Librarian, media specialist, teacher librarian. The title, along with the role, has evolved from the days when ordering books, checking them in and out, and teaching students the Dewey Decimal System was their main function.
The job of today’s teacher librarian is multifaceted, explains John Hochstetler, M.L.S., a Library and Information Science (LIS) alumnus and Indiana’s Hamilton Southeast District 2018 Teacher of the Year. “We still focus mainly on literacy, but literacy looks different today than when I first started. We offer reader’s advisory help to students looking for the right book, we promote literature through book talks and displays, and we curate a diverse collection that reflects our student population. However, we also focus much of our attention on digital literacy,” he says.
Hochstetler believes this shift from the traditional model of school librarian has happened as a response to world demands, and that this trend will continue as more and more tools are developed. “With the influx of technology, students have the capacity to work collaboratively with others from around the world or to tap into the expertise of others, and we, as educators, should be providing that opportunity for them,” he says.
“The best part of my job is seeing the ‘lightbulb’ moments.”
Hochstetler says the main goal of teacher librarians is to empower others with new knowledge, whether through literature, online resources, or through experiences. When he co-plans units with teachers, he looks for resources that would enhance the students’ experience. “Sometimes it is connecting them with someone from our community or taking a virtual field trip with Google Expeditions or suggesting the best way to amplify their voices to share what knowledge they gained during the unit,” he says.
He spends a large part of his time staying up-to-date with the newest technology. Among the reasons is to keep current with real world so that his students experience that in school and to assist teachers in being more engaging and possibly more efficient. “If our students are more engaged in their own learning it makes the job of the teacher that much easier. The goal is always to empower students to ultimately help prepare themselves for their own future,” he says. However, he also cautions that while there is a need to stay current, “we need to remember technology is a tool and it doesn’t always lend itself to be the right tool for every situation.”
In the years since he completed his M.L.S. degree at the School of Informatics and Computing, including 11 at Sand Creek Elementary, Hochstetler has faced many challenges that didn’t exist at that time. One of the classes he refers back to is User Needs. He says the course was invaluable in determining the “why” of pursuing any particular project, i.e., if it doesn’t fit user needs then rethink the proposal.
He still reaches out to people he met through the M.L.S. program for support, and he highly recommends that teacher librarians develop a personal learning network to bounce ideas off. “I love the fact that this career allows me to continue to learn,” he says.
One thing that hasn’t changed? “The best part of my job is seeing the “lightbulb” moments,” Hochstetler says.
This article is part of an ongoing series about the evolving role of the modern library and information science professional, including archivists, digitization specialists, and data curators, among others. For example, today’s teacher librarian may be tasked with addressing what it means to be a good digital citizen, how to leverage technology to be a global collaborator, how to construct knowledge by exploring real-world problems, and deciding what would be the best tool to share that knowledge with others.