School Librarians Play Integral Role in Literacy Education and Outreach


Dr. Mary Ann Harlan, lecturer and Teacher Librarian program coordinator at the San José State University School of Library and Information Science (SJSU SLIS), reflects on a recent report by the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE).

In my role as coordinator for the Teacher Librarian program at the San José State University School of Library and Information Science, I am often asked questions, such as “What is the future of school libraries?” “Is there a role for teacher librarians in our future?”

Many SJSU SLIS Teacher Librarian program students have told me they have encountered similar questions as their colleagues, friends, and families express concerns about their desire to enter a “dying profession.” I question this framing, and I see a very important role for teacher librarians in the changing education landscape.

The emergence of the Common Core State Standards has provided an opportunity for teacher librarians. The emphasis on informational texts (e.g., print, visual, media, etc.) is a focus on information literacy, and teacher librarians can help students and teachers master complex texts.

Due to recent focus on academic literacy, and an emphasis on informational texts, the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) investigated literacy education in our nation’s schools and communities. A key finding of this report is that all teachers understand that they have a role in literacy education. This was clearly represented in the answers that school librarians provided. For example, page 19 of the NCLE report leads with, “Librarians and literacy coaches play a critical role in building schools’ collective capacity to improve literacy learning.” 

SJSU SLIS recognizes this and recently introduced a School Library Media Materials course, which emphasizes the type of complex texts students and teachers are asked to engage in, while still emphasizing a library’s role in providing space for personal learning and passions. A tall task, but one for which teacher librarians must be ready. 

An infographic created by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), details key school librarian findings from the NCLE Remodeling Literacy Learning report. For example, it shows that 80% of teacher librarians report involvement in internal collaborative teams, and 58% lead professional development for teachers. Teacher librarians are taking leadership roles, and they are contributing to student learning. 

The role of the school library in the future is to be a center for learning for the entire school community. The emphasis of library as the center of learning in the school community is heavily emphasized in the coursework required of students following the Teacher Librarianship career pathway at SJSU SLIS. 

Literacy in the modern age is widely recognized as a collection of skills that go beyond the ability to comprehend printed text, and the skills of transcribing words. Literacy is complex, involving the ability to understand, respond to, and create a variety of texts. The NCLE report illustrates that teacher librarians not only understand this, but contribute as teachers to vital literacy skills.

About the Author

Dr. Mary Ann Harlan has a more than a decade of experience serving as a teacher librarian. She is a recent graduate of the San José Gateway Ph.D. program. Her doctoral research examined how teens create and share online content, including films, visual artwork, music, and websites. Harlan is a lecturer at the San José State University School of Library and Information Science. She teaches courses in the fully online Teacher Librarian program and the fully online Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program. She is also an alumna of SJSU SLIS, with a master’s degree in library and information science.