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School District Hiring “Innovation Specialists” to Head Libraries

by on August 1, 2016

No one is surprised that makerspaces are taking the country by storm. Public libraries across the country have implemented makerspace programs, and now school libraries are following suit. The Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas is no exception. In an effort to keep pace with our technologically focused world, the Shawnee Mission School District hired “innovation specialists” instead of “librarians” to head their school libraries, which now are more like makerspaces, or “laboratories of creation,” and students in the district are provided with tablets or laptops.[1] One superintendent said, “now that they have those digital resources in hand, no longer do I have to…walk my class to the library.”[2] Students seem to really enjoy creating and collaborating in a makerspace environment; however, some librarians are concerned that the lack of focus on books and reading means students will miss out on other useful lessons.

School librarians do more than just sit among library books. One librarian made that argument to the district and pointed out that she has never “‘just read stories’ and checked out books,” but also “taught digital citizenship, copyright law and internet safety, [and] research skills and database use.”[3] The trend of dismantling school libraries and eliminating librarian positions is concerning. In light of information overload, school libraries and librarians are poised as the perfect means to teach kids how to effectively gather and evaluate information for authority, accuracy, and lack of bias. These are skills students will need to use later in life and throughout their education.

Another concern about the Shawnee Mission District’s approach is that replacing degreed librarians with teachers is “one way to get around hiring a professional with graduate-level information and technology literacy expertise.”[4] Another librarian felt that “offering maker spaces and traditional library services shouldn’t be viewed as an either-or proposition.”[5] Wouldn’t a dual approach bring kids all the benefits a makerspace and a tradition library has to offer? After all, you can be a brilliant engineer or scientist, but if you cannot write or construct a paper correctly, how are you going to get your ideas across? Books and reading help with such skills, and while makerspaces are great learning tools, kids still need to be exposed to all books can offer them.

[1] Rick Montgomery, “School Libraries Shift Toward Innovation Areas, but Librarians Fear for What’s Lost,” Kansas City Star, June 24, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

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