, June 27). Are school librarians expendable?: Assessing the unassessable. New York Times. Retrieved from