In the past year, Darianne Nelson has become accustomed to traveling from one school to the next—on one memorable morning, she visited all five of the elementary schools in her district within a two-hour period. Nelson serve...
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In the past year, Darianne Nelson has become accustomed to traveling from one school to the next—on one memorable morning, she visited all five of the elementary schools in her district within a two-hour period. Nelson serves as the lone elementary media specialist in Wisconsin’s Watertown Unified School District, responsible for 1500 students. When Nelson finished her master’s degree and began working as an elementary media specialist nine years ago, she shared the title with two others.
“I’d like to sugarcoat it and say it’s because I’m such a great librarian,” she said, “but really, it’s because of budget cuts.”
As in many districts around the country, a dwindling budget has forced Watertown to forego hiring certified staff to fill positions like Nelson’s, in favor of lower-paid education support professionals.
“Is it the way I’d like library education to go? No,” she said. “I still think a certified media specialist knows best how to teach in the library. I work with three wonderful media paraprofessionals and I’d be lost without them, but there are still things that a media specialist can bring to the program.”
While the expanded responsibility presents a challenge, Nelson relishes the chance to form long-term connections with her students.
“I love being able to reach all those kids and being able to stick with them for six years,” she said. “I get to watch them grow and develop skills and I know each student’s abilities. That’s the part I really love about it.”
Recently, technology has brought even greater changes to Nelson’s profession than those imposed by a shrinking budget. Now, her job is 75% technology and just 25% books—although her goal remains the same.
“I’m still basically a literacy coach, there to guide kids to good choices that are appropriate to their reading level, and to get them excited about reading and coming to the library,” she said. To accomplish this, Nelson uses tools like online catalogs and blogs and teaches students and fellow educators how to use the library’s digital resources.
Despite budget woes and rapidly-changing technology, Nelson is committed to the district where she’s taught for 24 years, and remains convinced that school libraries are irreplaceable.
“In elementary schools, our priority is to encourage reading, writing, and a love of learning from the get-go, so we need to have the library there,” she said. “I still think we have our share of families who never visit the public library, and we have to have a library to offer those children.”
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You’re part of a slowly shrinking ”army” of library media specialists who are committed to making sure that students get a thorough education in how to find a good book to read AND how to search the Internet efficiently! If we were not there at the elementary level, I can’t imagine the extra load of instruction that teachers and (hopefully) library media specialists would have to shoulder to make sure students could navigate the technological world expertly (which those in charge, politically and educationally, expect)! This is the fourth year for me in a different configuration of my library media specialist position — from middle school (9 years) to k-6 at two schools, to all five elementary schools as collection development specialist, then to two and one half elementary schools as collection development specialist and tech coach, always supporting both students and staff! I’m breathless, but eager to get going to make this latest configuration work! Hang in there — I’m hoping we all have jobs after this school year! (I work in Franklin, and 2012-2013 is in question because of budget cuts at the state level.)
Such a sad state our school libraries are in. Keep up the good fight – your students need you!
I’m a teacher librarian starting my 3rd year in the classroom. Our district decided a few years ago that school librarians were unnecessary. They refuse to call the facility a library, it is now the ”media center.”
Wow! I am amazed by her story. I myself am a library media specialist in a small, rural school district in VA, and I have never had a clerk, even a part-time one, to assist me in my library. I do it all myself–teach classes all day for PreK-5, then have to catalog books & process them all after school or during my 40-min. planning, if I get the chance then & something else doesn’t take up my planning period. I know how hard librarians work and admire her for not giving up on her school district. I knew when I accepted my job 9 yrs. ago, that our small group of librarians didn’t have clerks except for the 2 HS librarians who always had them & I found that ironic since they had less classes and more time to catalog/process their library collections. Elem. librarians really work their butts off on a daily basis as we are the much-needed planning period break for our classroom teachers. Sometimes it is a thankless job, but is so rewarding to see kids love books & reading!!!
You are absolutely right; there are many things that a professional media specialist brings to the program. While a good para-pro or volunteers can enhance a media program and might be essential for the running of a library, it is the media specialist who instructs, reinforces, integrates, collaborates, plans, assesses and is responsible for making the media program the ”heart beat” of a school.