Ever since my childhood, I've never been able to distinguish between school librarians and teachers. When I was growing up, the terms were synonymous. That's because my mother, Rosemarie Shilcusky, was a sixth-grade English and social studies teacher who also became the founding school librarian at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Plymouth, Michigan. In the process of getting her graduate degree in 1966, she came to realize that her students and colleagues needed a school library, so she lobbied hard for one, petitioning the priests in the diocese and sweet-talking the school principal. In the grand low-budget Roman Catholic tradition, she eventually earned the right to build the library herself, right there in the basement of the school, applying her own special brand of sweat equity to the process of learning librarianship with the help of local volunteers and members of the Michigan chapter of the Catholic Library Association.
I remember many summers spent processing and shelving and reading books, delighting in the opportunity to be the first one to crack open the first one to crack open the marry treasures of children's literature that my mother was acquiring for the school. There were scads of magazines and audio cassettes, of course. And when VHS tapes were invented, they became part of the library collection, too; later, there were desktop computers with software on giant floppy disks.
Today, school librarians and teachers are working together in a national movement to bring digital and media literacy to all citizens. When people think of the term "literacy," what generally Springs to mind is reading and writing, speaking and listening. These are indeed foundational elements of literacy. But because people use so many different types of expression and communication in daily life, the concept of literacy is beginning to be defined as the ability to share meaning through symbol systems to fully participate in society.
Similarly, the term "text" is beginning to be understood as any form of expression or communication in fixed and tangible form that uses symbol systems, including language, still and moving images, graphic design, sound, music, and interactivity.
New types of texts and new types of literacies have been emerging over a period of more than fifty years, and school librarians and teachers have been continually moving forward with these cultural shifts. We've used many closely interrelated terms to describe the new set of competencies required for success in contemporary society.
In the 1960s, when art educators and others started to explore how to use photography to promote "new ways of seeing," they called it visual literacy. When library databases were first established, and people needed new skills to use keywords to find and evaluate sources, we called it information literacy. In the 1980s, when cable television brought a five-hundred-channel universe into our homes, we recognized the need to teach critical analysis of popular culture and mass media, calling it media literacy. When computers first became commonplace, we understood computer literacy as learning to distinguish between hardware...