Your first opportunity to see what goes on in a library media center will be personal experience in an elementary, middle, or high school library media center. You may have the chance to take part in a class in which a library media specialist teaches you how to use the Internet to locate information. Or you may also work alone in the library media center, utilizing the various print or audiovisual sources to complete a school project. In these and many other cases, you will get an idea of the informational tools available in library media centers, as well as the responsibilities held by specialists in making sure that those tools are used effectively and efficiently.
If you are interested in becoming a media specialist, volunteer to work in your school's media programs. Perhaps your school offers a library club for its students. You might also read books, periodicals, and blogs that deal with visual aids and education, and try to find summer or part-time employment with stores that sell audiovisual aids or companies that produce audiovisual equipment or software. Student memberships in professional library organizations are often available (and affordable). If you are considering a career in librarianship, try contacting a professional librarian association. You may be able to join the organization, attend professional meetings, or meet individually with librarians who can offer you advice on how you can learn more about this career.
Library media specialists may work in library media centers in elementary, middle, and high schools. The library media center may be in either a public school (and, as such, part of a public school district), a private school, a parochial school, or other nonpublic school. The specific responsibilities of the library media specialist vary according to the size of the school or school district, the grade level of the students, and the extent to which the library media center has invested in new technologies. In any case, there are many facets to the job of a library media specialist. Library media specialists must act as information specialist, teacher, and instructional consultant.
In the role of information specialist, library media professionals select, organize, catalog, and provide the means of accessing information stored in numerous print and nonprint sources. Since they are responsible for acquiring the resources that exist in many different formats, library media specialists study manufacturers' literature, talk with salespeople, inspect new product lines, and attend professional conferences and conventions to help determine the best sources available to meet the needs of their particular school community. They must be familiar with the new technologies that are constantly developing, and they may be involved with the budgeting and planning needed to acquire these new technologies for the library media center.
Library media specialists also organize all of the resource material stored in the library media center. They assign numbers to each audiovisual aid stored in their media center, they maintain catalogs of software, and they keep schedules showing when teachers plan to use specific materials. They perform such simple maintenance work as cleaning lenses and changing light bulbs, and they call in skilled technicians for more complicated maintenance or repairs on audiovisual or computer equipment.
Ultimately, the library media specialist must be completely familiar with all of the information available in the library media center, as well as with the new technologies that have been adopted by the facility. They must be able to help others access all of the information available to them through resources such as CD-ROMs, DVDs, databases, and the Internet. In some cases, when particular sources are not available, they may use cameras, computers, and art supplies to make their own audiovisual materials.
In the role of teacher, library media specialists provide training in information literacy. By helping teachers and students to access information, a specialist may apply both formal and informal teaching procedures. They may instruct teachers in the use of different print materials or audiovisual equipment, or may even teach the teachers how to use basic computer programs in the classroom. Library media specialists may either instruct students in classes, in small groups, or on a one-to-one basis. In some situations they may team-teach with teachers. They help teachers and students to most effectively utilize all of the resources available in the media center, directing them to appropriate print sources and teaching them how to navigate the Internet and to use sources like online encyclopedias and information databases. They may also help teachers produce special materials for class projects.
In elementary schools, library media specialists may provide activities geared to the learning process of the younger student. For instance, they may plan activities, such as story hours and puppet shows that are designed to encourage reading. They may also create a special reading room for the younger students—brightly decorated with characters from favorite children's books and made comfortable and cozy with bean bag chairs and big floor pillows—where children can take a break and foster their love of books.
In the role of instructional consultant, library media specialists assist in curriculum development, help teachers to plan classes, recommend appropriate media for classes, and order materials that teachers request. They must be familiar with the subjects that each grade studies, know how children learn, and understand what training aids are best for specific age levels and topics. In this role, library media specialists may participate in school committees or school district committees that plan and revise curricula. They may represent their school or school district at conventions for school media center librarians, and often belong to professional library associations.