How to use your Media Specialist (and What to Do if You Don’t Have One!)

young student holding a book in a library
Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

We go by different names – School Librarian, Teacher Librarian, Media Specialist – but what we all want to do is support you and your students with all things literacy, research, technology and resources. Media Specialists are licensed teachers with specialized knowledge about children’s and young adult literature, supporting learning with technology, and helping create curious, life-long learners. We want to help your students learn to navigate the online world by practicing information and digital literacy, learning to question possible misinformation, and exhibiting good digital citizenship.

Educating students to be life-long readers and responsible digital citizens is a big undertaking, but your librarian colleagues are just the right people for the job! Here are some ways you can utilize your Media Specialist, and who you can reach out to if you don’t have one.

Educating students to be life-long readers and responsible digital citizens is a big undertaking, but your librarian colleagues are just the right people for the job!

Curriculum Support

Media Specialists are highly knowledgeable about the Indiana State Standards and other specialized curriculum used in your school.  Have a reading unit coming up about memoirs? A Media Specialist can help you identify and find age-appropriate texts that fit the bill.  Looking for a way to spice up your biography study? Your Media Specialist could lead your class in how to use a database or age-appropriate website to gather important information, then use a website like Voki to create talking avatars.

In building our library collections, we are always looking for titles that support the curriculum. At our school, kindergartners do a non-fiction animal study and create a book. I knew I needed to find lots of age-appropriate titles to support this unit. To accomplish this, I used my knowledge of children’s book vendors to find animal books our emerging readers could use for research. I was also able to leverage our PTA to help purchase a subscription to PebbleGo, a database for pre and early readers, to support this unit as well as a first grade biography project.

Media Specialists want to make student learning more robust and authentic. We’re great partners to take teaching and learning to the next level! Start small by reaching out about one upcoming lesson or topic and see what your Media Specialist might have to offer.

Research & Information Literacy Skills

media specialist working with students
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

How do you teach students how to take notes? This is a skill that needs to be taught explicitly and can be challenging. Did you know websites like Zbib and Easybib can make creating bibliographies a snap? Your Media Specialist can partner with you on any and all stages of research projects. We can help you break down a project into small parts and provide explicit instruction on each skill.

Depending on your school district and public library, students may have access to research databases. Media Specialists are experts in teaching students how to perform searches, evaluate what they find, and make connections across multiple resources. We can help students determine whether websites are reliable by using techniques such as Kathy Schrock’s 5 W’s of Website Evaluation.

Students are much more likely to retain new skills if they’re integrated in an authentic way. Instead of teaching a stand-alone lesson on how to use a database, a Media Specialist can guide your students through the process of a full research project. Even in kindergarten, students can learn to find information, record facts, and show their learning with a unique product.

Computer Science/Coding Skills

Many Media Specialists are trained to teach coding and computer science skills. Indiana’s Computer Science Standards can be an intimidating set of skills to teach. Your Media Specialist may have taken courses with Code.org or Wonder Workshop, which cover many in these standards. These programs teach students how to problem solve, use algorithms and create using coding and blockly language. Your Media Specialist can help you make cross-curricular connections by tying in these skills with math and language arts. For instance, students could learn about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by reading Balloons Over Broadway, then use coding to have their Dash robots (Wonder Workshop) put on a parade.

Whether it’s through your Media Specialist or a connection with your public library, librarians are ready and willing to help you and your students navigate the 21st century world.

If You Don’t Have a Media Specialist

Unfortunately, not every school has a Media Specialist. Due to budget cuts, many Indiana schools employ Media Assistants to run their libraries. These are classified employees whose responsibilities mostly include book circulation and shelving. Media Assistants do great work getting books into the hands of students and keeping our libraries open. Many even go above and beyond in providing some library instruction. If your school has a Media Assistant, I encourage you to tap into their knowledge of the school’s collection. They handle the library’s books every day and will be able to provide you with some recommended lists and offer suggestions to your students.

Public librarians are always looking for ways to support schools. Reach out to your local children’s librarian to collaborate on many of the above skills. Many are willing to travel to schools or have students visit the local branch for lessons. Some counties provide teachers with library cards to check out materials for classrooms. The Indiana State Library even provides class sets of books, LEGO kits, and storytime kits.

Whether it’s through your Media Specialist or a connection with your public library, librarians are ready and willing to help you and your students navigate the 21st century world. As partners in literacy, technology and the encouragement of lifelong learning, Media Specialists can be a teacher’s best friend and a valuable resource.