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THE NEW MEDIA CENTER: Questions, Musings, and Other Things On My Mind

By Mary Alice Anderson - Posted Nov 6, 2013
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When he addressed a statewide group of media specialists, my former principal told us, “I have two simple wishes for my school: that when the students wake up in the morning they want to go to school, and when the staff wakes up in the morning they want to go to school.” He shared thoughts about the important role media specialists have in helping teachers use technology, providing staff development, and partnering in the school and beyond. His wishes for media centers were that they be user-friendly places where things were happening and where staff and students alike can easily come for information, research, pleasure, curiosity, and even friendship. He visited our school’s media center almost daily and joked that something was wrong if it was too quiet.

That was in 1996!

Time Frames and Perspective

It’s been 3 years since I worked in a school media center … long enough for me to know that I’d have some catching up to do if I returned to work. I stay in touch with many media specialists and many educators and hear the same stories too often. I am reminded about how long change takes and saddened by how much hasn’t changed. Why do future or new media specialists say they didn’t know technology assistance and staff development are part of job? Why are some surprised that they need to advocate for their programs? These roles are not new as some suggest; they have been evolving since the early 1980s. The more things change, the more at least some of them stay the same!

Some in our profession say they want to become media specialists only because they love books. That is not enough. An administrator told me she would not hire such a person. I love books; I never tired of seeing new books arrive and putting them in the hands of kids. I also loved putting technology in the hands of kids. But I was especially excited about student learning activities that combined both.

Questions and Musings

Media specialists who inherit dated collections are eager to start pitching, but they are unsure if it’s OK. I weeded two collections my first weeks working in two different media centers with no repercussions and many positive, “It’s about time” comments. The collections were more appealing, patrons found things easier, and the media centers were more inviting. And, yes, it’s OK to discard items in the standard core catalogs. The purpose is maintaining a collection that meets the needs of your students and their curriculum. Gather a few tips from peers, and do a Google search. You will find many articles, guidelines, and practical ideas. And while you are at it, don’t forget to get rid of old technology, equipment, and dated décor! Just do it; that’s why you were hired.

Why do people who love books put up barriers to access? My ears perked up when I heard a public radio program discussion about adults not always doing what’s best for kids. A panelist shared a discussion between two children:

Boy 1: I go to our school library and they only let me check one book out.

Boy 2: Why don’t you just steal?

It saddened me to hear this public comment about school libraries. Why are overdue books a bigger deal than necessary? Responsibility is essential; schools cannot afford extensive loss, but it’s not always a battle worth fighting or worth the loss of a good relationship.

When do you close for inventory? The answer is simple: Never. Teachers hate it. A perceptive colleague noted, “I’ve visited many media centers; the thing teachers dislike the most is when the media center is closed at the end of the year for inventory.” Technology has long made closing early unnecessary. A bonus is ongoing collection development and seeing what’s available.

Why are so many media centers still lacking enough technology for even one class to access information online? Why are not all media specialists advocating for more access to technology and information in the media center? Why are a few media specialists still avoiding technology because they fear noise and commotion? Productive noise is not all bad.

Why do I hear about banning Google? It is not going away. What do most of us use when we need information? Google does a pretty good job. Let’s all encourage students to use multiple resources in varied formats. Google has designed thoughtful literacy lessons media specialists can use to help students learn how to use Google effectively. (These are information technology lessons, not library lessons.)

Many teachers and students use Google because that is all they know. Why do we still hear that staff and students (and even media specialists) are unaware of the wealth of free database resources provided to their schools by states consortiums? It’s not unheard of for databases to be blocked because of unfounded fears about viruses or inappropriate materials. These stories illustrate the need for education, staff development, and advocacy. Why isn’t everyone promoting them in every way possible? If you don’t spread the word about those databases and provide barrier-free access to them, no one else will.

Not that long ago, media center webpages were ideal advocacy tools for those underused databases and all things related to media programs. Today, a dynamic website, Facebook, Twitter, videos, or whatever you chose will work. It’s pretty basic: If you don’t tell your story, no one else will. And be sure to tell how students are using the media center and what they are learning. It’s not just about hours, staff, and resources. Do you have a mission statement? Does it address more than reading? Search the web for some 21st-century samples, write one that fits program goals, and use it wherever you can as part of your advocacy initiatives.

Access to technology does not mean effective use of technology. I believe iPads are at the top of today’s ineffective use list. As with many educational technologies before them, they are often purchased without planning for ongoing training. One trainer said her training emphasis was on collaboration and creativity, not furthering the use of drill and practice apps that could have been done without technology. In another situation, a classroom teacher seeking her media license said most teachers did not know how to access ebooks on their iPads … and that the current media specialist was not interested in helping! This proactive teacher used this wonderful opportunity to teach others and establish her own credibility for her future job. For those who are concerned about print disappearing, I suggest viewing Medieval Helpdesk With English Subtitles, a humorous and comforting YouTube video about the evolutionary nature of books.

Questions about collaboration are often paired with questions about fitting in with the new emphasis on the Common Core State Standards. It is not any different than collaborating during project-based learning activities or any other learning approach. Be familiar with standards, resources, and what the teacher is already doing. Share your ideas with those you can work with; build trust and build on success. Collaboration is not just for English and social studies. Allied arts teachers, for example, are often eager to work with media specialists, especially those who are also tech integrationists.

I recognize tasks such as inventory are part of media center management; they are sometimes even fun and provide stress relief. Many media specialists have no one to help them with them clerical tasks. But focusing too much on minutia leaves too little time for the important things. If others see you spending a lot of time on clerical tasks, or talking about minor issues, they will not perceive your job as you wish it to be seen. Let others see you planning with teachers, teaching students or leading a staff development class. Find time by paring down or eliminating some tasks. One media specialist voiced concern about the time needed to shelve books. Try putting books that are always in circulation on a cart for quick access and checkout. Set aside some shelves for all the multiple copies of super popular books. Or label boxes “horror stories” and dump the books in the boxes. Kids like digging. The time saved gives you more time for what’s most important. How do we know what needs to be done, and what can wait? Ask yourself if it matters to the students and teachers or impacts learning. Can someone else do it? Be flexible! If it doesn’t get done in several days or weeks, it perhaps doesn’t really need to be done.

Now district superintendent and approaching retirement, my former principal said, “It is just a pleasure coming to work every day … and trying to do good things for all of the students in the district.” I also loved going to work and always doing what we could to make the media center a place where kids and teachers wanted to be. I wish the same for all media specialists as you make your media center a place where kids—and teachers—want to be. Sadly, I hear too many stories from teachers about what they see happening—or not happening—in their school media centers. Too many are described as old-fashioned, unwelcoming, and underused. These are wonderful opportunities for improved change. There are so many exciting possibilities for today’s media specialists and for our students. You can have any kind of media program you want to have! 


Contact Mary Alice at


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