A Case Study of a Rural Iowa School Preparing to Meet New State Guidelines for School Libraries
Karla Steege Krueger, EdD, is Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction Department, School Library Studies Division, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls.
A qualitative case study highlighting one rural Iowa elementary school provided insight into the issue of small schools without library programs as they are preparing to meet the Iowa reinstatement of the requirement for school library programs. The site was purposefully chosen because it has been operating without a school library program or professional teacher-librarian district-wide. All eight teachers and the nonendorsed library associate from one elementary school participated in either a focus group or semistructured interviews. The four district administrators were interviewed individually. Related documents were consulted. This study examined the status of the school library program, analyzed the stakeholder’s perceptions and expectations for the school library program and instructional role, and identified supports and obstacles to implementing the new state teacher-librarian and school library program and requirements.
Three themes emerged from the data, exemplifying the expectations surrounding this school’s library program: (a) a minimal role for school library programs in the vision and reality of participants, (b) the invisibility of the professional qualifications and instructional and collaborative qualities of the teacher-librarian needed to increase program sustainability, and (c) a disconnect between the school library program and literacy, technology, and other curricular area school improvement initiatives.
The results showed this school’s library program denied students access to libraries and learning opportunities essential for a democratic education. The data from this case study support these conclusions by showing an inability of the local school district to create or sustain a high quality school library program without a state mandate and the inability of the current state mandate to instill a high quality school library program in this district.
A Snapshot of Iowa Law and the School Library Requirement | Summary of Related Literature | Research Design | Data Procedures | Data Analysis | Discussion | Conclusions and Implications | Recommendations | Future Research | Works Cited
The teaching role of librarians has grown in importance from the inception of the academic librarian as educator in the late nineteenth century (Thomas 2004), to the post–World War II introduction of the school librarian as teacher (ALA 1945), to the recent outpouring of support for the teacher-librarian’s leadership in teaching and learning through integrated, collaborative inquiry instruction with classroom teachers described in Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs (AASL 2009). These new professional guidelines, along with Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (AASL and AECT 1998), describe the function of the school library program in terms of four distinct roles to be performed by the teacher-librarian: information specialist, program administrator, teacher, and instructional partner. The latter two roles receive the strongest emphasis throughout the guidelines.
However, the importance of the instructional role of the teacher-librarian remains largely unrecognized by many educators despite repeated findings linking school library programming (including instruction by professional teacher-librarians) to increased student achievement (Lance, Hamilton-Pennell, and Rodney 1999; Lance, Rodney, and Hamilton-Pennell 2000a, 2000b, 2001, 2005; Lance, Welborn, Hamilton-Pennell, 1993; Research Foundation 2006; Rodney, Lance, and Hamilton-Pennell 2002, 2003; Todd, Kuhlthau, and Ohio Educational Library Media Association 2004). It has also been argued that high-stakes testing has served to move school libraries away from the educational core because libraries do not readily support single-answer types of educational measurements (Lehman 2007). Lehmann insightfully compares two major contributing factors to the school library crisis as districts nationwide face budget cuts that call into question “the role of the librarian—not to mention media centers themselves.” Those two factors commonly thought to threaten school libraries are the Internet as part of the “changing nature of information” and the movement toward high-stakes testing. Of the two, Lehmann was adamant that high-stakes testing was the “poison pill for school libraries,” noting that librarians easily adapt to technology and the “democratization of information,” but the real problem is an assessment system that prioritizes multiple-choice answers that identify a single “correct” response rather than contemplation, research, thoughtfulness, and multiple perspectives—all vital elements that a library can bring to a school. This is the challenge that we face. Our school librarians are the keepers of the progressive flame. They are the “guides on the side,” helping students to find information, make sense of it, and craft meaning from multiple sources. But more and more schools are moving away from these values in favor of preparing students for the standardized assessment that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 demands (Lehman 2007, 20).
This case study examined the status of the school library program of one rural Iowa elementary school that has been operating without a school librarian for more than five years, analyzed the stakeholder’s perceptions and expectations for the school library program and instructional role, and identified supports and obstacles to implementing the new state teacher-librarian and school library program requirements in this district. This case study was guided by the following research questions:
- To what extent do the teachers and administrators feel their ideal vision of a school library program is being realized through their current program?
- To what extent do the teachers and administrators understand the roles and function of a professional teacher-librarian?
- To what extent do the teachers and administrators expect the school library program to support literacy, technology, and other content learning for student achievement and school improvement purposes?
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An Iowa law in place from 1966 through 1995 required that each school offering grades 7 through 12 needed a certified SLMS (Iowa Code 1966). The interpretation of this law in the Iowa Administrative Code extended the requirement to elementary school libraries through the phrasing that every library media center “shall be supervised by a licensed/certified media specialist who works with students, teachers, and administrators” (281 Iowa Admin. Code, 12.5(22) 1997).
In 1995, the requirement was officially dropped from the Code of Iowa. Eleven years later former Governor Vilsack signed HF2792, the Student Achievement and Teacher Quality Program Act (2006), which returned to law the requirement for each school district to have a school librarian and an articulated sequential K–12 media program.
From 1996 to 2007, there was a 29.3 percent decrease in the number of full-time school librarians in Iowa, a reduction of 206 positions, decreasing from 703 in 1996–97 to 497 in 2006–7 (Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Basic Educational Data Survey 2007). The reduction of teacher-librarian positions was much more severe than the decrease in the number of school districts through mergers or the decline in K–12 school enrollments in Iowa. During this same timeframe, the number of school districts in Iowa decreased by 19, only a 5 percent decrease from 379 districts in 1996–97 to 365 in 2006–7 (Iowa Department of Education 2007a, 59). Enrollments in K–12 schools decreased by 6 percent from 549,825 students in 1996–1997 to 516,862 in 2006–7 (49).
A compromise within the 2006 reinstatement of the school librarian and media program requirement allowed the districts to apply for a waiver of the requirement for the 2006–7 and the 2007–8 school years. In the fall of 2006, 101 (28 percent) of Iowa’s 365 school districts applied for a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education because they did not meet personnel or media program requirements (Hoover 2007). Moreover, in 2006, only 54 percent of those reporting on a State Library of Iowa annual survey sent to each school attendance center indicated that the “person responsible for this library on a daily basis” holds a school library endorsement (State Library of Iowa 2006).
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The literature informing this case study covers (a) program-level measures of the effectiveness of school libraries, (b) the collaborative instructional role of the teacher-librarian, (c) stakeholders’ perceptions of school library programs, and (d) supports for and obstacles to successful school library programs. In summary the research showed the effectiveness of school library programming including collaboration between teachers and teacher-librarians and revealed stakeholders’ limited knowledge and the supports and obstacles to effective school library programming. Notably, these studies were conducted in schools with professional teacher-librarians and with the assumption that schools were operating with at least basic school library programming and services of professional teacher-librarians. This study focused instead on a school and district that abandoned library programming at least five years ago. The study aimed to explore stakeholders’ understanding of school libraries and the school culture shaping stakeholders’ beliefs and perceptions of school library programs.
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I used a qualitative instrumental case study for this research. According to Stake (2005), an instrumental case study is used to “provide insight into an issue” (445); this study specifically investigated the issue of small schools that have dropped their library programs and are preparing to meet the state law. Pembroke Elementary School is a small, rural elementary school in Iowa of approximately 125 students. It is part of a district that includes another elementary school in a neighboring community and Pembroke-Odessa Middle School and High School located between the two communities. Pseudonyms have been used to represent the Pembroke and Odessa schools. It was purposefully selected because it is a school district that had been operating without a qualified librarian for at least five years. Approximately one-fourth of Iowa schools were in this situation in fall 2006, when the teacher-librarian requirement was reinstated.
Eight elementary teachers, one noncertified library associate, and four school administrators participated in this study. With only one teacher per grade level from kindergarten to sixth grade, each classroom teacher and a reading teacher from the case study school participated. Six teachers had been with this district for fourteen to thirty-seven years and had been in this building together seven years. Four teachers had never taught outside the district. Only two teachers were new to this district: One had taught four years (two of those at Pembroke), and the other was completing her first year. The library associate had only worked at this school for two months, was a licensed teacher, and had eighteen years of secondary teaching experience with no library coursework.
The Pembroke principal was new—the newest administrator in this district. She had more than twenty years of experience in elementary and reading education. The Odessa Elementary principal had taught five years in another district and had been a principal for fewer than five years at this school. The secondary principal had taught in another district for eight years and had been the secondary principal at this school for less than five years. The superintendent had taught for four years and had been an administrator in this district for five years.
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I served as a volunteer at the school one day a week for eight months to assist with a library collection development and reorganization project under the guidance of the new principal. During the ninth month of the study, I employed methods of document analysis, participant observation, interviews, and focus groups with administrators, teachers, and the library associate. Field notes informed the structured-interview and focus-group questions. Documents analyzed included the library catalog shelf list file, the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, library-related board-approved policies, and state and national library guidelines.
Participants completed a questionnaire at the beginning of the interview or focus-group sessions (see appendix A), providing their education background and their knowledge of the requirement for teacher-librarians in Iowa. Six teachers participated in a ninety-minute focus-group session held after school. Two teachers were unable to come at that time and agreed to be interviewed individually. The library associate was interviewed separately. The four administrators were each interviewed separately. These one-time interviews each lasted one to two hours and consisted of ten to twenty questions (see appendix B).
I used Bogdan and Biklen’s (2007) constant-comparative method to analyze the data. This method allowed for analysis to begin early in the data-collection phase. The focus group and interviews yielded approximately two hundred pages of transcriptions. Interview and focus-group responses were coded using forty tasks or topics that were derived from the data (see appendix C). Interrelated tasks were grouped, creating a typology defined by Lofland and Lofland (as cited in Merriam 1998, 157) based on the four roles of the teacher-librarian identified in the national standards: information specialist, program administrator, teacher, and instructional partner. For example, the teacher-librarian might demonstrate the teacher role in several ways. The teacher-librarian might teach research skills (TRE), teach about technology (TEC), and teach by offering reading guidance to students (TRG); each piece of conversation was given the topic code for the appropriate teacher-librarian task.
Given the data from these conversations, I identified fifteen tasks that and coded them to designate the teacher function. One task was identified as the partner function. Seven tasks were coded as “information specialist.” Six tasks were coded “program administrator.” Eleven additional topic categories were created to code topics and issues that did not fit within the tasks of any of the four teacher-librarian roles, such as the qualifications of a teacher-librarian versus a library associate, part-time or full-time positions, school funding priorities, and school library legislative issues.
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Question 1: Vision and Reality
To what extent do the teachers and administrators feel their ideal vision of a school library program is being realized through their current program?
Participant groups’ visions of a school library program differed according to their job functions. Teachers’ and administrators’ ideas were nearly polar opposites. Most teachers’ comments (83 percent) emphasized the teaching role of the teacher-librarian, followed by some discussion about the information specialist role (13 percent) and an indication of very little knowledge of the instructional partner role (4 percent). In contrast, the administrators’ statements placed the greatest emphasis (53 percent) on the administrative aspects of the school library program, such as facility management and technology equipment management. The administrators valued tasks associated with collection management (37 percent), such as circulating, organizing, selecting, and weeding the materials collection and having someone acting as a knowledgeable resource specialist. Only the Pembroke Elementary principal mentioned teaching (5 percent) or partnering (5 percent) with teachers as part of her vision statement for the ideal school library program.
Having someone to help teach students technology skills was at the top of the teachers’ list; teaching technology was mentioned seven times in the teachers’ discussion of vision for the ideal school library program, while having someone to teach research was mentioned three times. One teacher expressed that she would like someone with the knowledge of where things are located in the library to teach students library research skills:
"I would want a librarian who would be able to take the helm and teach those research skills. Say there would be, you know, a supplement, but somebody that has the knowledge of where these things are located to actually teach this stuff. Not only teach that, but also how to use the library, what’s behind the books."
The superintendent focused on a facility that had resources, and he wanted teachers to use those resources. Although he said the library should be an “arm offevery classroom,” he suggested that the teachers should be the ones to know the resources and use them. He expressed frustration with the neglect of the outdated, unorganized collection:
"I think my idea would be kind of an arm off every classroom. It would be nice, you know, to have a library where every teacher knew the resources that were available and just used it on a continual basis. We have a situation here where the libraries had been overlooked for years. . . . And they weren’t being used effectively. I guess that’s our focus, you know, the focus we’re getting into is to make our libraries partly more usable because we had materials that were so old and outdated that no one really used them. Part of that is because they were so old and unusable. But the other reason was just that no one knew what was there. It was unorganized."
The second finding about participants’ vision and reality for library programs was that their ideal visions were uninformed by state (e.g., Iowa Department of Education 2007b) or national school library guidelines “to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information” (AASL and AECT 1998, 6). Teachers implied that although there was a desire for library instruction, it was a luxury they wouldn’t experience. One said she would like to ask a librarian’s help:
"Can you find some websites? Can you find a video? . . . Not that we want them to do everything for us! But it would sure help. . . . We can only cover so much in our classrooms. I mean that’s all there is to it, there are only so many hours in a day."
The superintendent’s uninformed vision was apparent through comments that it could potentially be a waste of district money to “dump” funds into the library without a teacher-librarian. He said it was a “double-edged sword” because he needed money for resources, but on the other hand he thought he might need the professional personnel to “run the place.”
"We have 3 new principals and we all kind of have the same vision about what we’d like things to look like. It’s going to take awhile to get there. But like I said, at least we’re going in the right direction. And part of that, part of the money thing with hiring a certified librarian with the situation we’re in. We have three teacher associates, kind of an additional thought I have is when we’re putting resources into our libraries. . . . Do we put money into resources? Or do we put money into that person to run the place? And maybe both is going to have to happen."
The third finding about participants’ visions and reality was that none of the participants saw even their minimal visions being realized through their current school library program. Nearly half (44 percent) of the teacher statements were about regretting the lack of library instruction (see table 1). Both elementary principals stated that it was a major accomplishment to have a full-time associate in each library, but there were reservations about expecting professional services from the person who had been hired as a library associate:
"Well, I guess as glad as I am that we’ve got a full time person, I mean that’s been huge just to even get the library open again. And I know that our library person brings more skills having had the experience in the library and the experience teaching, more than many associates would be. I think there’s an unfair expectation of what they’re expected to know and be able to do because they haven’t had the training."
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Question 2: Understanding the Teacher-Librarian Role
To what extent do the teachers and administrators understand the professional role and function of the teacher-librarian?
Participants had little understanding of the professional roles and functions of teacher-librarians, and they often confused library associates for professionals. The participants constituted two categories concerning their lack of understanding of the professional qualifications and expectations for teacher-librarians: those who did not discriminate between professionals and library associates (labeled “undiscriminating accepters”) and those who discerned the difference between them yet maintained the status quo (labeled “discerning maintainers”). Nine of the thirteen participants were undiscriminating accepters; six of the eight teachers, the library associate, and two of the four administrators confused the qualifications for a library associate and professional teacher-librarian. Some expected library associates to give instruction, even blaming them for not performing professional tasks, and others expected only clerical work from a professional teacher-librarian.
Only one of the eight teachers indicated on her background questionnaire that she was aware of the 2006 reinstatement of the requirement for a professional teacher-librarian prior to this research study. Another teacher showed her confusion, saying she had learned about the requirement between four to six months ago, “from having one hired at my school,” while in reality her school had not had a teacher-librarian for at least five years, had received a state waiver for two more years, and had hired a new library associate.
One upper-elementary teacher blamed the previous library associate for not teaching her class. She believed the associate wouldn’t take her class because the students were “ornery.” She was upset by this discrimination against the older students because the associate had taught keyboarding to third grade students and had taken other younger grades for computer time. Within the focus group conversation, a primary-level teacher attempted to justify why the associate taught her classes keyboarding. Neither teacher acknowledged that the library associate had no training in teaching or librarianship. The expectation was that library and technology instruction should be equal for all classes. Only one teacher in the group suggested that the associate may not have taught her upper-elementary students because she probably “wasn’t comfortable. You know she wasn’t a librarian.”
This upper-elementary teacher further revealed her misunderstanding about the differences in qualifications and personnel expectations for library staff when she asked her colleagues to help her understand what the role of a “librarian” was. Most teachers were unable to answer her question. All of the teachers in this focus group were anxious to get a clarification from the new principal about what type of instruction they could expect from the new library associate. Specifically, they commented that they wanted find out from the principal what the new associate was supposed to do, what her job definition was, and whether they could send their kids down to the library to do Reading Counts quizzes. The teachers expressed frustration at not having been informed by the administration. One asked, “Do they get help when they come over here? I don’t know, when my kids have asked to come down. (pause). What’s the role of the librarian? Our librarian? Does anyone know? Does she help? Does she suggest books? Or, does anyone know?”
The secondary principal didn’t discriminate between the expectations of a library-associate and a professional teacher-librarian. Ironically, he said he wished that the associate had more time to go into classrooms to do booktalks and to have more time to teach students how to do research using library databases, such as EBSCOhost.
Only two teachers and two administrators out of the thirteen participants were discerning maintainers; they understood the professional qualification differences but assumed that an associate could maintain things as well as a professional would, or they assumed that an inferior program was the best they could do for their school. The superintendent showed that he understood the difference between the qualifications for a library associate and a professional teacher-librarian, but he joked that in his district, a library associate would ideally be doing everything a certified teacher-librarian would do. Despite their lack of training, he believed they must know what is in the libraries and communicate about that with teachers. He realized that they lacked the knowledge of what is out there beyond the library, but he felt that they were maintaining things within the libraries.
"The step we’re not jumping over is that, we’re maintaining right now with library associates. You know I have three libraries, and if I were to have a certified teacher-librarian in each of those buildings, it would be a big financial undertaking. . . . Maybe it’s just jumping that hurdle, of diving into the idea that we are going to have certified librarians in our libraries. . . . That’s what I’m stuck on, do we spend that extra money, when we’re maintaining now?"
Not only were participants misunderstanding the professional roles and functions of teacher-librarians, all participants doubted teacher-librarians in their district would be sustainable without a state mandate. The superintendent was unwilling to pay for three full-time teacher-librarians when it was not mandated, even though he knew it would benefit student instruction. He explained that they could be using a lot more resources in instruction to keep classes from getting stagnant. He described the ideal library as a “constant breath of fresh air” through communication between the librarian and teacher about new ideas and resources.
The superintendent wavered about whether or not a teacher-librarian would make a difference instructionally. He wanted a high level of excitement and communication about resources to support the classroom to take place between the teachers and the library associates, but he conceded that maybe the teachers weren’t excited about the library because they didn’t have certified teacher-librarians.
"I kind of go in circles . . . we just have library associates in each of those buildings. So there isn’t that communication. Maybe if we had a teacher-librarian in each of those spots. You know, there could be that communication that I was talking about. Here’s a new resource. Have you thought about using something like this in your classroom?"
He explained that the superintendents who had spoken negatively about the requirement thought they knew what was best for their districts, and they resented the State making decisions for them. In order to improve sustainability, he suggested training superintendents in a social marketing style,
"I think training would help, to be able to show the superintendents, the people who are making these decisions. . . . And I don’t know how you do that, you know, how to get those guys to listen. But as far as this is your school without, this is what your school could look like with this program. And just being able to point out the differences. And I don’t know how you do that, whether that’s a superintendent meeting, or what that is, but just somehow show them what it could look like because I’m sure a lot of them don’t know."
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Question 3: Expectation for Library Support of School Improvement
To what extent do the teachers and administrators expect the school library program to support literacy, technology, and other content learning for student achievement and school improvement purposes?
The responses about library support for the curriculum exemplified four themes depicting the disconnect between the school mission and the school library program: (1) literacy programs without the support of a school library program failed to provide students reading guidance; (2) tech-savvy students lacked the information skills needed to find and evaluate technological sources; (3) content instruction and research skills were taught separate from the school library, without the challenge of inquiry learning; and (4) school improvement initiatives were implemented without a consideration of essential school library resources.
The teacher participants talked more about literacy programs (43 percent of coded curricular related statements) than they did about any other curricular area. The district attempted to improve their students’ reading comprehension scores with at least four new, nationally known reading programs or initiatives over the past five years. Each one, in some way, served to separate reading materials from the library.
The teachers spoke passionately about their disappointment over the dismantling of their Reading Counts program during the past school year. They were quick to list the components of the Reading Counts program that they felt had benefited their students. The first thing the teachers missed about Reading Counts was having the office associate help students choose books located in the office because there was no room on the library shelves. The second aspect the teachers mentioned was the motivation the students experienced seeing how well they can do on the tests: “It’s just like running, it’s like an athlete or something.” A third component mourned by the teachers was the loss of the separate collection space in the school office for new Reading Counts books when the books were moved to the library. A fourth component the teachers missed was the students’ ability to exchange their books daily: “Our kids were reading a book a night. They were excited. And it wasn’t checking out a book and you have the same book for two whole weeks. You got a new one every day, if you kept at it.”
A second reading program, Guided Reading, had been funded with $92,000 from the Pembroke-Odessa School Board and had been in place for only one year at the time of this study. The upper-elementary teachers had concerns with the school’s lack of support for the independent reading stage. One upper-elementary teacher raised a concern about the library’s role in Guided Reading, saying the independent reading stage was the missing piece because their library didn’t support student access to choosing books independently.
A third reading program used was Second Chance for Struggling Readers at Pembroke-Odessa Junior Senior High School. The teacher said although she had been trained to use her classroom library for students to select books, she had been forced to rely on the secondary library because she did not yet have an extensive classroom library. She described the difficulties students had choosing books without a librarian’s help and without organization or even a library catalog.
A fourth reading effort was the use of teacher bookrooms and classroom libraries to help struggling readers. One teacher expressed concern that often libraries do not have many easy-reading books and that not having these books in a library gives struggling readers a bad opinion of reading and libraries. Another teacher said she did not see teachers taking their students to the library; rather, she saw teachers give students leveled books to take home to practice their reading. This teacher also compared these libraries according to three issues: organization of materials, literary quality, and access (see table 1).
According to this teacher, the varied organizational schemes were advantageous for different purposes. She also compared literary quality aspects, finding that school library books were higher quality and fit the curriculum and the interests of the students. She acknowledged that some things in classroom libraries were just “junk,” but that she would keep them because a student might be interested in that. Next she mentioned several limited accessibility conditions of this school library: the absence of a teacher-librarian, the absence of an automated library catalog, and limited access to the library when other classes used its computer lab.
The Pembroke Elementary principal recalled that teacher-librarians in her previous district were fearful that Guided Reading bookrooms and classroom libraries would detract from the existing school libraries. She reiterated that the goal of teaching reading was always for students to become independent readers: “There was a misunderstanding. I was coming at it from accessibility. And they were afraid it was going to be reallocation of budget.” She reiterated that the research about accessibility of books for struggling readers called for well-stocked (five hundred books), genre-balanced classroom libraries (Allington and Cunningham 2007). She also discussed the ways classroom libraries supported both avid and struggling readers that are “too shy or embarrassed of their reading level or whatever to ask for help,” or who had restrictions placed on them by library circulation policies or by classroom teachers’ library visit limitations.
Seven of the eight teachers included technology in their ideal school library program vision, and they expressed the need for developing students’ information literacy skills in conjunction with their technology skills. They wanted the librarian to teach the Internet or websites in conjunction with books and research. Teachers also noted the need for help with computer programs such as Software MacKiev KidPix, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Excel, as well as with keyboarding instruction.
"I would love for a librarian to come into my room and if I was going to be teaching a specific content area, to come in and kind of share some information. Well if you look in this book, you can find information about this. . . . Maybe to help with some of the technology aspects of using the Internet and what are some available resources or sites that we could find that might be beneficial and have quality information."
The secondary principal felt that the teachers in his school expected computer access in the library even before expecting print resources; however, he was not confident that any technology instruction took place to help students learn how to research using computers. He thought that tech-savvy students could encounter a library database and be able to plod through until they could figure out how to use it for their research.
Only one of the thirteen participants in this case study described the library as essential, rather than supplementary, for content learning. The Pembroke Elementary principal described library materials in a manner that demonstrated they were essential to the reading strategies of “read aloud” and “think aloud.” The three teachers who made connections between the library and content learning mentioned the presence of nonfiction and informational video as well as the availability of materials to support content instruction in units. However, the assumption was that teachers take supplementary materials to the classroom for student use.
"This year, I’ll be teaching the states. I don’t have books on the states. . . . I mean I have encyclopedias in my room from like the 80s, you know, early 90s, that I know are going to have outdated information. So, I guess, to me the library’s role is to have updated information, more so. Obviously quality, but updated. . . . I might go down to the library and say, hey, we’re going to be working on this region. Could I check out these books, and hopefully the librarian would be able to . . . take me to them or show me how to find them and . . . let me check them out and make them available to my students."
Though initially confused by the question about the role of library programs in supporting school improvement initiatives, a few teachers suggested there was a need for support for reading. One teacher mentioned the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills references sources test that is sometimes given to students. Another teacher mentioned that there was a school technology goal that would relate to the library, and another said the library was simply enrichment.
The administrators agreed that the library program should support school improvement, but they differed in their beliefs about whether that support was obvious. Three administrators stated the library was important to content; one explained her knowledge of research-supported evidence for school library programs and said the connection of the library program with the school improvement agenda was a “no-brainer”; one noted the importance to academics, rigor, and relevance; and one connected libraries to literacy.
Most notable was the Odessa Elementary principal that was incensed about how the lack of library resources was preventing lower social economic status (SES) students from obtaining the background knowledge essential for them to improve their scores in vocabulary, comprehension, and any other area in which they might test poorly. She emphasized inquiry as well as reading motivation and reading to learn for building background knowledge. Specifically, “The best way to improve students’ background knowledge is to get them really engaged in reading something that they care about.”
She believed her students’ SES was related to their lack of background knowledge and that background knowledge was related to standardized test scores. She was clear that the solution was to “fix it” with information and to motivate students through things “they want to know about.” Finally, she offered that this plan would “eventually increase their reading achievement, and bridge the gap for SES status.”
The combination of her recent professional reading and her experience in a previous district with a full-time teacher-librarian in each building and a $12,000 annual library materials budget caused her to consider her school’s unfunded school library program as she began to understand the discrepancy between the two districts’ library budgets, staffing, and services. She launched into an extensive discussion about her professional reading of Robert Marzano (2004). She wanted students to have opportunities to participate in inquiry learning or self-study situations, but she knew that to do that, the school library would need books at all reading levels on any topic in which any student may be interested.
She also made it clear that student inquiry should be ongoing. She stated that libraries played a large part in it, but she offered no concrete solution to make libraries and background knowledge stronger. She placed the blame on political injustices and unfair school funding practices, but given the elusiveness she saw in her argument, she didn’t see anything that could be done.
"There is a certain amount of injustice there when you look at school funding in a place like [former district] and you think about school funding here. It’s not right. . . . And I never thought really about how unfair it is because I never thought about it through a school library perspective before. But we’re talking about access to information, and we’re restricting our kids from that. And it comes down to politics. And that’s just awful."
The superintendent indicated that the library is a resource to every program and that it has an especially important role for improving literacy and reading instruction. However, he was unsure how the library program would fit with the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP),
"I think the library is an important part of everything that goes on in the school. I don’t know where it would specifically fit within the CSIP, where it would be listed or anything, but I think it provides an extremely valuable resource for everything that’s in there."
The district Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) was available from the Pembroke-Odessa district website and had been revised the previous year. All Iowa schools are required to regularly update their CSIP for the Department of Education. The nineteen-page document addressed four questions: (a) What data do we collect? (b) What do/will we do to meet student learning needs? (c) How do/will we know that student learning has changed? and (d) How do we evaluate our programs and services to insure improved student learning? A document analysis confirmed that the district made no mention of the school library program as a resource or collaborative strategy.
The first question included a list of student and professional data sources, such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, numerous reading and math assessments, and a technology-use survey for teachers, among others. The second question of the CSIP listed district student learning goals: “quality producer, effective communicator, collaborative worker, knowledgeable person, problem solver/critical thinker, contributing citizen, healthy lifestyle, and positive character traits,” and a list of long-range goals stating the measures to be used. The technology goal was, “Students will select and use appropriate tools and technology resources to accomplish a variety of tasks and solve problems across the curriculum.” The assessment was the “percentage of grade 8 students who demonstrate proficiency on select skills as measured by the district-developed technology survey/assessment.” Technology integration exhibited an interesting perspective in the district where associates spearheaded technology integration:
"Students, teachers, administrators, and support staff have exceptional access to technology. The gap exists in using the available technologies to enhance student learning. In order to close this gap, we have expanded our personnel resources to include a full time media/technology associate at each building and outsourced technology support."
Third, the CSIP listed the district’s current research-based practices to support the long-range goals. It listed twenty-two instructional strategies and twenty-one instructional programs or services currently used in the district, for example, small-group flexible reading instruction, nonfiction read alouds, fiction and nonfiction think alouds, the picture word inductive model, second chance reading, graphic organizers, inquiry-based science instruction, accelerated reader, and more. Finally, the actions for the goals contained a list of things that had already been done. Number 2 was “enhance instructional materials and resources,” and it noted the purchase of reading materials to support differentiated reading instruction as well as the purchase of technologies to support integration into instruction.
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Three themes emerged from the data analysis about participants’ visions and expectations: (a) a minimal role for school library programs in the vision and reality of participants; (b) the invisibility of the professional instructional role of the teacher-librarian needed to increase program sustainability; and (c) a disconnect between the school library program and school improvement initiatives, specifically in literacy, technology, and core content areas. The program was absent from the core mission of schools, and the general expectation was that minimal change would occur. The discussion of the results connects these themes with four relevant areas of literature: stakeholders’ perceptions and expectations of school library programs, evidence of school library programs’ influence on student learning, supports and obstacles to successful school library programs, and the role of school libraries in a democratic education.
Theme 1: Limited Visions Depict a Minimal Role for School Library Programs
The first theme from the data is the minimal role for school libraries in the vision and reality of participants. Most participants’ ideal visions for a school library program were uninformed by state or national school library guidelines (e.g., AASL and AECT 1998; Iowa Department of Education 2007b). The literature confirmed that stakeholders’ perceptions of school library programs are disconnected from national school library guidelines (Dorrell and Lawson 1995).
Participants’ visions aligned with their own job functions, emphasizing either the administrative or instructional roles of the teacher-librarian. The literature also shows that principals, teachers, and teacher-librarians, both as groups and as individuals, hold different images of the role of teacher-librarians (Naylor and Jenkins 1988). McCracken (2001) showed that teacher-librarians also find their role to be confusing, particularly because they felt unable to practice their roles to the degree they believed they should to be consistent with the national guidelines. Finally, Lambert (2004) summed up the elusive nature of the teacher-librarian roles: “The success of the [school library] program rests on the strength of the partnerships among the [teacher-librarian], administrators, and teachers; services should match the needs and preferences of the school community” (131).
Remnants From the Past
None of the administrators in this study had received professional training on school library programs, so they relied on experiences, or missed opportunities, for interaction with school libraries. Because of the low percentage of principalship-preparation programs that include the topic of school libraries, most administrators’ perceptions of teacher-librarians are based on their on-the-job experiences as principals or as teachers (Alexander, Smith, and Carey 2003, 12) and their “remnants of a personal classroom teacher relationship with the school librarian” (Naylor and Jenkins 1988, 235). Wilson and MacNeil (1998) found that less than 9 percent of National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)–accredited university principalship-preparation programs included information about school libraries. Likewise, less than 10 percent of the principals surveyed in a study by Alexander et al. (2003) said they had ever had a college course about collaborating with a teacher-librarian.
Stagnancy of This Program
The case study school district had at least a twenty-year history of inadequate professional teacher-librarian staffing, with one teacher-librarian covering three building libraries in addition to the program for talented and gifted students. In contrast to this model, there has been a wealth of research showing reading test scores rise in correlation to the following: total library staff hours, print volumes and periodicals per student, budgetary planning, collection development, professional and support personnel functions, policies and procedural planning, facilities usage, program evaluation and leadership, instruction, and collaboration (Lance, Hamilton-Pennell, and Rodney 1999; Lance, Rodney, and Hamilton-Pennell 2000a, 2000b, 2001, 2005; Lance, Welborn, and Hamilton-Pennell 1993; Research Foundation 2006; Rodney, Lance, and Hamilton-Pennell 2002, 2003).
Theme 2: Limited Experiences Yield Professional Invisibility and Sustainability Issues
The second theme apparent in the findings for this case study is the invisibility of professional qualifications and the collaborative instructional qualities of the teacher-librarian. The Library Power study connects teacher-librarian instruction and collaboration with the ability of the library to enhance opportunities for student learning (Kuhlthau 1999). Given that schools hold student learning as their core mission, teacher-librarian instruction and collaboration are essential for the sustainability of school library programs. Yet these went unrecognized by participants in the current case study.
Lack of Shared Vision for School Library Instruction
Although the teachers frequently cited the need for library instruction for students, their comments often revealed another side to their desire for student library instruction—a need to lighten their own workloads. Two administrators noted that they had heard teachers’ requests for library instruction and interpreted these as teachers trying to unload half or all of their class. Many teachers in this study combined the need they saw for student library instruction with their own needs to have someone else to take care of technology and library instruction and to recommend books to students so that they wouldn’t have this added to already overloaded responsibilities.
Elusiveness of Collaborative Instruction through the Library
In their conversations about their visions for school libraries, only 4 percent of the teachers’ statements and 5 percent of the administrators’ statements focused on the collaborative instructional role of the teacher-librarian. Other studies have shown administrator obliviousness (Alexander et al. 2003; Dorrell and Lawson 1995; Naylor and Jenkins 1988; Veltze 1992; Wilson, Blake, and Lyders 1993), teacher belittlement (Moreillon 2005), and teacher-librarian confusion (McCracken 2001) about the teaching and partnering roles of the teacher-librarian.
Doubts of sustainability without a mandate. Participants described their arguments as too elusive to convince the higher authorities to sustain teacher-librarians and school library programs without a mandate. Teachers argued for high levels of communication and collaboration between classroom teachers and teacher-librarians. Several studies concerning enablers and inhibitors to sustaining successful school library programs shed light on the struggles of this school. Considerations in these studies to improve and sustain school library programs included implementation of a process approach to learning information skills, integral administrator involvement, and clearly defined roles of all team members (Kuhlthau 1993), increased teacher participation and teacher-librarian actions (Latrobe and Masters 2001), and increased communication about school improvement and the role of the library program (Lambert 2004). Finally, Immroth and Lukenbill’s 2007 study of the influence of social marketing strategies applies to teacher collaboration with teacher-librarians. They showed that teacher-librarians, “ as marketers of a socially useful service, need to build trust for themselves and promote the collaborative process as a socially and professionally rewarding activity.”
Theme 3: Standardized Assessments Disconnect Libraries from Curriculum
The third theme arising from the data for this case study is the disconnect between the school library program and the mission of the school implemented through school improvement initiatives, particularly literacy, technology, and other content areas.
Literacy Requires Physical and Intellectual Access to Libraries
Teachers said the lack of reading guidance and school library selections was the missing piece of their implementation of Guided Reading independent reading.
Technology-Savvy Students Need Information Skills
Seven of the thirteen participants made connections between their lack of technology instruction and the need for technology-savvy students to learn information skills in conjunction with library-research and Internet-source evaluation skills.
Content is King, Libraries are Strictly Supplemental
Only one participant, a principal, in this case study described the library as essential for content learning.
Current School Improvement Threatens Libraries
All participants assumed that the school library program was important to the district CSIP; however, it made no mention of the school library program as a resource or collaborative strategy for reading guidance, information skills, or technology instruction. The CSIP technology goal was for students to “select and use appropriate tools and technology resources to accomplish a variety of tasks and solve problems across the curriculum.” The district solution to “close this gap” was to expand “personnel resources to include a full time media/technology associate at each building.”
In summary, the literature about stakeholders’ perceptions of the importance of school libraries in the curriculum demonstrates a need to improve understanding and perceptions of school library programs in teaching and learning. Dorrell and Lawson (1995) found that given a list of skills or tasks for the school librarian, principals placed “curriculum planning and instruction in a subject discipline” in the lowest category (75). Moreillon (2005) also found confusion about content instruction and the role of libraries among preservice teachers. Similarly, Lambert (2004) also found that his participants didn’t believe school improvement to be an issue that involved the library (119). Shannon (1996) and Alexander et al. (2003), writing about school library programs in relation to the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA), pointed out that even teacher-librarians who were leaders in the state association struggled to maintain relevance when KERA did not require or “specifically outline a role for [teacher-librarians]” (Shannon 1996, 40). Alexander et al. (2003) also warned that the principals’ low prioritization of the learning and teaching role of teacher-librarians could mean libraries were placed outside the school’s core mission.
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American school libraries have historically been described as pillars of democratic education (ALA 1945; AASL 1960; AASL and AECT 1975) in the same way that American public libraries have been described as “democratic institutions created to assimilate and integrate the diverse ethnic and cultural groups that have come to constitute America” (Marcum 2003, 98). Yet the reality of this case study’s school’s library program denied their students access to libraries and learning opportunities essential for a democratic education. A summary of the supports and obstacles to implementing the new state teacher-librarian and school library program requirements is in table 2. Although the supports indicated in this study are hopeful considering the degraded condition of this school library program, the obstacles regarding perceptions of the library as nonessential for instruction or content learning outweigh the desires for reinstating the school library program in this school.
The data from this case study underscore the inability of the local school district to create or sustain a high-quality school library program without a strong state mandate and the inability of the current state mandate to instill a high-quality school library program in this district. The findings also show implications for limited access to library materials in this school: the absence of a teacher-librarian, the absence of an automated library catalog, and limited access of the library facility when other classes use the computer lab within the library. Furthermore, the findings about literacy programs attempted in this district have implications for limited physical and intellectual access for students to library materials. Teachers raised issues with circulation policies restricting students to mere weekly checkouts or limited library facility access (e.g., hallway passage restrictions) and limited promotional spaces and programming as rationale for their use of the literacy programs such as Reading Counts, Guided Reading, and classroom libraries. Consequently, the way these programs were implemented in this district necessarily circumvented the nonfunctioning library, thus further reducing physical and intellectual access to library resources.
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This study has led to the following recommendations for local, state, and national leadership for the sustainability of school library programs:
Local school districts and the state should mandate district school library collection guidelines as well as state collection guidelines (Johnson 2004) and state school library program guidelines (Iowa Department of Education 2007b) to ensure that students have physical and intellectual access to high-quality school library collections.
The state accreditation agency should visit schools to enforce the program requirements.
Local school districts and the state need to mandate an adequate budget to ensure students have physical and intellectual access to central school library collections.
The state should increase the minimum teacher-librarian staffing requirement in the Iowa School Library Program Guidelines to one full-time teacher-librarian per school with up to 750 students and an additional half-time appointment for every 500 students beyond the first 750, as specified in Plans for Progress (Johnson 2004).
Local school districts and the state need to mandate the inclusion of school library program goals into the CSIP, require that the teacher-librarian be a CSIP team member, and mandate library supports to goals and strategies.
School administrator preparation programs and professional development is needed to incorporate training in school library program expectations and the leadership necessary to meet those expectations.
Teacher-librarian preparation programs and professional development should be implemented to incorporate extensive leadership training about how to work in partnership with educational administrators to meet state and national guidelines for school library programs.
School administrator and teacher-librarian preparation programs need to be created to join with the state in providing professional development and support tailored for the administrators, teachers, and teacher-librarians in districts without an understanding of a school library program.
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This case study school did not have a teacher-librarian in the district; it should be replicated in a school with a traveling librarian and in a similar size school with a full-time teacher-librarian and an established school library program. The research about social marketing for libraries (Immroth and Lukenbill 2007) should also be implemented to benefit educators with visions of what their schools would look like with a quality school library program compared to schools without one.
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