Career Strategies for Librarians
School Library Media Specialist Programs
by Jonathan Swartz

When I began applying to graduate school a couple of years ago, I carefully weighed all of my options
and I knew that I wanted to go to library school.  The question that I had to answer was whether to enroll
in a traditional MLS degree program or go for a library media specialist certification program.  I decided
to enroll in a library media specialist certification program for several reasons.  I thought it would give me
more opportunities for employment after graduate school since the program that I enrolled in was good
for both school and public libraries. I also believed that a library media specialist program would give me
more experience in using both print and electronic media than a traditional MLS program, as I am a
computer-savvy individual who enjoys applying my skills to the workplace.   

I started working as a page in a public library back in high school and I always dreamed of working in a
library, even though I was away from that setting for eight years until I enrolled in graduate school.  In the
past few years, I have witnessed the evolution of the school and public library as it transitioned from
traditional print card catalogs to the computerized system that we know today.  Overall, I think that the
term “library media specialist” has developed over the years.  When I was in school, the people in
charge of the library were called librarians, and school libraries often didn’t have Internet access.  I
chose to enroll in this program because I believe that I can play a vital role in the future composition and
direction of the library.

What Does a School Library Media Specialist Do?

The American Library Association’s publication Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning
(1998) lists the roles and responsibilities of the school library media specialist.  According to the ALA,
library media specialists should have the following roles and responsibilities:

As teachers, they hold classes a few times a week or month on proper library use and research
techniques, on use of VCR/DVDs and A/V equipment, and on the operation of projectors.

As instructional partners, they work with teachers and administrators to determine students’ information
needs and to select books, periodicals, and electronic resources for the collection.

As information specialists, they work with students, teachers, and administrators to evaluate, plan, and
equip the media center.

As program administrators, they work with the community to determine policies and priorities for media
center activities.  With the continued development of electronic resources, the specialist will increasingly
provide instruction in computer and Internet use.  

School library media specialists also work with teachers, parents, students, and administrators to select
materials based on budget, demand, and number of students enrolled in the school.  In general, the
school library media center is operated weekdays between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm during the
school year.  In many school districts, the library media center stays open after school and opens before
school on selected days of the week and during midterm and final exam periods.

State Certification Requirements

Requirements for certification as a school library media specialist vary from state to state, although all
require an initial teaching license, which is also a prerequisite for some certification programs.  Most
states also require that candidates achieve passing scores on state mandated teaching exams and
complete about 30 credits of an accredited program to be eligible for certification.  Common tests
required for licensure include the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL), the Praxis Exam,
and the Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST).  The PPST and the Praxis Exam, which are given a few
times per year, are tests of basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics, and are required for
certification in some states.   

Some states also require additional courses outside of the traditional library media curriculum.  In New
York, students are required to take courses in reading and writing; in Rhode Island, students are
required to complete a student teaching requirement consisting of six credits of teaching at the
elementary and secondary levels.  However, there are exceptions to this rule.  In Rhode Island, the
student teaching requirement is waived for applicants who hold a teaching license in another field; they
can complete an internship with a library media specialist to fulfill this requirement.  Most initial library
media specialist certificates are temporary and must be renewed every 3-5 years, depending on the
state where you live.  All prospective library media specialists should check their state’s department of
education website for a detailed listing of certification requirements specific to their state.

Course Requirements and Types of Courses Offered

There are several colleges that offer accredited library media specialist programs, with courses and
requirements similar to MLS programs.  Most library media specialist certification programs require
courses common to MLS programs such as foundations of librarianship, children’s and young adult
literature, collection development, reference, and cataloging.  The main differences are that library media
specialist programs are more geared toward education, and that course content is based on the
operation of the library media center.  Depending on the school, a library media specialist program may
also require an internship or mentorship with a certified professional in the field or a capstone project or
portfolio, which is usually taken as the last course before the degree is awarded.  Most colleges also
require that students take courses specific to the field including computer applications and literacy,
specific topics in library media such as library programming and administration, and management of the
library media center.  Students may also be required to take courses on the operation of A/V equipment
and projectors.

Some institutions require that students take education-oriented electives or courses outside the
traditional library media program.  The State University of New York at Buffalo requires that students take
seminars on child abuse.  Florida State University takes an entirely different approach to the library
media program.  Its requirements vary based on whether a student enrolls in the program with prior
teaching certification in the state of Florida, with certification outside the state of Florida, or with no
teaching certification.  The university requires additional electives in teaching reading and in classroom
assessment for students without prior teaching certification.  In general, prospective students should
read the course descriptions and requirements carefully and contact the department chair with any
questions or concerns they might have.

Distance Education Course Delivery Methods

I chose to enroll in a distance education program.  Shortly after enrolling in distance education, I became
familiar with courseware called Web Course Tools (WebCT).   WebCT and BlackBoard are management
systems used to deliver online programs.  They allow students and faculty to interact with each other
through discussion boards and chat rooms, although most professors disable the latter option because
it generally requires the entire class to be logged on to the server simultaneously.  This software also
allows faculty to post materials for their courses online including syllabi, assignments, grades, and
student records.  Generally, students are expected to complete their assignments by the assigned due
date (like in on-campus courses) and are expected to participate in class discussions regularly.   

Another feature of WebCT is a help screen entitled “Ask Dr. C.”  This feature is designed to provide help
to people who have general questions or concerns about various features of the software.  Ask Dr. C is
an online community of experts in distance education whose mission is to provide answers and advice
to newcomers in distance education programs.  It allows students to ask questions about why certain
features work a certain way and provides help when a feature is not functioning properly.  WebCT is
becoming the leading tool used by students and faculty in distance education.

Conclusions: Choosing the Right Program for You

Prospective library school students should investigate all of the opportunities available to them.  Even
though an individual may desire an MLS degree, a school library media specialist program may be more
suitable based on their strengths, weaknesses, and overall career goals.  Applicants should be aware
of their strengths and weaknesses before applying to a program.  They should choose the program that
they believe will help them succeed the most in their new library career.

Useful Resources

Educational Programs for School Librarians
Florida State University College of Information
“Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning.” American Library Association, 1998
Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure
Praxis Exam
Rhode Island Certification Requirements
“School Library Media Specialist.” State University of New York at Buffalo
Web Course Tools
About the Author:

Jonathan Swartz is a distance education student at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana
studying to become a library media specialist.  He received his bachelor’s degree from Simon's Rock
College of Bard in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, an early college (http://www.simons-rock.edu).  He
has been previously published in Artful Mind Magazine.  His distance education courses have required
him to become familiar with WebCT.        

Article published Feb 2006

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.