Note: All opinions here are my own and do not represent my district or any other organization
I wrote the bulk of this post a few months ago after a conversation with Susan Wells at FETC. And it sat in my drafts for awhile as I tried to figure out how to frame it. Then recently, articles started coming out about how libraries are changing into makerspaces – ie. they’re no longer a library. My friend and book co-author Colleen Graves wrote up a great piece about how her space is a library AND a makerspace, how books and literacy don’t stop being important when you add hands-on learning into the mix. So I felt like this was a good time to add my voice to the conversation and take a look at why I love the word library, even though that isn’t what my district calls my space. Plus, it’s the start of National School Library Month, so it’s the perfect time to take a look at what our terms mean and how school libraries can transform learning.
A rose by any other name?
We have so many names for the room in our schools where we have books, computers and resources available for all our students. Library. Media Center. Innovation Lab. Resource center. Learning commons.
We have a similar number of names for the individual(s) who work primarily in that room. Librarian. School Librarian. Teacher Librarian. Media Specialist. Technology Coordinator. And dozens of other terms.
My official title from my district is media specialist, and the official district term for my room is media center. And most of those in education tend to know what I mean when I use one of those terms. But for those outside of education, the term media specialist is often confusing & misleading. At conferences, I’ve introduced myself to vendors as a media specialist, and I get a polite look of confusion as they try to figure out what exactly it is that I do (not all vendors, but it has happened a substantial number of times). If I introduce myself that way to someone outside of education, they often think that I work in journalism or in some area of the news media.For those outside of education, the term media specialist is often confusing & misleading. Click To Tweet
The term “media center” is even more confusing. A quick google search turns up furniture for holding all of your digital media, like DVD players and televisions. Wikipedia’s disambiguation focuses on AV software and journalism before including a few librarianship related links. If you tell the average person on the street that you work in a media center, they’ll again often assume you’re in journalism or something AV related.
Going back to library & librarian
While I will sometimes interchange the terms library and media center, more and more I find myself focusing on the term library. This may be in part from my public library background (I’ve never seen a movement to change the term there). I think that there is a great deal of power in the words library and librarian that we have started to neglect.Almost everyone has entered a library or met a librarian at least once in their life Click To Tweet
Certainly, there are stereotypes associated with both of those words. Quiet, dark, dusty room with stacks and stacks of books. Old, matronly grouchy lady with a bun and a cardigan. But I have seen these stereotypes starting to shift in my generation. One reason I think that there words have power is that even if someone has a stereotypical association with these two words, they still have experience with them. I would venture to say that almost everyone has entered a library or met a librarian at least once in their life. While some might have negative associations, usually they tend to be positive. That person who did storytime programs at their local library as a kid. The excitement of getting that first library card. The librarian who told them about a series that went on to be their favorite. The library in college where they hung out with friends and studied for exams.
The term “library” as an advocacy tool
School libraries are in a crucial time for advocacy now. Districts are firing their librarians, their school libraries are facing drastic budget cuts or just being dismantled all together. Some try to fight this by changing the terms – if we call our space “x” and our librarians “y”, we’ll sound more modern and relevant. But to me, this actually does us a disservice, as it gets rid of all those positive associations many people have with libraries and librariansWe can help people to experience a new definition of the term library through our example. Click To Tweet
Instead, we should focus on helping to redefine what the terms library and librarian mean. And I think that we are doing that. We can help people to experience a new definition of the term “library”. Every student that enters our four walls. Every parent who has a child come home excited about the project they worked on in the makerspace in their library. Every teacher that we collaborate with to create active, engaging lessons. Every administrator who walks through our space and sees kids excited to learn.
We also need to be using this term as a tool outside of education, and I think here it is even more important. For the taxpayers, politicians and voters who may not have children in public education, redefining the terms library and librarian are even more important. We can lead by example. We can share the amazing learning of our students. We can write press releases about the awesome stuff happening in our LIBRARIES.
For the most part, we’ve haven’t replaced the word “classroom?”, so why do we feel so compelled to replace “library”?
Library and librarian are already familiar to almost everyone. Now it’s our mission to make sure that the associations with those terms are positive, and that they represent an exciting, innovative and engaging place of learning, exploration and discovery for our students.
My name is Diana Rendina, and I’m proud to call myself a librarian 🙂
(Note: This is an opinion piece. Many people who I respect and admire have chosen to use terms other than library for their spaces and this is fine; I don’t judge them for it. For some schools and environments, different terms work better and make more sense. I personally feel that we have more to gain by getting people to rethink what a school library is than we do by renaming it. But of course, this is an opinion; it’s not meant to be an inflexible, absolute law. As with all things, always do what works best for you, your students, your school, and your community.)