Why librarians are as important as principals

schools need libraries

When talking about excellent public schools, librarians are as important in securing excellence as principals are. Here are the top ten things librarians do; principals not so much:

  • Research – school librarians help the entire school community, students, teachers and even parents do research. School librarians are prepared to teach students how to do research either in class or individually. School librarians help teachers find studies and resources for their classes.
  • Critical thinking – school librarians use questioning to model critical thinking as part of their daily practice.
  • Collaboration – school librarians are ready to collaborate with anyone on any topic.
  • Lifelong learning – school librarians model and encourage lifelong learning by actively listening to student questions regardless of how far afield they might be and by encouraging students to pursue their personal projects.
  • Individual attention – school librarians give full, undivided attention.
  • Technology – school librarians are intimate with technology both as early adopters and as serious critics of the abuse of technology.
  • Flexibility – school librarians provide flexibility to the entire school by always  being ready and welcoming to student needs.
  • Refuge for the marginalized – it’s a bit of a cliché but no one in the school provides the refuge that librarians provide in their libraries.
  • Documented positive impact on student achievement – 34 state studies (Lance, Kachel) confirm that school librarians always have a positive impact and it is even greater in under-resourced communities.
  • Literacy – school librarians build reading communities. This one is last because it is also the first. It may be very obvious but it is also very powerful.

Public school principals are typically technocrats who are very good at their jobs. In other words they satisfy the needs of their employer, the school district, whose primary concern is to accommodate the needs of adults, the legislators and education policy makers. Too often the needs of the adults have everything to do with politics or business and nothing to do with children. All the decision makers and implementers of education policy build their strategy with a technocratic approach based on data. But can a technocrat ever be able to satisfy the human needs of the students and their teachers? Education is more than a technocracy.

Librarians are the humanistic counterbalance to the paint by numbers approach of the technocrats and are also very good at their jobs. At this particular moment in time it has become necessary to draw a distinction between technocratic decision making and humanistic decision making in order to see the dynamic tension between them. In this ever increasingly technological society, in an already overly technocratic system, we are in sore need of the humanism that is guaranteed by the presence of librarians.

This important distinction must be made. The balance is our true measure.


“Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Kappanonline.org, 4 Oct. 2018, http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/.

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I'm a school librarian in Seattle who wants to take the corporate created standardized test away and give students books instead. Nothing would be better than to bring real progressive education to public school.

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