Missing in Action: School Librarians and the Digital and Media Literacy Plan of Action

If I have completely misread this report, then I apologize right now for putting my foot in my mouth, but I’m wondering why school librarians are generally absent from the “Digital and Media Literacy:  A Plan of Action” (A White Paper on the Digital and Media Literacy Recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy) report written by Renee Hobbs, someone whom I hold in high regard.    Why are Hobbs and the Knight Commission overlooking school librarians as  critical and essential stakeholders who could help leverage this plan into motion through public schools?  School librarians are perfectly positioned in terms of knowledge and skills to help implement the recommendations outlined in the report.

Recommendation 3, which advocates the creation of a Digital Media and Literacy Youth Corps, has some language that I find somewhat disturbing:

Congress should dedicate 10 percent of Americorps funding for the development of a Digital and Media Literacy (DML) Youth Corps. The DML Youth Corps would be a service outreach program that offers training and professional development in digital and media literacy to a group of recent college graduates and places them, in teams, to work in public libraries, school libraries and technology centers, local public access centers, and other community non-profit organizations.”

While this DML Youth Corps is a lovely idea, I would suggest a better idea is Congress providing funding for every public school in America to have a highly qualified and fully certified school librarian.    Instead of outreach in “school libraries and technology centers,” how about providing funding not only to put a school librarian in every building, but to provide funding to build a team of school librarians for every school where we can be embedded in grade or content level teams to truly infuse and integrate these literacies as a seamless and essential part of every student’s learning experience on a daily basis throughout the school year?     Is a “recent college graduate” really someone who is best qualified to provide the kind of instruction and learning experiences on an extended basis to infuse these literacies in the lives of children and teens?  I think it is already well established that “youth” does not necessarily correlate with one’s competencies in these literacies.  I would also say the same for public librarians—while the idea of a digital/media literacy core is admirable, you already have a corp in place with our talented peers in public libraries to serve populations of all ages.

I am normally a huge fan of Hobbs as well as the Knight Foundation, and I do like several of the recommendations and find them meaningful.  However,  I think that this report, while driven by noble principles, misses the mark in overlooking school librarians as an obvious and existing resource in helping cultivate these literacies in more powerful and consistent ways and as sponsors of these new media literacies to help close the participation gap.  Perhaps if there were more of us in place already and if our programs were not being cut across the nation at an alarming pace, we would not be dealing with the gaps we are seeing now with youth in terms of effectively cultivating these literacies  in conjunction and collaboration with classroom teachers.  I’m disappointed that Hobbs and the Knight Foundation seem to be overlooking school librarians as a ready, willing, and able resource who could be powerful facilitators of this plan.

What do you think?  Have I misread this report, and if not, why have Hobbs and the Knight Foundation made this glaring omission?

Respectfully,

Buffy Hamilton

17 thoughts on “Missing in Action: School Librarians and the Digital and Media Literacy Plan of Action

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  2. Buffy – Thanks for this post. I know that we all keep trying to point out what should be obvious – that we school librarians are ready, willing and up to the task of providing leadership in digital and media literacies. I am glad to see that in the U.S. Department of Education’s plan for transforming American education through technology, released on November 9, 2010, school librarians/library media specialists are acknowledged. In “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology;” five goals are outlined in five areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure and productivity. The goals are targeted to be achieved by 2015.

    The full report is available at http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/netp2010.pdf

    From the section “Teaching:Prepare and Connect,” subsection “Closing the Technology Gap in Teaching”:

    The technology that enables connected teaching is available now, but not all the conditions necessary to leverage it are. Many of our existing educators do not have the same understanding of and ease with using technology that is part of the daily lives of professionals in other sectors and with this generation of students. The same can be said of many of the education leaders and policymakers in schools, districts, and states and of the higher education institutions that prepare new educators for the field.

    This gap in technology understanding influences program and curriculum development, funding and purchase decisions about educational and information technology in schools, and preservice and in-service professional learning. Too often, this gap prevents technology from being used in ways that would improve instructional practices and learning outcomes.

    Still, we must introduce connected teaching into our education system rapidly, and for that we must rely on the organizations that support educators in their profession—schools and districts, colleges of education, professional learning providers, librarians and media specialists, and professional organizations. We also must call on education leaders and policymakers to remove barriers to connected teaching and provide incentives and recognition for educators who demonstrate effective teaching in a connected model. (p. 48)

    and from the section “Infrastructure: Access and Enable,” subsection “Human Talent and Scaling Expertise”:

    Studies have found that educators are more likely to incorporate technology into their instruction when they have access to this kind of coaching and mentoring (Strudler and Hearrington 2009). School technology coordinators, librarians, and media specialists may play this important role. ( p.60)

    I wish the Knight Commission report had stated this as well. Thank you for pointing out the that the expertise needed for Hobbs’ Plan of Action already exists in school and public libraries. When reports leave this information out, it is simply inexplicable.

    • Susan, thank you for summarizing the new national edtech plan. While we are mentioned a few times, I still think our presence should have been much more overt in that report as well.

      “School technology coordinators, librarians, and media specialists may play this important role”—in many schools, we already ARE playing this important role. I think I would have liked to have seen a stronger helping verb besides “may” in that statement.

      Hopefully, as we continue to lead by example and to share our practices of how we are working with our teachers and students, others outside the mainstream public education world will get a clearer picture of our expertise and willingness to be a team player in this important effort.

      Thank you for taking time to comment and to share your thoughts!
      Best,
      Buffy

  3. Go Buffy!!! You are of course absolutely correct. May I suggest that you use an upcoming post to provide contact info, such as an email address or web page, where we can all contact the Knight Commission with our comments? thanks!

  4. I think you are hit the nail on the head! You are so inspiring and can’t wait to hear you at the NJASL conference bec/ I feel that school librarians are “overlooked” as valued contributors to technology and literacy and a mindset must change NOW. Where does one start? I am doing my thing, but feel like so many times I keep running into the same wall.
    Thank you so much and I will share this link from my blog..wow..you rock!
    Jennifer

    • Jennifer, thank you so much—I’m looking forward to meeting you in a few weeks in NJ, and we’ll definitely be having these conversations. Many of us are trying to lead by example and through transparency, but reports like this seem to show our voices are not reaching as many ears as we’d like. You raise some important questions we need to continue to discuss, maybe a little more fervently now, as a profession.

      Thank you for taking time to read and comment, and I hope we can talk more on this in person soon in NJ!

      Best,
      Buffy

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  6. I am sorry that you feel that school librarians were overlooked in the report, Buffy. When I use the term K-12 educators, I include library media specialists, technology specialists, English teachers, social studies and health teachers, art teachers, and even science and math teachers, all of whom play a vital role in bringing digial and media literacy to 75 million children. My whole life has been spent working in school districts with educators as change agents. Please accept my apologies if you did not feel that your vital and important work was not sufficiently acknowledged in the plan of action.

    • Thank you for taking time to respond–there is no doubt you have been an advocate for K12 education and have inspired us with your groundbreaking work!

      And while it is essential that ALL educators work together in this effort, I think it is important to note that school librarians ARE different from classroom teachers in that the very skills that are privileged in this report are our area of specialty. We are a unique brand of teacher that is being eliminated, not added, to the landscape of public education. In many places where we haven’t already been eliminated by budget cuts, we are the ONLY voices leading these conversations in our educational communities. The library has the potential to be the learning center where all students and educators can come together to engage in learning and practice these new and important literacies.

      Evaluating information in multiple containers and helping people use multiple literacies are really the focus of what 21st century librarians now do—I fear that our omission from reports like this will only marginalize our profession, which is rapidly being eroded by budget cuts and misperceptions about what we do in the school community.

      I invite you to look at the work I’m doing in my school as the work of other innovative school library professionals in the field to hopefully get a clearer picture of our unique role and the work we are already doing right now to advance the ideas and principles set forth in your white paper.

      Respectfully,
      Buffy

  7. Ms. Hobbs,

    I respectfully submit that unless teacher/librarians are specifically named in reports such as yours, their role in educating students tends to be belittled or ignored.

    And unless their services are mandated, TLs will continue to be vulnerable to budget cuts.

    That said, teacher education programs, including those for librarians, need to be evaluated to assure that future educators come to classrooms and libraries equipped to guide students effectively and appropriately.

  8. This is a thoughtful critique, and I do hope that Renee Hobbs’s reply at least indicates her intent not to discriminate against school librarians as important players in the mix of DML education. You should also know that at a roundtable that the Aspen Institute held on Nov. 10 to launch this paper (which we commissioned) and see how to move the recommendations to the next step, Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association spoke forcefully for school librarians, making many of the same points. I do hope that school librarians will become involved and engaged in this effort as it goes forward.

    Charlie Firestone
    Executive Director
    Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program

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  10. Buffy I had almost the exact same reaction regarding school librarians being left out and planned to write about it this week. As always you said it better than me! Thank you for writing this, well done.

  11. While I was reading your post, I was thinking “Just email Renee and ask.” I’m glad she commented on the post. I’ve contacted her in the past about a few issues and she’s quickly responded. With that being said, school librarians need to be specifically mentioned or we will be forgotten.

    • I was a bit surprised that she didn’t really distinguish our role from that of classroom teachers—I won’t rehash the reasons I outlined in the post for my concern about our omission, but it is especially disappointing when people you feel understand what school librarians do still don’t make that distinction in important reports like these. While I am very familiar with her body of work (and respect that), I don’t personally know Renee and didn’t feel comfortable in emailing her directly since I do not know her, but I am appreciative she did take time to respond in this space.

      Best,
      Buffy

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