Project Connect Promotes the School Librarian’s Vital Role

By Kristin C. Hubing/School Administrator, May 2015

Education leaders recognize there’s more to the digital transformation of schools than just increased access to content through the latest technology. There’s the matter of curation — using the expertise of teacher librarians, or media specialists, to help students and faculty navigate the vast, disorganized mass of potential content.
 
    Project Connect (www2.follettlearning.com/projectconnect) is a three-year-old collaboration of thought leaders from the preK-12, professional association and higher education arenas that’s articulating a vision for 21st-century school libraries. The collaboration is a project underwritten by the Follett Corp., which long has advocated for the role of the school librarian.
 
    “As technology has changed and the curriculum has shifted, the role of the librarian has to be so much more than just the keeper of the books,” says Britten Follett, who directs Project Connect and works for the company.
    Today’s students need digital literacy and mastery of modern research techniques that apply across all subjects. Strong libraries that serve as a hub for active digital learning help school districts develop the informed, responsible digital citizens of tomorrow.
 
    Mark Ray, director of instructional technology and library services for Vancouver, Wash., Public Schools and Project Connect partner, challenges the notion that school libraries have lost their importance. “Who will attend to digital citizenship?” he asks. “Who will support teachers and students as new technology comes down the road?”
 
    Ray has led Vancouver’s districtwide one-to-one initiative and manages instructional technology training. He sees teacher librarians having a substantial impact on student learning today.
 
    One of Project Connect’s goals, according to Follett, is to influence superintendents to appreciate the value of their school librarians. “Many librarians feel frustrated that they’re being underutilized, but don’t know how to approach their superintendent,” she explains. “We want to educate superintendents to empower their district librarians.”
 
    Steve Joel, superintendent of Lincoln, Neb., Public Schools, sits on the Project Connect working committee, and recognizes the value of partnerships between school administrators and librarians. “I can clearly see now that if we don’t bring along our librarians/media specialists with this digital transformation movement that’s occurring, then we’re leaving behind what I would consider one of the most important aspects of education delivery,” Joel says on the project’s website.
 
    In addition to encouraging partnerships between school administrators and library professionals, Project Connect partners attend education conferences nationwide to share stories of successful programs. They are developing resources that will include best-practices videos, documentaries, case studies, webinars and white papers to support school libraries during their digital transitions.
 
    In Mooresville, N.C., a district renowned for its successful one-to-one technology program, librarians were nervous about their role in the transformation, Follett says. “They thought ‘What does this mean for our jobs? What does this mean for our role in delivering content?’”     Now, a few years into the implementation, Mooresville librarians report expanded responsibilities and closer connections to the schools’ mission. “Just because your delivery of content might have changed, that doesn’t mean that the role of the librarian is any less important,” Follett says.
 
    Project Connect wants to expand its working committee and would like to hear from interested superintendents at http://bit.ly/project_connect_contact.

  
Kristin Hubing is the editorial associate at School Administrator magazine. E-mail: khubing@aasa.org