Dinosaurs are the past. School librarians are the future.

What does it mean to be a school librarian in 2024?

AASL April Is School Library Month

“Aren’t school librarians dinosaurs?”

An acquaintance recently asked me this question after I explained my role with the Colorado State Library. I responded, “Can I show you what a school librarian does in 2024?” and shared this video featuring Colorado school librarians from across the state. His response after watching the video? “I had no idea.”

School librarians have an image problem. Beyond the obvious and tired stereotype of spectacled and bun-wearing females who constantly demand silence, many people (including educators and librarians in other sectors) are not aware of how the role has dramatically evolved into a collaborative teaching partner for classroom teachers, professional learning coach for all staff, and instructional leader in the increasingly critical areas of information literacy, media literacy and digital citizenship. And that’s on top of continuing to encourage students to develop a love of reading and lifelong learning, managing all aspects of the library collection including physical and digital resources, and ensuring the library is a welcoming, safe, and inclusive space of joy and inquiry.

In celebration of School Library Month, I visited four librarians in the Boulder Valley School District to capture snapshots of what it means to be a school librarian in 2024. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t see any dinosaurs.) Enjoy and spread the word!

Shoshannah Turgel, Centaurus High School

Cassidy Ktanes, Matt de la Peña, and Shoshannah Turgel at Centaurus High School.
Cassidy Ktanes, Matt de la Peña, and Shoshannah Turgel at Centaurus High School.

In Spring of 2023 Centaurus HS Teacher Librarian Shoshannah Turgel earned CDE’s Highly Effective Schools Through Libraries designation, a credentialing program which includes demonstrating collaboration with classroom teachers to positively impact student achievement and planning programming that builds community, promotes students’ well-being, and empowers students to learn independently.

Shoshannah partners with classroom teachers to co-create lessons that teach students how to form research questions, find accurate and reliable information sources related to their questions, use these sources to develop their ideas, and accurately cite their sources. For example, when describing how the teacher librarian supports her instruction, Centaurus teacher Johanna Lohr Wintergest shared that Shoshannah has a “deep knowledge of research and how to make research and writing a massive paper accessible to students” and “the kids often come back from college specifically to come and thank our teacher librarian.”

This type of instruction and collaboration is exactly what Colorado universities and colleges have identified as a need at the K-12 level. In the November 2023 panel discussion “Bridge the Gap: Promoting Postsecondary Success Through Libraries” of Colorado postsecondary and K-12 librarians, the postsecondary librarians shared that many students are entering college unprepared to engage in authentic inquiry and emphasized the need for K-12 librarians to provide targeted instructional coaching to classroom teachers at all grade levels and different subject areas to integrate information literacy skills.

The recent visits by award-winning author Matt de la Peña to five Boulder Valley public schools and Lafayette Public Library is an example of Shoshannah’s leadership in planning programming that builds community connections and creates an inclusive and culturally responsive climate that affirms all students.

I had the opportunity to attend Matt’s visit to Centaurus, and students listened with close attention to his inspirational story of growing up in southern California, navigating the margins between his family’s Mexican culture and American culture, and discovering a love for reading and creative writing as a young adult. Centaurus students read and received their own copies of de la Peña’s book “Mexican Whiteboy,” and after his talk, many students had the opportunity to speak with de la Peña individually and pose for photos.

To make this memorable experience for students a reality, Shoshannah collaborated with Language Arts teacher Cassidy Ktanes and Lafayette Public Library staff, used grant funding from Impact on Education to pay the speaker fees, and worked with Friends of the Lafayette Public Library to donate student copies of de la Peña’s books in English and Spanish.

Thank you, Shoshannah, for modeling instructional leadership and developing community partnerships to positively impact students’ academic success and overall well-being.

High school students wait in line on the Centaurus stage for Matt de la Peña to sign a copy of his book.
Matt de la Peña signs Centaurus High School students’ copies of his book.

David Smith, Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer

Teacher librarian at David Smith speaks to a Pioneer kindergarten class.
David Smith explains the Spring Break book giveaway to a Pioneer kindergarten class.

David Smith is the teacher librarian at Escuela Bilingüe Pioneer, a bilingual Spanish/English PK-5 program in Lafayette, CO. Students from across Boulder County opt to attend Pioneer because of its unique approach to developing students’ language skills in English and Spanish. And when Pioneer was seeking to hire a bilingual teacher librarian in 2012, David stepped up to the plate.

David’s library is a colorful, inviting space with a robust collection of books in both languages. Curating authentic and high-quality books in Spanish requires broad sourcing strategies and thoughtful selection, and David has built a diverse, appealing collection to meet Pioneer students’ needs and interests.

I visited the Pioneer library the week before Spring Break, and David was hosting his fourth free book giveaway of the year to ensure all students would have a new book to enjoy during their week off from school. David uses book fair proceeds to purchase new paperback books in English and Spanish for each giveaway because he recognizes the importance of students’ continuous access to books, both at home and in the school library. I had the joy of seeing kindergarten students’ eyes widen as they listened to David explain in fluent Spanish that they could select a new book to keep forever, and then witness their delight at browsing all their title choices.

Thank you, David, for creating a culturally and linguistically responsive library collection ensuring your students have equitable access to learning resources that develop their first and second languages. 

Two kindergarten students sit at a table, reading books.
Two Pioneer kindergarten students reading the new books they selected for their home libraries.
Two kindergarten students look though books laid out on a table.
Students browse the Spring Break Giveaway books in English and Spanish.

Kat Croasdale, Monarch High School

Kat Croasdale and Vanessa Tampoa pose in front of a library shelf.
Kat Croasdale and Vanessa Tampoa in the Monarch High School library.

Since starting her role as Monarch High School teacher librarian in 2022, Kat Croasdale and her library paraprofessional Vanessa Tampoa have transformed the library into a welcoming space that keeps its doors open to students all day. They have updated the collection with an infusion of new and appealing books, completely updated the entire catalog and shelving system to best meet their students’ needs, and collaborated with classroom teachers to promote choice reading time during the school day.

During a recent visit to the Monarch library, the space was abuzz with students studying together, reading or working independently, and browsing the collection. Kat and Vanessa have created a bookstore-browsing experience by using dynamic shelving with front-facing books and organizing the fiction section by genres like fantasy, mystery, sci fi, and romance. And to make the ever-popular graphic novel and manga section visually appealing and easy-to-peruse, they display the first ten volumes of each series and shelve additional volumes in the back room of the library.

One of Kat’s priorities is to create a responsive library collection—she presents at class meetings to share with students that it is her job to put books in their hands, both books for recreational reading and  to support their studies. Student voice guides her selections and the engaging library displays reflect their identities and interests. And the shift to offering more choice reading during the instructional day is having an impact—in Kat’s words, “we have seen reluctant readers getting excited about books” and “students seem MUCH happier reading what they want.”

The student visits and library circulation materials data show these changes are making a difference. In Kat’s first year as the school librarian, student visits to the library doubled. And the 1,651 library materials checked out between August and February of this school year is a 193% increase compared to the same period during the previous school year.

Thank you, Kat, for demonstrating how hiring a highly effective librarian instantly adds the heart and soul to a library and reconnects students to reading.

Kim Butler, Creekside Elementary

Teacher librarian Kim Butler sits in front of a class of kindergarten students.
Kim Butler shares the Arcade Reflection form with Creekside fourth grade students.

If you need proof that libraries are no longer bastions of silence, Creekside Elementary library is the place to go! I visited on the final day of Kim Butler’s school-wide unit inspired by Caine’s Arcade, and students were 100% engaged and eager to experience the culmination of weeks of work.

Beginning in January, Kim led the fourth and fifth grade students through the design thinking process of building cardboard arcade games for kindergarten and first grade students. Design thinking begins with empathy, and students started the unit by interviewing their younger schoolmates to learn more about their game preferences and interests. Next, they worked in teams to ideate and create their games from mostly recycled materials, using their math and science skills to make their game designs come to life and using their literacy skills to write instructions for operating and playing their games.

The second and third grade students used the design thinking process as well to craft arcade prizes for the kindergarten and first grade students to buy with their arcade winnings. They also had the special responsibility of operating the arcade games; each student would be paired with a kindergarten or first grade buddy to accompany them through the arcade, and their job was to read the operating and play instructions and teach their younger buddy how to play each game. (Talk about reading for a purpose!)

Finally, the kindergarten and first grade students prepared for the arcade by participating in financial literacy lessons and working to earn (play) money that they would spend to play each game.

And what a treat it was to watch a class of kindergarten students enter the library with their decorated envelopes full of play money and eyes shining with excitement! Kim and the classroom teachers had previously collaborated to pair up students, and within minutes the kindergarteners and their older buddies were spread throughout the library and playing the incredible variety of arcade games. Older students read aloud game instructions and patiently coached their younger partners on play technique, and kindergartners earned stickers as they scored points (redeemable for prizes). It was pure joy.

Thank you, Kim, for showcasing how school librarians create and facilitate learning experiences that integrate the Colorado Academic standards, meet learners’ diverse needs, and prepare students for the future. 

A kindergarten student launches a ping pong ball, trying to land it in a cup to score points in the arcade game Squirrel Ball.
A kindergarten student tries out her first arcade game alongside her second grade buddy.
A drawing of the Squirrel Ball arcade game which includes materials and measurements.
Fourth grade students’ design of the Squirrel Ball arcade game.
A kindergarten student tosses a ring at three cones, trying to score points while playing the Elephant and Piggie arcade game.
A kindergarten student tosses a ring in an attempt to win the Elephant and Piggie arcade game.