I’m so pleased that Joyce Valenza has just posted this piece, which outlines the adaptation of the See Sally Research essay she co-authored with Doug Johnson into a TED talk. Both are long blog posts, but they perfectly capture the evolution of the research process. By providing a thorough analysis of the ways in which the information landscape has changed over the past twenty years, Dr. Valenza challenges the notion that school libraries are obsolete because students can simply complete research assignments by performing a quick Wikipedia search.
Joyce Valenza is an inspiration to many school librarians, and I certainly strived to create the type of learning environment she advocates when working in my previous post as a school librarian. I particularly like her analogy comparing a modern school library to a kitchen as opposed to a grocery store. I spent considerable time in my recent post explaining to teachers that librarians do much more than manage collections and provide materials for lending, which is a message that all librarians seem to be trying to get across to their communities, with varying degrees of success.
I found myself nodding along when she asserted that “even at the youngest level, research is not reporting.” I have discovered that the term “research” tends to get thrown around in schools with little consideration for what the word actually means. A worksheet that asks students to look up basic factual information on the internet is not a research assignment, nor is it truly possible to “teach research skills,” despite the fact that many school librarian job descriptions require us to do just that. Good research skills are developed over time with the guidance of librarians and subject specialists, who have ideally worked together to prepare assignments that require students to dig deep and use their critical thinking skills.
I may not be working in schools at the moment, but I know that there are other school librarians out there who are using Joyce’s posts as templates for their own libraries. I just hope that there are enough of us sharing our experiences with administrators, teaching colleagues, and decision makers so that we can finally stop fielding the question “So what do school librarians do?”