School Librarians: [Un]Quiet Leaders of Digital Change

Last spring at the #GoOpen Exchange, I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion with district leaders on approaches to curating openly licensed educational resources. Leaders from #GoOpen districts shared innovative ideas for how they were tackling the challenge of curating and creating OER — but the conversation really shifted during the small group discussions when we invited librarian leaders to share their expertise with discovering, evaluating, and curating digital content.

Four months later, I ran into one of the district superintendents who attended the curation discussion. After leaving the #GoOpen Exchange, he’d returned to his district and invited his district librarians to play a leading role in their transition to using openly licensed educational resources. The librarians helped organize a #GoOpen Regional Summit and have supported professional learning for educators across the district (and in neighboring districts) on issues of copyright, fair use, and open licensing.

This experience made one thing clear — in order to change the conversation, you have to be a part of the conversation.

Over the past year, the Office of Educational Technology has worked with library leaders across the country to change the conversation among district and school leaders about the role librarians can play in leading, teaching, and supporting districts as they transition to digital learning. This work is informed by a convening we hosted in February 2016 at San Francisco Public Library that brought together a group of library and education leaders including the Alliance for Excellent Education, thought leaders from leading library organizations, and district-level library coordinators. In San Francisco these thought partners identified how the expertise and skills of librarians align with the goals many districts are setting as they leverage technology to transform learning, laying the foundation for the Future Ready Librarians framework.

Librarian leadership looks different in every school, in every district. Over the past year, we’ve met librarians who are leading district-wide pilots to reimagine learning spaces, shaping the conversation about digital citizenship in their districts and states, creating makerspaces that empower students as creators, and building instructional partnerships with teachers that explore how to use new technologies to support student learning.

Finding and sharing these stories is one way to change the conversation. We are excited to highlight a few stories below that are featured in the 2017 update to the National Education Technology Plan.

In 2015, Parkway School District in Chesterfield, MO, launched its Mobile Makerspace project to jumpstart the maker movement. For Parkway, the goals of the project are twofold — empowering the district’s librarians as instructional partners and technology leaders while providing opportunities for students to actively use technology in service of their mission to develop students that are capable, curious, caring and confident learners.

Parkway School District Students Make Use of a Mobile Makerspace Kit — Photo credit: Kim Lindskog

As part of its effort to reimagine the role of its school librarians, the district has focused on providing just-in-time training for their librarians on the technologies in each Mobile Makerspace kit and positioning them as technology leaders and instructional partners working with teachers to design curricular connections for each kit.

The project gives schools an opportunity to experiment with new technologies and prototype their own spaces before making investments in tools or space redesign. Increasingly, schools that have checked out Mobile Makerspace kits are investing in these innovative spaces to provide students the opportunity to develop and enhance their mindsets to learn, collaborate, and innovate in a community setting where curiosity is embraced. Learn more about the Mobile Makerspace project at

Library leaders from Indian Prairie School District in Aurora, IL are using the Future Ready Librarians Framework to facilitate purposeful conversations about the changing role of the school librarian with fellow teachers, building administrators, support staff, parents and students. The framework draws a direct connection between the skills and expertise of librarians and the strategic goals schools and districts are setting as they transition to personalized digital learning.

Future Ready Librarians Framework

After using the Future Ready Librarians Framework as a tool for personal reflection, the district’s 32 certified librarians set individual and district team goals aligned to the framework, which building and district administrators have used to inform the professional development and supports offered throughout the year. To share their learning, the district’s librarians started a Future Ready Librarians blog featuring stories aligned to the components of the framework, written to help others see how Future Ready ideas translate into action. These stories also help parents, community members, and school board members understand the continued relevancy of the school library.

In 2015, Eanes ISD’s Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, embarked on a project to reimagine their learning spaces. Before purchasing furniture, their first step was to start with their district mission statement and goals for student learning. “As a school, our mission was not just to change classroom furniture, but to impact teaching and learning in our classrooms,” says district and high school librarian Carolyn Foote. “We wanted these changes to coincide with the reboot of our 1:1 iPad initiative, so we could amplify the benefits of mobile technology by making classroom environments more mobile as well. In order to do that, we had to be focused on our goals for learning.”

Reimagined Learning Space in Eanes ISD — Photo credit: Carolyn Foote

In the fall of 2015, teachers applied to be part of the classroom remodel pilot, and attend required professional development. Students and teachers were invited to share input, ultimately resulting in four prototype classroom types. Designs included mobile teacher stations, mobile student chairs, personal whiteboards, soft seating and more. Teachers and students alike reported that their classrooms were more agile, that they were more willing to try something new curricularly, and that collaboration increased in the new classroom design. With the knowledge gained from teachers and students, the district is expanding the pilot to include model classrooms on all campuses and then expanding the high school pilot as well.

We believe that if properly prepared and supported, librarians are well-placed to lead in schools and districts as they transition to the effective use of technology to support teaching and learning — and we’re excited to continue the conversation.

Many thanks to Bill Bass and Kim Lindskog (Parkway School District), Kristen Mattson (Indian Prairie School District), and Carolyn Foote (Eanes ISD) for sharing their stories.

Sara Trettin is a Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education. She leads the open education work for the Department, directs digital engagement for the Office of Educational Technology and leads the office’s efforts surrounding libraries and librarians.

The Office of Educational Technology (OET) provides leadership for maximizing technology's contribution to improving education at all levels.