The Differences Between a Librarian & a Media Specialist

The media specialist role has traditionally been a source of contention for many educators.
The media specialist role has traditionally been a source of contention for many educators. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Librarian and media specialist are in fact overlapping and often synonymous roles within a library. The role of the traditional librarian has evolved greatly over time as libraries have become more electronically integrated rather than just large centers holding books. Media specialist is a title typically given to a librarian in a school media center who assists faculty with curriculum development.

Traditional Librarian

Librarians have traditionally been in charge of the oversight and operation of libraries, most commonly considered storehouses for records, books and other paper documents. Librarians in these traditional roles and facilities were most concerned with managing the catalog of books, keeping up with new titles, and depending on the type of library, encouraging populations to read through various type of membership programs, book clubs, and other incentive programs.

Electronic Transition

As technology progressed, the library transitioned from a book storage facility to an electronic data exchange complete with Internet, digital libraries and other information technology and resources. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) points out that as a result of the changing nature of the library itself, the role of the traditional librarian has also evolved. Librarians are now referred to by various titles to signify either general or technically specific job functions. General librarians are often referred to as information specialists as they help visitors track information and find useful resources through a variety of channels.

Media Specialists

Media specialist is an increasingly common 21st century title used for specific types of librarians who specialize in informational instruction. This title is typically applied in school library settings where the the label "school media specialist" is often applied. According to the BLS, media specialists serve as virtual consultants who help teachers provide up-to-date instruction to students using the latest information and technology resources available.


Conflict can occur when faculty feel that media specialists intrude on their roles as teachers and try to set curriculum. This is the premise of the Library Instruction article "Curriculum Roles and Responsibilities of Library Media Specialists," written by Robert E. Berkowitzand Michael B. Eisenberg. The authors point out that school teachers and administrators have historically been offended by the notion that media specialists are their colleagues in education. Educators have traditionally preferred to view media specialists as supplemental resources. Collaboration between these two roles has improved in the 21st century as information technology becomes more pervasive in education and media specialists become more aware of resources.

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