IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

What do school librarians need to know ? Guidelines for competency requirements

Sigrun Klara Hannesdottir, Faculty of Social Science, Reykjavik, Iceland


In the past, some sharp differences have been seen in the definitions of school librarians, their principal role in the school and as a consequence their professional preparation. In 1986 the IFLA Section of School Libraries published a document called Guidelines for the Education and Training of School Librarians. A new edition of this document has been prepared which outlines the competency requirements for modern school librarians. It contains an outline of the essential knowledge and skills necessary for these professionals which include information studies, management and education.


Problems of definitions

For years there have been differences of opinion concerning the preparation of school librarians for their professional tasks. These differences have been inherent in the discussions of the professio n for a long time and have never been fully resolved. The differences are connected with the roles of school librarians in schools and the goals and objectives they are to fulfil. The differences are , furthermore, a reflection of the educational system in each country, the preparation of teachers for work in elementary schools as well as the preparation of librarians in the same countries. The d ifferences are also demonstrated through the use of terminology. "School librarian", "school library media specialist", "teacher librarian", "bibliotecaire documentaliste", and many others are known from the professional literature. If we try to analyse these differences they can be briefly listed as follows:

  1. The school librarians are defined as specialised teachers. If so, teacher's training is required with or without experience in classroom teaching. In educational programmes for these school libra rians emphasis is placed on the role of the library in the context of cooperative planning and teaching where school librarians have an active role in classroom teaching.

  2. The school librarians are defined as specialised librarians. If so, the basic training is that of an information specialist. The main role of school librarians is to provide the classroom teache rs with information and sources that are required for the classrooms. Emphasis is on extensive information provision for the whole school and the instructional role limited to information skills.

  3. School librarianship is defined as a separate profession. Professional preparation is separate from both librarianship and teaching but can be housed within library schools, teacher training inst itutions or separately. It is recognised that competencies need to be borrowed from both teaching and librarianship. Educational programmes are created and developed in the view of a separate role wh ich is distinctly different from the role of both teachers and librarians.

IFLA's interest in this problem dates back for a long time. I became involved with IFLA in 1974 when a separate Section for School Libraries was being prepared. I remember that at one of the first business meetings of the Section, a person from the audience got up and posed a very straight forward question. "Who are these school librarians you are talking about?" Prior to that we had perhaps avoided the question and hoped that we would not have to deal with this sensitive issue. But there it was and there was no way to avoid it anyway.

The Section discussed the issue of education for school librarian at several of its meetings and looked for ways to approach it constructively. In 1978 a seminar on education for school librarians w as held in Costa Rica with participation from all the Central American countries. The seminar was attended by high level officials from ministries of education, people from library schools and teache r training institutions, and the main emphasis was on how to develop educational programmes for teachers in school librarianship. The proceedings of this seminarJwere published in Spanish and later t ranslated into English. In connection with the seminar, a short course was offered for school librarians.

The next step was to form a Working Group in 1982 to look at the educational requirements for school librarians. This was an international group of 13 people with very different views of what school librarians were all about and each member looked at the issue from their particular perspective. Very soon we realised, however, that this issue was very deep rooted and did not have any straight ans wers. Strong feelings existed on both sides, supporting the emphasis on teachers on the one hand and on librarians on the other. The "either or syndrom" which we jokingly called t seemed to be about to prevent any progress on this issue. One group was determined to look at librarians as teachers and the other wanted to empha sise the library component as indispensable.

Dual qualifications were in some cases listed as the optimal alternative. On the other hand to many members that looked much too demanding for the educational system in their particular country wher e professional preparations for either profession were 3 4 years. Dually qualified school librarians would then have 6 8 years of education on the university level!

In some developing countries the only option seemed to be to select a teacher and provide some basic skills in running a school library since teacher's training is on a lower level than librarianship . Elementary schools would never be able to afford library trained people. In other countries librarians in schools were on a lower level than teachers and had status on the secretarial level only.

In view of the divergent ideas there was no alternative than to approach theissue from an entirely different standpoint. The approach which was tried and which seems to work for that particular group was simply to ask the question: "What does a school librarian need to know?" This approach meant that the Working Group could focus on the identification of the competencies which school librarians needed in order to function properly in the school setting and then leave it to individual countries or school systems to figure out for themselves what was the most efficient and effective way to cr eate courses which would include these competencies.

Another necessary step was to simplify the use of terminology. To avoid problems in this area it was decided to use only the term "school librarian" and specifically the plural term "school librarian s" to avoid gender specific references to the school librarian. In order to obtain consistancy in terminology for the library in the school, it was decided to use the term "school library" for the i nstitution in the school although other names are used in the literature.

The first edition of the Guidelines for the Education and Training of School Librarians was published in 1986. That edition has been out of print for some time. During the Annual Conference of the In ternational Association of School Librarianship in 1991, a proposal for a revision of the Guidelines was accepted. The proposal was discussed by the IFLA Section of School Libraries in 1992 and subse quently approved by the IFLA Professional Board in 1993. The chairperson of the original IFLA Working Group was requested to review the first edition of the Guidelines for the Education of School Lib rarians, and submit a draft to the Section of School Libraries and to the Board of the International Association of School Librarianship. A revised draft of the new version of the document was prepar ed in 1994 with view of the changes that have occurred within this field since the first edition was published. The draft was based on the former edition, constructed the same way, because the form w as considered appropriate for its purpose. The draft document was then sent out for comments to people all over the world. The last of the comments was received in May of 1995.

Through comments from the review group and in view of experience with translating it into other languages, a new title was proposed: School Librarians: Guidelines for Competency Requirement. As said before, the main purpose is to analyse the role of school librarians and through that analysis draw attention to competencies and knowledge needed to perform this role.

School Libraries in Information Society

At this point it is necessary to offer some discussion on the main characteristics of the school libraries in the world to show the framework for the new document School Librarians: Guidelines of Com ptetency Requirements. School libraries exist in most countries and regions of theworld but are at different stages of development. The history of school libraries can be traced back to the time when books and other written sources were used to supplement the teacher and textbook in the distribution of knowledge. The general integration of the school library and its sources into the curriculum i s, however, much more recent and has developed out of two main factors, i.e. changing educational methodology based on research into students learning and an increase in the availability of informati on sources which can be of use in the educational setting.

The change in educational methodology places at the center the uniqueness of the individual and the obligations of the educational system to meet the individual's needs. A school library programme be comes essential when such philosophy is used as a guiding principle for educational activities. A school library with a rich variety of sources is a prerequisite for the enrichment of the curriculum and systematic efforts to meet the individual student's needs.

The so called "information explosion" is a phenomenon which has also influenced the goals and purposes of education. In an information saturated world each individual needs and uses a wealth of info rmation. The school is expected to prepare students for diverse roles in society, and consequently in a world where information is becoming one of the most important commodities, the school must prep are students with information handling skills to facilitate their current and future use of information. The school library plays an essential part in helping students to develop the concepts of in formation retrieval and assisting them to acquire the skills for handling and managing information sources.

The school library is a storehouse of information within the school, organised in ways similar to other institutions which hold the same purpose. The school library, therefore, acts as a bridge betw een school and society, bringing increased knowledge into the school in order to provide challenges to the inquiring mind of young people. The main purpose of the school library is to provide and exp loit organized information to help broaden the knowledge base of each individual student, and to prepare students with information handling skills to help them seek and use information in their futur e life.

The most drastic changes in the development of information skills in the past few years is the availability of online sources through computer networks, a fact which carries the potential for a chang e in all information transfers. Through access points in each school, children have access to an almost infinite variety of information sources. No school library is any longer limited to the sources the school has managed to acquire through purchase. School libraries are becoming information clearinghouses within the school and as such they will constantly change and adjust their role as cataly sts in the information society.

The Changing Role of School Librarians

The Unesco Manifesto on School Libraries from 1980 states that to achieve the objectives of the school libraries one of the basic requirements are "staff with professional qualification in education and librarianship, assisted by sufficient support staff."1 The Unesco document The Guidelines for School Libraries2 suggests four types of personnel in school libraries i.e., professional, technical , clerical and volunteer. In the document which we are discussing here, specific educational qualifications for each type of personnel have not been outlined. It should also be kept in mind that only in the best developed school library systems does such a division of labour exist and most frequently it is one or two people who are res ponsible for all the operations of the school library.

The world is rapidly entering an era of technological revolution where information technology forms an integral part of societal changes. Easy access to a variety of sources calls for a revision of t he education of school librarians so they are capable of planning and teaching the new information handling skills with teachers for students. This training can be carried out as a component in the b asic educational programme for new school librarians, and for those already working it is important to offer a variety of courses through continuing education. School librararians need to change the methods of instruction for information skills in schools to include skills of coping with the enormous amounts of information available to each individual through these new channels. In view of these changes is very important that the school librarians are recognized as information specialists in the new sense.

Occupational studies exist from different parts of the world which have attempted to identify the roles and functions of librarians in the school context. This shows that the role of school librarian s vary according to the educational objectives of the schools, teaching methodology, the national legal framework, financial situation, etc.

School Librarians: Guidelines for Competency Requirements

In spite of existing variations the first guidelines outlined three general components essential for the development and operation of effective school library programmes i.e., information studies, ma nagement and education.

Information studies is an essential component for the selection, organisation and utilization of society's recorded information and ideas;

Through the revision, this basic division was not changed, but it was, however, necessary to add several components to the competency requirements to match with the abovementioned changes. School lib rarians are still recognized as specialists in the two main roles of the school library; i.e. the provision and organisation of information for the purpose of increasing the knowledge of each individ ual student, and the integration of information handling skills into the curriculum. They also need to possess sufficient management skills to operate the school library smoothly and successfully fo r the fulfilment of these roles.

The new document includes several sections:

Firstly, there is a schematic presentation of the essential competencies, outlining the main factors which support the functions of school librarians and at the same time the scheme reinforces the in terrelation between each of these factors.

Secondly, there is a detailed explanation of each of the functions listed on the schematic presentation. There, the functions which school librarians perform the schools are briefly explained. As a c ontinuation of these definitions, the competencies, knowledge and skills needed to carry out each of these functions efficiently are listed.

Thirdly, the document includes a checklist of competencies, which is included for a quick assessment of existing programmes or as an initial framework for a new one.

A short Bibliography is included to facilitate access to further information on these issues. Finally the Appendix contains two major international statements on school libraries, one from Unesco and the other from International Association of School Librarianship. Both are helpful as policy statements on general roles and purposes of school libraries and school librarians.

How to Develop New Educational Programmes?

The document suggests ways for educators who wish to develop new programmes for school librarians. To begin with it is suggested to assess the actual needs within a given school system, region or cou ntry and construct the school library educational programme accordingly. In most instances the educational programmes can be developed or constructed parallel to or within some other training institution, such as teachers' train ing institutions, universities or schools of librarianship. Those who are planning to develop new programmes are advised to contact both teachers' training institutions and library schools to make us e of available facilities and resources and assertainthat the programme will address as well as possible the existing needs within school libraries.

Those who are in the process of developing new programmes for prospective school librarians will find in this document a succint but comprehensive description of the abilities which a school libraria n will need to master. The competencies outlined under each section can be used as a basis to build on a series of courses where each course could cover a variety of aspects.

One of the issues that needs to be addressed is the stability of such programmes. It is imperative that their future be secured and a guarantee made that they can continue for several years to provid e a logical, comprehensive preparation of the personnel for the school library system, a preparation programme which can be developed and upgraded gradually and systematically.

How to Review and Evaluate Existing Educational Programmes?

Each educational programme should be evaluated periodically, in order to improve the preparation of the professionals who are facing an everchanging and challenging job in the school. Revision can be assisted through the document where the present programme can be matched with the competency requirements as a whole to find weaknesses or to change emphasis. For such a revision it is necessary tha t school library training institutions keep contact with their graduates to gain feedback on strengths and weaknesses of the existing programme.

An effective school library educational programme needs to include all of the aspects listed in the document, but it depends on the situation in each country how deeply and extensively school librar ians need to study each factor. Therefore no prescription is been made as to the length or depth of each course.

How to Use the Checklist?

The Checklist is intended as a quick guide to assess existing programmes. Through this list, educators can evaluate their programmes on three levels:

Firstly, to find out how it measures up to needs and expectations;

Secondly, for new programmes, the checklist could be used as an initial frame to identify which areas are to be emphasized at the beginning of the programme and make out a developmental plan, identif ying the areas which need to be added to at a later stage;

Thirdly, the Checklist can help the organizers of the educational programmesfor school librarians to define the level of study which is needed in view of the present situation.

Added Emphasis on Continuing Education and Distant Education

As said before, school librarians must have opportunities to keep up to date with developments in the fields that mainly concern them and their working place, the library. Techological changes are r apid in the form of online services, new media such as the CD ROM have become common. More information is available on how to combat illiteracy, on how students learn and what can be done to interest them in reading. This information is valuable for school librarians to increase their importance in the school.

In many schools the number of students is too small to support a full time school librarian. To provide interested teachers with the basic information needed to provide the services of a school libra ry, it is necessary to organise distant education programmes where teachers can study at their own speed and as the need arises. There are now more and more possibilities to provide distant education courses through the use of info rmation technology and students can communicate with their teachers through electronic mail, receive comments on their assignments and progress immediately. Many countries on the path of development or countries which are sparesely populated must look into the possibility to provide school librarians with this type of educational programmes.

What Are the Essential Competencies?

In this chapter an abbreviated list of components if offered where each main heading has been divided into competencies in order to facilitate the creation of courses and educational programmes to pr epare people for the operation and services of the school library.

A. Information Studies 
A I. Collection development
a. Develop Selection Policy
b. Evaluation and Selection of of Resources
c. Criteria for Gifts
d. Design and Production of Sources
A II. Acquisition and organisation
a. Ordering, Receiving and Processing
b. Classification
c. Cataloguing
d. Indexing
e. Selection of Appropriate Technologies
A III. Information Services
a. Assessment of Information Needs
b. Design of Information Services
c. Guides to Sources
d. Circulation, Reservations
e. Online Searching
f. Interlibrary Loan
g. Use of Advanced Technology

B. Management
B I. Policy development implementation
a. Establish Long term and Short term Goals
b. Design Strategies
c. Policies and Programmes
d. Modification , Change
e. Programme Evaluation
f. Community Involvement
B II. Resource Management
a. Organisation and Development
b. Supervison and Management
c. Plan for Efficient Use
d. Preservation and Care
e. Development of Services

B III.Finance and Budget Control
a. Securing Financial Support
b. Budget Control
c. Reporting

C. Education
C I. Cooperation in curricular design
a. Participation in Curriculum
b. Fostering Independent Learning
c. Curriculum Enrichment
d. Teaching Partner
e. Application of Learning Theory

C II. Integration of Resources and Skills
a. Analysis of Information Needs
b. Integration of Information Skills
c. Assist Effective Usage
d. Design Activities

C III.Guidance and Promotion of Use
a. Guidance
b. Encourage Participation
c. Relate Resources to Curriculum
d. Motivation, Stimulation
e. Advising Teachers on Materials
f. Encourage Use of Other Institutions


The role of the school librarians is considered a unified and a holistic one. However, in order to facilitate the analysis of the recommended educational requirements for this type of professionals, three general components are defined which make up this unity. This approach also makes it possible to identify the competencies which are unique to these professionals and which separate them from other professionals. It should, however, be stressed that these factors are all interrelated and should not be considered independent of each other. As an example, the knowledge needed for book sel ection is also needed for promotion of the library and reading guidance. These activities require comprehensive knowledge of children's literature, bibliographic control of children's books and know ledge of reading levels and interests of children at certain age levels.

School librarianship can be considered as one branch of librarianship, or information studies which deals with the acquisition, organisation and distribution of recorded knowledge. At the same time it has a strong allignment to the teaching profession. In the creation of educational programmes for school librarians it seems both appropriate and practical to utilise available courses offered to other librarians and/or teachers to the fullest extent possible.

The school library is, furthermore, one of the cornerstones of a national library network. In many instance, the sources in the school library are valuable to the community as a whole and frequently the school offers its collection for use by the community. On the other hand, combined libraries are also common where the school must share a library collection and services with the public librar y. Whatever local solution has been chosen to provide the school and its children with information beyond the textbook, school librarians must be aware of their responsibilities as information medi ators and teachers of information handling skills.

School libraries must be organised along the same lines as other libraries in the community, using the same type of classification and arrangement of collections, and an emphasis should be placed o n mastery of the organisationalcomponents of the library work as well as the others.

Educational programmes for school librarians will inevitably vary from one part of the world to another but must never be on a lower educational level than the equivalent teachers' training. If teac hers' training is on a post graduate level, the educational programmes for school librarians need to be on the post graduate level as well. School librarians who have been professionally trained and have the competencies which have been outlined here, have a very important role in the school since they are responsible for keeping up with all the educational activities in the school, working with all teachers and students, serving as teaching partners, managers and organisers in a complex institution. They should therefore be looked upon as specialists within the school and their edu cation and status should be rated accordingly.


1. "School Library Manifesto". Unesco, 1980.

2. Carroll, Frances Laverne. Guidelines for School Libraries. The Hague, IFLA Section of School Libraries, 1990, p. 12.