Commentary: There is a way to teach media literacy in schools

In a commentary published in The Salt Lake Tribune on Aug. 29, Juan Rodriguez argued that “the best weapon we have to protect our democracy is media literacy.”

We couldn’t agree more. Even better, we have a solution. Every school needs a certified teacher librarian on staff.

The term librarian might conjure an image of a cardigan-clad, bun-wearing, shushing spinster. And although we love our cardigans, this stereotype is far from accurate. Our true role in the school is as an expert in information literacy across all curricular areas.

A certified teacher librarian’s job is to teach students to evaluate information for bias, credibility and relevance — to teach students to be critical evaluators of the information they consume daily.

Teacher librarians play an essential role in the instruction of media literacy in schools. With the expansion of the internet and the rapid growth of information, the need to educate students to recognize precise and competent sources of knowledge is vital. They guide and instruct students as they navigate through this information-rich culture.

While teacher librarians have often been viewed as the curator of books and resources, it is essential to recognize that they are also information specialists. They work in collaboration with teachers to ensure that students develop skills to successfully use technology and global information to succeed academically and develop personally.

The following media literacy standards, as outlined in the Utah Library Media Standards, help students to build a foundation in the following:

  • Information and research: Teacher librarians teach students the skills to select information from a wide variety of sources, assess [the source’s] worth, and apply newfound knowledge to problems.

  • Media literacy and engagement: Teacher librarians teach students to gain competency in use of media and technology, making informed choices and gaining an understanding of the components, development, and potential impact of media messages. This includes, but is not limited to, discerning real news from fake news and questioning the validity of the information students view online.

At a time when misinformation is prevalent in our media, it is critical to have certified teacher librarians in all schools at all grade levels. However, budget constraints and a lack of understanding of the job of a teacher librarian by decision-makers and stakeholders have led to a large decline in the number of certified school librarians in schools across the country.

In Utah, there are just over 200 certified teacher librarians for over 610,000 students. Only two of Utah’s 41 school districts have certified teacher librarians at all levels of education.

The decline of certified teacher librarians is detrimental to our rapidly changing society as our students will be left unequipped to navigate a world of increasingly complex information. In order to have our children be media literate, parents, teachers, administrators, and the greater community must advocate for certified teacher librarians in every school.

Elaine Zhang

Elaine Zhang is a certified teacher librarian at Union Middle School. She has a master of education and a teaching degree in urban studies from UCLA and holds an endorsement in education technology and library science.

Jenny Olsen

Jenny Cassidy Olsen is a certified teacher librarian at Alta High School. She has a degree in English teaching from Brigham Young University, an MBA from the University of Utah and a library media endorsement from Southern Utah University.