From Gatekeeper to Leader: Unleashing the Potential of Your School Librarian

by Sarah Pavey

Imagine your international school library as a vibrant hub, not just for borrowing books, but for promoting global citizenship, igniting a love of learning, and nurturing students as they navigate the complexities of the information age. This is the transformative power of a librarian when we support their competencies as a leader, and it is within your grasp!

Beyond the Stereotype: The Librarian as a Strategic Partner 

Let’s face it, the image of a shushing librarian guarding dusty tomes is not only outdated but also a misconception that can hold your school back. Today’s international school librarians are information specialists, instructional partners, and curriculum co-creators. They possess a skill set perfectly positioned to support your school’s mission and propel student learning to new heights. Harland (2019) argues that our cross-curricular role and expertise in information resources and pedagogy make us well-positioned for leadership roles. We know international schools bring together students and staff from diverse backgrounds, creating a rich blend of cultures and perspectives, so who better than your librarian to encourage that sense of community? But how do librarians ditch the stereotype and step up as leaders? We need help from senior leaders to change the narrative. 

“our cross-curricular role and expertise in information resources and pedagogy make us well-positioned for leadership roles”. 

The Networked Librarian (Pavey, 2024) highlights the importance of embracing a broader perspective and positioning librarians as collaborative partners, not just support staff. By building positive relationships, effectively communicating our vision, and developing our confidence, we can demonstrate the vital role the library plays in supporting student success and the school’s educational mission.

Why Invest in Librarian Leadership? 

Strong librarian leadership translates into a multitude of tangible benefits for your school. Here is a closer look at how investing in your librarian can positively impact your students, teachers, and the overall educational environment:

  • Enhanced Student Learning: We live in a world saturated with information. Librarians are experts in information literacy, a critical 21st-century skill that equips students to navigate this information landscape effectively. They can develop curriculum-aligned programmes that teach students how to research effectively, critically evaluate information, and become effective communicators.
  • Teacher Collaboration: Librarians are not simply independent information specialists. They are collaborative partners who bring fresh perspectives and expertise to lesson planning, co-design, co-teaching, and professional development sessions. By attending departmental meetings, volunteering for school committees, and seeking out opportunities to co-teach or co-design lessons, librarians can nurture these valuable connections.
  • Global Citizenship and Community Building: International schools, in particular, benefit from a librarian who champions diversity and cultural understanding. By aligning their work with the school’s values and strategic priorities, librarians can demonstrate the vital role the library plays in supporting the school’s educational mission.

Empowering Your Librarian 

The benefits of librarian leadership are clear, but how can you cultivate this leadership potential? Here are several ways you might support your librarian’s journey:

  • Professional Development: Invest in your librarian’s professional growth by encouraging them to attend workshops and conferences, and consider supporting them in leadership development courses like ‘Leading Your International School Library’, offered by Leading Your International School. This will show participants how to embed leadership skills and strategic outlooks within their current roles, and to learn how to take calculated risks in implementing new initiatives where they have valuable expertise.
  • Collaboration is Key: Involve your librarian in school-wide initiatives and planning committees. Partner with them on curriculum development and technology integration. By seeking out opportunities to collaborate, librarians can better understand the needs of their stakeholders and demonstrate the value they can bring to the table.
  • Communication and Advocacy: Encourage your librarian to become a vocal advocate for the library programme. Provide them with opportunities to present their ideas and achievements at faculty meetings, and professional conferences, or contribute to publications. Sharing in this way gives others insights into their innovative practices, which can provide inspiration and raise the profile of the library within the school.

Librarians as Leaders: A Catalyst for Transformation 

By investing in your librarian’s leadership potential, you are not just investing in the library programme, you are investing in the future of your school. A librarian as a leader can transform your school library into a dynamic hub of learning, empowering students to become critical thinkers, responsible digital citizens, and engaged global citizens. The librarian can navigate a variety of situations and team dynamics, fostering a collaborative, supportive environment where their teams feel empowered to contribute and grow. By learning ways to provide regular feedback, both positive and constructive, they can help their team members develop and thrive.

One of the most rewarding aspects of having a school librarian leader is the opportunity to influence the broader school culture. By aligning their work with the school’s values and strategic priorities, a librarian leader can demonstrate the vital role the library plays in supporting student success and the school’s educational mission. By advocating for the integration of information literacy skills across the curriculum, championing the use of educational technology, and cultivating a love of reading and learning throughout the school, the librarian can make a lasting impact.

Remember, leadership is not about asserting control or authority; it is about empowering others, encouraging innovation, and creating a shared vision for success. Look beyond the outdated librarian role as a manager and curator, and embrace and nurture their leadership competencies. International school librarians are positioned to bridge the gap between various stakeholders, breaking down silos, and encouraging collaboration.

This is the power you hold, so why not take a first step by reading ‘The Networked Librarian’, and enrolling your librarian on the new course: ‘Leading Your International School Library’! 

 To sign up for the LYIS Librarian Course, scan the QR code on the poster below.


Harland, P.C. (2019) An Investigation into the Leadership Behaviors of School Librarians: A Qualitative Study (psu-etd-160), [Doctoral thesis, Plymouth State University],  

Pavey, S. (2024) The Networked Librarian: The School Librarian’s Role in

Fostering Connections, Collaboration and Co-creation Across the Community. London: Facet. 

Sarah Pavey is an Education consultant Trainer & Author specialising in school libraries, SP4IL
To connect with Sarah on LinkedIn, click here

LYIS is proud to partner with TIC Recruitment, TIC is currently recruiting a Head of Libraries, and Librarian for a leading International school in Hangzhou, China. To apply, send your CV and covering letter outlining your library education philosophy to

1 thought on “<strong>From Gatekeeper to Leader: Unleashing the Potential of Your School Librarian</strong>”

  1. Would librarians make great school leaders? Is there a route to principalship that they can follow? There is so much to be said about elevating the role of the librarian within our international schools. They can teach our students about resource management, finance, sustainable procurement, dealing with the public, customer service and advertising and marketing – all within a real-life setting. We’d be delighted to hear about schools around the world that are doing just that.

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