What’s in a name?

About ten years ago (maybe more) the name of a school librarian changed to “media specialist” with a few variations to that. SC calls our certification media specialist. But with the name change came the impression that we were not educators, but rather support people. It didn’t change much for the elementary people, who despite the name change and its implication that the library media specialist could pull magic media tricks out of a hat, many continued to be a gate-keeper of books and a place to send a class so a teacher could have precious planning time. I would wage 65% of all elementary schools use their “media specialist” as a babysitter who keeps kids while teachers plan.

So what should we be called?

Names can have varying meanings and interpretations. Guru Dr. Joyce Valenza began marketing herself as a “teacher-librarian” a good while back. At first I was reluctant to call myself this. But when I realized the title media specialist did not denote that we were teachers BEFORE we were librarians, and it eliminated the mindset of school leaders that the position was potentially an educational leader in the building, I decided to adopt it to. Few realize that teacher librarians (especially now in my state) are certified only through a graduate level degree. (Note: there area still a few in SC who currently serve in this position that received their degree in an undergraduate program. The degree now, though, is only available as a graduate program.) Most are teachers well before they are teacher librarians.

Library Media Specialist? Teacher Librarian? 21st Century Learner?

Our state gives “teachers” a small stipend at the onset of school to purchase consumable supplies. After the first year of it, there was talk of NOT giving it to media specialists, guidance counselor, or speech therapists–as we were not considered “teachers” and shouldn’t have the same needs. There was a failure by some to recognize the contributions these people make to the school program. So I fully embraced the title teacher librarian then to make sure everyone perceived me first as an educator, then as a stakeholder in the school as a whole. Of course I feel we have to earn our merit in their positions, but embracing a title that helps everyone see us as an equal in the building goes a long way.

It’s funny to reflect here on this now, as I really want to be seen as a 21st Century Learner now. I’ve said this before (compliments of Liz Davis today), so sorry if I sound like a broken record, but the term “teacher” in today’s world has come to imply that the learning is done, and it is now someone else’s (students) turn to learn. I wholeheartedly believe it is (in the words of Bud the teacher) pedagogical malpractice to stop learning if you work with students. So now I have to rethink my title too. Hmmm, what shall we call ourselves?


Image: ‘Librarian Jacket
Image: ‘Graduation Cake Guy

Graduation Cake Guy

6 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1.   carolyn Says:

    Our district has taken to calling us Instructional Technology Specialist or ITS. I kept referring to myself as Librarian when everyone started using Media Specialist, because I found that so many of my friends, non-educators, did not understand the distinction. I don’t even bother to explain ITS to them:)

  2.   Heather Loy Says:

    I prefer the title “librarian” to all others. To me that title is sufficient.

    “Librarian: A specialist in the care, management, and location of recorded information, and one skilled in the process of helping others locate and use information.”

    I think media specialist is the wrong title…makes folks think all we do is handle media/tech problems. I’d also prefer the word technology not be in our title at all. While we teach how to use technology to fulfill informational/learning needs, most think the technology title means it is my job to fix their broken printers, computers and copiers. I’ll be happy to show you how to use these tools, but I’m not going to fix them for you…that’s what the tech folks are there for.

    As for the term teacher librarian, I like the fact that it does stress that I also have a teaching certificate. However, I didn’t come from a teaching background and have never been a classroom teacher. I do feel this puts me at somewhat of a disadvantage, and is why I make such an effort to continually learn more about educational best practices.

  3.   Cathy Nelson Says:

    @Carolyn Richland One has always wanted to be on the cutting edge, and when they adopted that title for the “librarian” it was very cutting edge. But now that they have “Technology Integration Specialists” it almost seems redundant. I would be interested in seeing a job description for both to see how duties are sliced and diced. Richland One also has many Master’s Plus ITS being used as a planning period too. So the name change did not seem to help administrators see that the position had a lot of potential in every facet of school, and it continues to be a planning period, especially in elementary schools. What a shame.

    @Heather–You are a product of the University of South Carolina’s SLIS program, and so you have been MORE than prepared pedagogically for your position. Wear your title with pride. Part of best practice is modeling continuous learning, which you are doing too. I agree the term media specialist lends itself to being misinterpreted, but it is up to us to make sure our schools understand our programs and what we offer our school community. Then and only then will we change the expectations that administrators have. A problem is far too many LMSs have allowed their admin to have no expectations other than a gate keeper of books, a babysitter, and a way for other teachers to get a planning period. They are the whole reason many schools are CUTTING this position–because they have become complacent in what their school demands of their position. It is up to us to show what we can do–make ourselves indispensable.

    Bravo, you are doing a fantastic job! Someday I may be as good as you.

  4.   Fran Says:


    I still prefer the title “teacher-librarian.” To me, teaching IS learning. I am a lifelong learner – have pretty much gone to school all my life as well as gone to workshops, conferences, and conventions. I’m constantly reading the blogs of others I admire and who have something to teach me – perhaps even as they are learning it.

    Those of us who love to learn and share probably are reaching out to those who might not make the effort. Hopefully, we are encouraging others to revel in the pleasure of learning.

  5.   Pat Says:

    When I was at one school, the media specialist was highly insulted if she was just called a librarian. She felt that media specialist shows that she was more highly trained than a librarian. Then I went to another school where they really didn’t care what they were called but they always went above and beyond whatever was asked of them. I truly felt like they were specialists. When I focus on the term Media Specialist, I guess I focus on the specialist part because I feel they are teachers who specialize in media of all types. When I passed the National Board stuff, I became an Exceptional Needs Specialist but I don’t think it changed the way I feel or act. I do know that after all that hard work, I don’t want to fall behind in what is current in my field ever again. I do feel I’m more of an expert in my field of exceptional needs than just a special education teacher who hasn’t kept current with issues and training.

  6.   Ldierks Says:

    As a recently convereted classroom teacher to LMS, I’ve had to explain my new job to a lot of people. Librarian, Media Specialist, Computer Teacher, etc… I’ve stuttered through them all, trying them on. I’m still working on a universal term that everyone understands. However, what keeps popping into my head is “a rose by any other name…”. No matter what I call myself, my actions and reputation label me far more than a title. I hope my admin and patrons/members/users (another title discussion popping up recently)see me as the “Go to Gal.” Hmm… I’ll try that on for awhile.

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