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UW-Whitewater program teaches librarians to be information specialists

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Kayla Bunge
July 5, 2009
— Being a librarian means more than explaining the card catalog and locating obscure reference books; it means understanding the myriad ways of getting information and helping people evaluate information, whether it’s from a newspaper or an online social-networking site.

An expanding program, headquartered at UW-Whitewater, is working to train teachers and librarians to become information specialists for high-need rural and urban public schools.


“We’re redefining what (schools) should be expecting of their librarians,” said Eileen Schroeder, associate professor of educational foundations at the university. “They’re still helping students and teachers find information, but they do a lot more with helping them evaluate information, too.”


The world of information and technology is changing. Newspapers, magazines and television no longer are the primary sources of information; Twitter, YouTube and Flickr now offer people rapid-fire information about people, places and events around the world.


“That’s a lot of information,” Schroeder said. “And (librarians) have to help students and teachers learn to use that information.”


The UW System School Library Education Consortium program, a collaboration among library science programs at five universities, including UW-Whitewater, started more than 10 years ago to train teachers to become library specialists.


The program, taught largely online, targets teachers who cannot easily access higher education but want to get licensed to serve the changing needs of students and teachers in their schools.


The program has helped more than 200 teachers become licensed library specialists.


But the demand is growing for librarians who understand the latest in information and technology, and the consortium recently received an almost $1 million grant to help redesign its program to fill that need.


“It’s really a very different job, and it’s a very exciting time,” Schroeder said. “(Students and teachers) are coming in with lots of new information, but they don’t have the critical thinking skills to figure out which information will satisfy their needs.”


The grant, from the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, will help the consortium educate librarians about the new methods of obtaining information and the new skills students and teachers need to best utilize the information.


“We need to show them how to be leaders in their schools to help promote these things,” Schroeder said.


The consortium also plans to use the grant to develop materials for school administrators so they understand the new role of library specialists in their schools and to give scholarships to teachers enrolled in the program.


Michelle Tryggestad, an elementary library media specialist and former eighth-grade English teacher in the Tomah School District, said the program will help school librarians in small, rural school districts bring their schools up to speed with new technology.


“There’s just all kinds of really neat technology we can learn and in turn have our students learn,” she said. “There’s so much information out there, but a lot of times, in smaller, poorer schools, students don’t have access to that information.


“We’re still information seekers; we’re still finding out what’s out there beyond our four walls and bringing it into the classroom,” she said. “But there’s a lot more to it now.”



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