The Academic Librarian as Empowerment Tool

So many times we hear about different methods of empowering our youth and students.  We have after school programs, coaching programs, people mention sports stars as role models, actors, and television journalists.  Where in this roll call of people who empower others is your librarian?  Unfortunately, in conversation after conversation I fail to hear their name, unless it’s uttered by another professional or aspiring librarian.  Librarians work with students of all ages every day, in a role separate but similar to traditional instructors.  Academic librarians, especially, whether in public schools or colleges and universities, are in a unique position to inspire and empower students.

In her 2012 article Critical pedagogy in the classroom: library instruction that gives voice to students and builds a community of scholars, Michelle Reale outlines her method of instruction to an undergraduate English class that not only teaches them information literacy and research skills, but emboldens them to believe in their own cognitive abilities, and gives them a voice in their classrooms.  Reale explains how a reversal in the power structure of the classroom, something that, she admits, is difficult for some traditional instructors to accept, puts students in a position to hash out their ideas in a confident voice of their own.  “Students need to learn how to find their voices, which in turn becomes liberating, allowing them to fully engage in their own intellectual and educational process (Reale, 2012).”  Reale contends that students are not just empty vessels to be filled with knowledge, but people with thought, emotions, experiences that interact with the knowledge they encounter.  This gives each student a unique perspective from which to draw their own conclusions, and formulate their own arguments.  If you were to pour water into a jar with various layers of dirt, sand, gravel and larger rocks, each jar with its contents arranged in a different way would be filled equally, but produce a distinct and unique water flow.  When students are able to talk through their own ideas and come to their own conclusions, they feel confident in their own work.

On the other hand, in schools where librarians are dealing with students of all abilities, and student with disabilities, Ann Marie Perrault outlines a four point resolution to take libraries “beyond access to empowerment (Perrault, 2011).”  Much like Reale explains that each student has a voice and intellectual process of their own, Perrault reminds us that each student has unique abilities and disadvantages, and it’s not enough just to provide materials.  Perrault’s four points are as follows:

1.  Be a model for using people first language

2.  Engage in professional development that increases your knowledge and skills in working with students      with varying abilities.

3.  Take steps to support and empower students as they engage in the transition process.

4.  Keep an eye out for resources for you and your teachers (Perrault, 2011).

(1)People first language, then, focuses on defining and discussing people not by their disabilities, but by who they are.  Perrault quotes Kathie Snow of “Are you myopic or do you wear glasses? Are you cancerous or do you have cancer? Is a person handicapped/disabled or does she have a disability? (as quoted in Perrault, 2011)”  To empower all of our students, each and every one, we need to look beyond what impedes them and find what makes them unique and empowered and exploit those characteristics in them.  (2) Continuously seeking more information, resources, and methods to improve yourself in your profession is the only way to ensure that you, as a librarian and instructor, will continue to grow and the profession will not only continue but thrive.  (3) The transition process to which Perrault alludes here is the one from childhood to adulthood, from a world of school and structure to a world of independence, employment and decision-making.  It is important as an academic librarian to have the appropriate materials on hand, and to be familiar with these materials, so students of all ages and abilities can effectively and confidently make this transition.  (4)  As a librarian that wishes empower students, finding new and ever-more-effective resources with which to make that possible is of the utmost importance.

In the end, we, as academic librarians or as librarian-instructors, have the power to inspire and empower our students, our communities, and each and every person we encounter.  Reale and Perrault each highlight different ways in which we can achieve this goal.  We are no longer the librarian that pops into a classroom for a few minutes to give the access protocol to digital databases, or just to say “here is how you find a book in the online catalog.”  By using modern and innovative methods of instruction, we can be just as impactful as the professors, teachers, sports stars, and other inspirational people in the lives of students.


Perrault, Ann Marie. (2011, January-February). Rethinking school libraries: beyond access to empowerment. Knowledge Quest, 39.3, 6. Retrieved from

Reale, Michelle. (2012). Critical pedagogy in the classroom: Library instruction that gives voice to students and builds a community of scholars. Journal of Library Innovation, 3(2), 80-88. Retrieved from


One thought on “The Academic Librarian as Empowerment Tool

  1. I like the analogy of mixing water and dirt to create a unique mixture that is each student’s strengths and weaknesses. “Teaching moments” should be implemented by all librarians, but academic librarians seem like especially good candidates for this as college is the perfect time to help people learn and grow.

    Liked by 1 person

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