Teachers come and go for students as they climb up through the grades, but everybody remembers their school librarian.
Maybe it was a key pointer to a vital resource that helped get a report in on time. Maybe it was a book they quietly passed you that opened your perspectives or started you on a lifetime of enjoyable reading. Maybe their love of information, research, and learning even sparked your own eventual path into the profession of teaching.
The role of the school librarian has changed a lot over the past few decades as information has gone digital. Both the skills required and the type of services they offer have shifted to a new age. But their central position in any school as a keeper of knowledge and a light into information and reading is unchanged.
That makes every librarian a leader of sorts. In many larger school districts, with multiple schools and multiple librarians, there is also an overarching library services department that often integrates the work of instructional materials managers, with all those roles tied together under a professional library administrator.
These are jobs that involve more action than you might think. With book bans and research restrictions being passed by state legislatures, it’s a far cry from the days when a mis-shelved book provided all the drama you could handle in a day.
For any of those positions, cultivating the right educational leadership skills for the job is a key part of preparing for these roles and taking school libraries into the 21st century.
Librarians Fill a Traditional Role in a World Where Schools Have Gone High-Tech
Modern libraries are still the home of books stacked upon books, but they are also far more. In addition to the traditional books, magazines, academic journals, and references, libraries are full of electronic resources and audiovisual equipment.
Librarians are the managers and owners of all these resources. They are expected to know and be able to assist students and teachers in accessing the appropriate information from within their catalog. If they don’t have a particular resource, they are the pointer and the conduit to where that information can be found.
The job involves both research and understanding research methodology.
Librarians also run the library budget. They must allocate for storage costs, equipment and material purchases, and subscription costs.
Librarians also often serve as the point person for literacy and reading programs in their school districts.
In all their various activities, they coordinate with other school leaders and teachers to ensure they are supporting the curriculum and instruction within the school.
Finally, librarians are the unquestioned masters of their domain. They develop and enforce library policy, from how much noise is allowed (hint: none) to how long books can be checked out for.
Developing the Skills Needed to Become an Instructional Materials Manager
While school libraries fill the same roles they always have, the skills and knowledge needed to manage them have shifted dramatically. The expertise that librarian and instruction media managers need to develop today is a blend of the old and the new parts of information science.
A love of cataloging information and putting it into a useful order seems to be in the soul of many librarians. Yet for all the reputation they have as creatures of quiet and solitude, there’s a beating social heart to librarians. And that shows itself in their earnest efforts to share a love of books and research with students.
Librarians are walking catalogs of information and categories of information. But they are also burning recommendation engines. Long before Google came on the scene, you could ask a school librarian to recommend a book similar to something else you enjoyed and get back an analytical answer right in line with what you were looking for.
This requires strong analytical skills as well as the same kind of interpersonal communication and instructional leadership skills teachers rely on. On top of that, with the migration of so much data to the internet or databases, librarians need top-notch computer systems skills.
Of course, large libraries or district-level instructional material supervisory positions also require the typical range of HR skills required of any manager.
When the Quietest Profession Has to Raise Its Voice
The enduring image of school librarians in the public consciousness isn’t heroic, but the reality today is that many librarians are forced to dig deep in their commitment to advocacy and public service.
In many cases, it’s not just about doing what’s right—it’s about keeping their jobs.
In 2020, the Washington DC Public Schools shifted funding rules around to let principals tap into money that was previously dedicated to school libraries. Naturally, most of that money was anticipated to be shifted away from library services entirely.
Librarians across the district marshaled union representatives, launched a petition, reached out to parents and city council members, and conducted a two-hour read-in on the steps of the officers of the mayor and city council. In the most librarian-like act of rebellion ever, some 100 people sat before the halls of government, quietly and peacefully reading.
The council quickly passed an amendment guaranteeing a full-time librarian in each of the 115 schools in the district.
Meeting State Requirements to Fill School Librarian Leadership Jobs
In just about every state, the path to become a librarian runs through becoming a teacher first.
Most states handle librarian licensure as an endorsement on a basic teaching license. In those cases, you’ll have to go through the same ITP (Initial Teacher Preparation) coursework and the same student teaching placements as other instructors to get your initial license.
In states that require a separate license rather than an endorsement on an existing license, years of teaching experience is still a requirement. So for all practical purposes you’ll have to take the same path to get there.
On top of a teaching license and experience, a librarian endorsement typically requires earning a master’s degree. Sometimes that degree also needs to be specific to the field, like a Master’s in School Library Media. Often, it will need to include specific EPP (Educator Preparation Program) coursework as specified by the state, similar to the ITP courses required of teachers.
Many states prefer that librarians earn degrees are accredited by the American Library Association.
Both endorsement and initial licensing also require passing an examination. Some states use their own series of tests for this purpose. In many, however, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) Praxis exams are standard for all teaching licenses.
In those cases, librarians are commonly required to pass the Praxis Library Media Content Test, or sometimes the LMCT plus an additional test like the Principals of Learning & Teaching.
Moving up to leadership roles in instructional media isn’t quite as consistent on the credentialing front. Some states offer specific licenses for instructional library media supervisors. Others may treat library services directors at the supervisory level as general types of school administrators, with a license as a general program director or instructional coordinator.
In both cases, the requirements are an echo of the same steps it took to get the initial librarian license:
A Master’s Degree is Standard for Future Library Leaders and Managers
A bachelor’s degree in library science has long been the gold standard required for entry-level school librarians. These programs combine instructional training with information science and management. They put together the right blend of teaching skills and reading-specific expertise to get your foot in the door.
When you get to the master’s degree level, however, you may also consider broader programs, such as a Master of Education (MEd) in Educational Administration, or a Master of Science in Educational Leadership. These deliver a big-picture education in leadership and educational administration skills, reaching outside the library and looking at areas such as:
These programs are particularly appropriate if you plan to aim for other leadership roles later on, such as becoming a school principal or a superintendent.
But state requirements that are drawn more narrowly may keep you on the library sciences path at the master’s level. So a degree like the Master of Library Science (MLS) or Master of Information Studies, with suitable ALA accreditation, may be your best bet.
These programs will include some general instructional and pedagogical theory coursework, but offer a more specialized path into subjects like:
While they are heavy on instruction in the art of information gathering and management, they may not come with the kind of broader leadership instruction that a MEd in Educational Leadership might.
The Right Degree Concentration Can Boost Both Leadership Skills and Librarian Wisdom
In keeping with the wide range of responsibilities that the modern school library system must take on, library science degrees today come with a lot of specialized options. These cover a wide scope of areas and interests, everything from children’s services to special collections to music librarianship.
But there are also options that focus in on management and administration of library services. Degrees such as a Master of Library Science with a Concentration in Leadership and Administration, add in the kind of advanced leadership training you need to step up to the district level in instructional media, or manage a library in a large public school.
That includes classes in:
They also will orient your practicum or internship placements toward management roles, allowing you to learn from experienced departmental leaders in instructional media.
What Librarian Leaders and Instructional Material Managers Are Paid in Schools
It’s somehow hard to think of librarians and money at the same time. But rest assured, these professionals do get paid. In fact, they often earn a premium compared to teachers due to their additional expertise and education. They also enjoy the same benefits as other educators, while in many ways facing a more fulfilling and less stressful position.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks salaries for librarians and media specialists separately from other educator roles. Overall, the median salary for these jobs in 2021 came to $61,190 per year.
But that profession includes many librarians outside the public school systems. Looking exclusively at librarian positions in elementary and secondary schools, the 2021 median was $61,640. At colleges, universities, and professional schools, it was even higher, at $62,550 per year.
The median isn’t always the best level to look at when you are talking about managerial and leadership roles, however. When you put in the years and get the training for district-level or supervisory media manager positions, you’re more likely to tip closer to the top ten percent of the profession. For 2021, that was $97,870 according to BLS.
Of course, working at the highest levels may mean giving up your coveted summers off. But you’ll still have the excellent healthcare benefits, pension enrollment, and other pluses from working in the education industry.
And for a certain type of person, being surrounded by books all day is just its own sort of reward. The fact that your job also allows you to share the magic you find in them with students and other educators is even more of a plus. And if there is information to catalog and books to be handed out, there’s work for librarians!
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Librarians and Library Media Specialists reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.