New Your State School Boards Association

School librarians valuable behind scenes as schools adopt Common Core standards


On Board Online • March 11, 2013

By Jim Belair

There is much more to today’s school librarian than the stereotypical image of a person who only circulates books and says, “Shhhh.” While school librarians have always supported students, today’s librarian has an equally important role in supporting faculty. Educators are often stressed - if not overwhelmed – by new tasks associated with Race to the Top and the Regents’ reform agenda. School librarians can help their colleagues meet these objectives and fulfill the overall goal of improving student achievement. 

Being “college- and career-ready” invariably means having good information skills. As anyone who performs Internet searches knows, finding information is not difficult; the challenge is being able to distinguish high quality information from less reliable sources.  School librarians are experts in teaching students these skills and can collaborate with content area teachers to incorporate them into their lessons.  It is not surprising that, according to multiple research studies, students in schools with certified librarians have higher test scores than those in schools that lack librarians.

Librarians are particularly valuable as schools modify curriculums to reflect Common Core standards.  Librarians in New York are strong supporters of the Common Core because it challenges students to think independently and do their own research. At the heart of the standards is precisely what school librarians have always done:  Teach students how to read, work with technology, form research questions, locate information, analyze it and synthesize ideas.

Consider a fifth-grade class studying explorers. A school librarian teaches website evaluation skills by having students critique the website http://allaboutexplorers.com/.  This is an attractive website that looks credible but mixes facts with highly inaccurate information, such as the contention that Samuel de Champlain granted gambling casino licenses to Indians and used vinyl siding on a fort.

A single lesson using allaboutexplorers.com can involve many Common Core skills, reinforce the content studied in the classroom, and allow the school librarian to teach much-needed, grade-appropriate information literacy skills (see sidebar). Although elementary school librarians are not required by the state, they can give invaluable support to both teachers and students by reinforcing what is taking place in the classroom.

School librarians also understand how to integrate technology with instruction. For example, school librarians have helped students create faux Facebook pages for historical figures.  On a secure internal network, students can post the person’s ideas and respond to postings by other famous people on the network.  Additionally, librarians could help students create multimedia “newscasts” of an important historical event.

Librarians play a key role in teaching students and content area teachers to find the best instructional resources. The Common Core demands the use of high quality informational text at the appropriate instructional level, and many classroom teachers are struggling to locate such materials.  This is an area in which school librarians are an invaluable asset; they excel not only at locating information, but also teaching others how to locate and evaluate it.  Using online databases available through the school library, including those provided through NOVELny, teachers and students can locate a variety of articles on almost any topic. Many articles in school databases contain a numerical “Lexile” measure that reflects the difficulty of the material. This makes it possible to locate an even greater variety of articles on the same subject but at different reading levels.

School librarians collaborate with teachers to develop supplemental reading lists using the online databases or other resources which are part of the library’s collection. Sometimes this work is coordinated among librarians in a region. Within Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, for instance, a group of high school librarians are working together to create a regional listing of resources to support global studies.  They are combing through online databases, eBooks, print materials, video streaming providers, and websites to identify resources that would be appropriate for global studies instruction – at multiple reading levels.

At a statewide level, a group of BOCES School Library System directors is looking at how school librarians can further support instruction in light of the release of the new ELA curriculum modules on EngageNY.org.  They are reviewing the modules and matching them to specific print books, database articles and videos.  The goal is to create a current, up-to-date appendix for students and teachers to use. 

School boards and administrators should consider inviting school librarians and School Library System directors to brief them on how they are strengthening instruction, including the complex tasks associated with the Common Core. You and the public will, no doubt, be impressed with the ways your school librarians are helping your district prepare students for success.

Jim Belair is school library system director for Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES.


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