Today's Media Specialist: Trading in Their Traditional Stereotypes for Computer Know-How and Research Skills, Media Center Specialists Are Working Hard to Steer Students to Success. (Library/Media Center)

Article excerpt

Fighting an age-old stereotype is tough--just ask a media center specialist.

"One of the great frustrations of all of us who work with libraries, and particularly school libraries, is the attitude we hear unbelievably often. Librarians are perceived as a special interest group. Libraries are perceived as special education programs," says Keith Curry Lance, director of Library Research Service, a unit of the Colorado State Library that generates research and statistics to aid decision-making in library and information management.

It's not just the plethora of technology or resources available that make media specialists so important. They are among the most important teachers and facilitators, Lance says.

Not only does high-tech equipment in media centers give students more options, but the knowledge of media specialists keep students and teachers abreast of how to use technology for education, how to find information, and how to distinguish such information from the good, bad and ugly.

"When [some people] think of a library, they think of librarians that whisper `shhhh,' with buns on top of [their] heads," says Madeline Wood, library media specialist at Samuels Elementary School in Denver. "They still picture us that way in magazines and chronicles. But libraries are so much more dynamic now. The kids are always busy doing all sorts of things. Learning kids aren't quiet kids."

The LRS recently released studies in Alaska, Pennsylvania and Colorado showing that students in schools with sufficient library collections, qualified library personnel and strong collaboration with teachers perform better on standardized tests.

Schools with well-developed library media programs average 10 percent to 18 percent higher reading scores. And when library media staff collaborate with teachers, average reading scores increase by 8 percent to 21 percent, the study shows.

"One of the things we try to do with teachers is that when the curriculum is being written and instruction is being planned, we remind teachers that you have resources--you have the media specialists to help students with learning experiences," says Clara Hoover, high school media specialist and curriculum facilitator at Millard Public Schools just outside Omaha, Neb. "And we have to keep reminding teachers that you have a great person there. Ask me."

During the past few years, increases in the range of services offered through technology allows students to use media centers as research resources and artistic studios to create projects using pictures, sounds and words.

Collaborative planning and high quality programs

Wood is among several media specialists featured on the LRS Web site. She was recently part of a committee of school librarians in Colorado that created lessons geared toward the Colorado state standards so that other librarians across the state could be successful in helping students achieve.

She notes that through collaborative planning with teachers, each unit at her media center includes an assessment tool by which students are graded. For example, Wood points out when fifth graders study Native American myths and folk tales, they read two stories and create a Venn diagram to study similarities and differences between the stories. They also write a short piece about it, with each section of the writing graded with points.

"The library goes right along with classroom teaching," Wood says. "I teach them how to take notes, and the teacher teaches them how to turn that into paragraphs."

"I'm the information specialist," Wood adds. "I teach them how to gather information and how best to use it. I teach them about copyright laws, plagiarism, what's good information, what's bad [and] what they need to find. When kids try to research they can find a million Web pages. I teach them how to find the best one. …