Teacher Librarian Interview
Interview with Dr. Mary Ann Harlan, lecturer at the San José State University School of Information
We recently had the great privilege to interview Dr. Mary Ann Harlan from San José State University. Dr. Harlan has a more than a decade of experience serving as a teacher librarian. She is a recent graduate of the San José Gateway PhD program, an international doctoral program offered in partnership between the San José State University School of Information and Queensland University of Technology. Her doctoral research examined how teens create and share online content, including films, visual artwork, music, and websites. Dr. Harlan is a lecturer at the San José State University School of Information. She teaches courses in the fully online Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program. She is also a San José State University School of Information alumna, with a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science.
Earlier in your career, you taught English at the middle school level. What prompted you to make the change to library science? Did you return to school to earn an additional degree or certification?
When I was teaching English, I was always looking for books that would encourage kids to read. I personally loved YA literature, so I used the school library for my recreational needs and developed a relationship with the teacher librarian. Additionally, it was the beginning of computers in the classroom, and I was interested in developing integrated instruction with technology. And finally, my favorite assignment was a research project. The teacher librarian suggested I get my teacher librarian credential, since it brought all my teaching passions together.
If you had not decided to become an instructor, what other career roles might you have considered?
I really loved working with teens as a site teacher librarian. They have amazing energy and fascinating personal research needs. I can’t really imagine not working in an education field, although lately when it comes to working with youth, I am particularly interested in more informal spaces rather than the classroom.
What are one or two of your favorite courses to teach?
I am teaching a course on school library media materials right now, which is about evaluating materials to curricular and personal (including recreational) needs. We evaluate text complexity as it relates to Common Core standards, and it is a fun class to teach.
What are your current research interests?
I am really interested in how teens develop information practices in formal and informal learning contexts, particularly in digital contexts. Learning is not exclusively a classroom experience. Finding, evaluating and using information is foundational to learning. What I am curious about is how teens access, evaluate, use, and create information in different communities of practice and how that relates to their learning.
From what you have seen, what degrees or certifications are most in demand by employers in your field?
Teacher librarians in California have very strict degree requirements, as they need a single and/or multiple subject credential and a teacher librarian credential. This differs in each state, but most require something similar. Additionally, employers are looking for teacher librarians who have skills in integrating technology into instruction, and managing technology, as well. And we cannot overlook the impact the shift to Common Core is having in many states.
Are there any tips you would give to library science majors to become more competitive in the eyes of future employers?
One of the best things about being in a school library is that you have a macro view of curriculum and the school. It is important to understand the community and what the curriculum looks like in schools in that community. Additionally, a macro view and understanding of educational trends and policies are immensely helpful to administrators who are trying to keep up themselves. Bringing a macro view that encompasses whole school, community, and educational trends and policies is not something classroom teachers necessarily bring to the table (although some do!).
What changes do you see on the horizon for library and information science?
In the school library field, we have been fighting for understanding of our relevancy in the changing information age. We talk about the school library when we should be talking about teacher librarians. It really is a job that addresses the needs of youth in the information age by teaching youth strategies to deal with information, digital literacy, and the ethics of being a member of the information age. Accessing information is easy these days. However, accessing quality information, recognizing its value and relevance, and using this information to create knowledge is more difficult. This is the mission of the teacher librarian, helping youth do this. In the future, our job might be more embedded in classrooms than in the brick and mortar library, although that brick and mortar library is a classroom for the whole school.
What do you recommend current library and information science majors do to improve their education (as far as books to read, journal subscriptions, professional organization membership)?
There is a rich community of teacher librarian leaders online. This personal learning network is one of the better professional development tools for teacher librarians. They blog, are active on Twitter, host webinars, etc. Following up with these stellar practitioners, such as Joyce Valenza, Gwyneth Jones, Shannon Miller, Buffy Hamilton (who is now a public librarian), Doug Johnson and the many, many others, engages one in interesting conversations, introduces new ideas, and helps build new connections. Additionally, participation in state library organizations such as the California School Library Association, and national organizations such as AASL and ISTE, helps develop vital relationships and support, as well as knowledge of the field.