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Learning about the Job  
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Learning about the Job

What does a school library media specialist do?

Today's school library media specialist works with both students and teachers to facilitate access to information in a wide variety of formats, instruct students and teachers how to acquire, evaluate and use information and the technology needed in this process, and introduces children and young adults to literature and other resources to broaden their horizons. As a collaborator, change agent, and leader, the school library media specialist develops, promotes and implements a program that will help prepare students to be effective users of ideas and information, a lifelong skill. The many roles of a library media specialist are detailed in chapter one, "The Vision," of Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (Chicago: American Library Association, 1998). ISBN 0-8389-3470-6

These resources provide a more detailed description of the school library media specialist's job:

  • Roles and Responsibilities of the School Library Media Specialist from Information Power.
  • Librarians in the 21st Century: K-12 Librarians. Syracuse University School of Information Studies.
  • McCook, Kathleen de la Peña (1999). Opportunities in Library and Information Science Careers. Boulder, Colo.: NetLibrary.
  • Sellen, Betty-Carol (1997). What Else You Can Do with a Library Degree: Career Options for the 90s and Beyond. New York: Neal-Schuman.
  • Shontz, Priscella K. (2002). Jump Start Your Career in Library and Information Science. Scarecrow Press.
  • Librarians. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-2003. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Also, read testimonials from three school library media specialists.


School library media specialists are generally on a similar salary schedule as teachers. Salaries go up with years of experience and amount of education in most cases. When transferring from district to district, a school library media specialist may be given credit for some, but possibly not all years of prior experience based on the teacher contract in the district. Occasionally school library media specialists will have a slightly extended contract to finish administrative tasks outside of the school year, but this is not common.

Teacher salaraies vary from district to district, but averages can be found at:

  • National Center for Education Statistics - Digest of Education Statistics, 2004, table 77 ( estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools through 2002-2003
  • National Education Association - Rankings & Estimates: Rankings of the States 2004 and Estimates of School Statistics 2005 ( average salary of public school teachers by state through 2002-2003; see figures C-9 through C-12

Job Outlook

You may also be interested in the status of school librarianship around the country as you explore school librarianship as a career. School Library Journal does a biannual article on school library staffing that may be of interest. Nancy Everhart in “School Staffing Survey 2000: Looking for a Few Good Librarians” (SLJ, September 2000) surveyed the states about school librarianship and found that there were more retirements including early retirements and a prosperous economy and more lucrative job options had those interested information careers looking elsewhere. Nationwide, there was an average of one librarian for every 953 students, up from 887 two years previously. Reasons for shortage cited by respondents to the survey included retirements, limited access to library education, stricter certification rules, heavy workloads, site-based management, increasing emphasis on standards and test scores, limited access to library education, and technology coordinators replacing LMS or doing double duty. Two years later in “Filling the Void” (SLJ, July 2002) Everhart found those surveyed reporting 68 percent of school library media specialists projected to leave the profession in 12 years or less. The reported shortage was no longer just in urban and rural areas. Since then, the economic downturn has impacted staffing, especially in states with no or limited staffing requirements for school library media specialists. For more information see:

Miller, Marilyn L., and Marilyn L. Shontz. "New Money, Old Books." School Library Journal, October 2001: 50-60.

Everhart, Nancy (1998, August). "The Prognosis, Doctor?" School Library Journal , 44 (8), 32-35.

Library Profession Faces Shortage of Librarians provides key facts and figures from the American Library Association( ALA, October 2001).

National Center for Education Statistics describes the staffing by certified library media specialists in public and private schools as of 1999-2000.

Are there any mentoring or job shadowing programs available?

Another way to learn about the job is to shadow a school library media specialist for a day. Contact your local schools or state professional organization to set up a visit. Once you are in a job, connecting with a mentor will help the new library media specialist navigate through the challenges of a new career.

  • Exchanging Jobs ( is a free Web site that offers job exchanges and job shadowing opportunities for librarians.
  • Colorado Power Libraries project ( matches veteran librarians with new librarians to help mentor them to become collaboration skills and techniques to turn their school librarian into vital learning centers. Click on Power Libraries link for a description of the program.
  • Individual districts such as Atlanta Public Schools have mentoring programs for their new employees (Library Media Specialist Mentor's Guide). Check with your district for local programs. In some states, districts are being required to establish district-wide mentorship programs.
  • Reforma, the National Association to Provide Libraries and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, provides a mentorship program to assist those providing services to Latinos.
  • Some professional organizations such as the Wisconsin Educational Media Association and the Arizona Information Literacy listerv are beginning mentoring programs or providing forums to seek mentors for new library media specialists. Check with your state organization for school librarians for local programs.

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