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School librarian mentors: Taking candidates from practice to perfection

Current school librarians can make a big difference for students by serving as a mentor for a school librarian candidate, Laverne Fox writes.

5 min read

EducationVoice of the Educator

Mid adult Hispanic librarian escorting a student in a library. Searching for a book on shelf for article on school librarian mentor

(AzmanL/Getty Images)

Many decades ago, school libraries were almost an afterthought, and the librarian — almost always a woman portrayed with a stifled smile, an ever-present lifting of the eyebrows, glasses perched on the end of her nose and a “you talk, you die” look — was thought to have an easy job. 

Today’s school library has evolved, with research and technology blended into a collaborative learning environment. Libraries are the hub of enthusiastic learning; contain unique, movable, comfortable furniture beyond tables and chairs; feature diverse book collections in multiple genres; and include makerspaces and learning spaces. School librarians are now teachers, technology troubleshooters, trainers, installers, online storage managers, procurement specialists and professional book collectors. They also are production managers, club sponsors, makers of personalized and collaborative spaces, and mind-readers. 

As more candidates are enrolling in school library programs, they must be trained properly and have the right support. This is where existing school librarians come in: working as mentors to support those in training and positively influence the sustainability of this important school position.

Quality mentors are vital if preparatory programs are going to produce quality school librarians. An effective role model for school library candidates should be:

An expert

A mentor should be certified in school library media. It would be a bonus if the mentor also had classroom experience, since today’s school librarian is immersed in teaching opportunities and collaborative work with classroom teachers. Another bonus would be certification in instructional technology. 


 A mentor with three or more years of experience as a school librarian would have a tremendous impact on school library candidates. Years of service, various grade levels, various demographic environments,and experience serving under a variety of administrations would give mentors insights to share with candidates. Such experience also would include knowledge about dealing with a host of situations and student needs. 

Flexible and fluid 

This is a necessity that comes with being an “extra” in education. Flexibility is needed when plans change because of a fire drill or because the classroom teacher is absent and the substitute decides it’s a library day. A great mentor will show candidates how to go with the flow when library space is booked, yet an administrator needs you to cancel those plans to accommodate a guest speaker. It’s not at all unusual to have to gather materials and move to another part of the school. Candidates need to know how to handle this, because it’s not taught in program courses.

Honest and trustworthy 

To be respected by their learning community, mentors must be perceived to have integrity, honesty and trustworthiness. A candidate needs honesty from mentors, hearing the cold, hard truth about lived experiences or performance feedback. The candidate must also feel assured that their mentor knows the ropes — as well as shares what they have learned from the candidate, such as new ideas, concepts, theories or tools learned in program courses.

A collaborator and networker 

A large part of school librarians’ job today is collaborating with colleagues or teaching students to collaborate on projects. Working together is a valuable trait that promotes engagement and enhances the learning experience. When mentors model collaboration, they should use best practices for effective communication. They should be willing to share ideas, supplies, methods, experiences, files and more with the candidate, and show how to involve faculty, staff, students, parents and the community in library initiatives. This promotes involvement from all stakeholders and serves as a reminder to candidates that collaboration can extend beyond the school walls. Mentors should be willing to share experiences with various professional organizations, conferences worth attending, and people or groups to follow on social media. Starting a professional learning network can be a very valuable tool for new school librarians, and what better way to start than with a mentor? 

Being a school librarian can sometimes be a thankless job, they often are intrinsically motivated by the success they see in their students. It can be similar with librarian candidates, as the role offers no payment and often little more than a thank-you. But mentors should know that the experiences they provide to a candidate may not be realized until years later. 

If you would like to become a mentor for a school librarian candidate, reach out to your school library district coordinator or to the department head at a nearby college that offers a school library media program. Quality school librarians must be molded, nurtured and supported from the onset. Effective school librarians have a positive influence on student success that is far-reaching and could impact a student for a lifetime!

Laverne Hill, Ed.D., is the coordinator of the master’s and certification-only school library media programs at Valdosta State University in Georgia. She has played an active role in revising core courses to integrate opportunities for candidates to work with an expert in a school library. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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