Quantitative standards offer baseline numbers for everything from budgets to numbers of periodical subscriptions to square feet of shelving space. They provide a measure that allows comparisons for individual school libraries as well as a means to advocate for new resources. Minimal standards, however, are problematic because they can also be considered sufficient, or even “ideal,” with the unintended consequence of providing a ceiling rather than a floor for evaluating a school library program and justifying new resources. Quantitative standards are also difficult to establish because they require continuous updating to represent new formats and new technologies. More significantly, quantitative measures are silent about quality. Any measure of the school library’s resources or program requires interpretation and application by a trained school library professional working collaboratively with the school library’s stakeholders to define and evaluate a high-quality school library program.
In the history of school libraries, national quantitative standards provided guidance for the minimal size of collections, space needed for facilities, and adequate staffing. These standards led to significant growth in early school libraries and offered baseline numbers for the allocation of school funding. They were ultimately about access: sufficient quantities of resources, time, and space for students and staff in a building to have sufficient access to the high quality and current materials needed for reading and learning. As we move toward a future where technology is essentially ubiquitous, the standards needed for access are of an entirely different order from those of the Twentieth Century. Many of today’s students have unprecedented access to unlimited quantities of information; access issues in this context are about selected quality not quantity. Issues of equity also persist and are exacerbated by technological gaps. These kinds of access issues vary from locality to locality and with the introduction of new technologies.
School librarians should engage in a continuous evaluation of the effectiveness of the school library program to meet the needs of patrons for access to ideas and information through the resources of the library. Such an evaluation should be locally based, responsive to community needs, and flexible to allow for new formats, new modes of access, and changing demographics. National attempts to provide quantitative measures would lose this local context and flexibility. Rather than quantitative standards that promote compliance with an inflexible and minimal list, school librarians need the dispositions of deep commitment and inquiry required by continuous program assessment and advocacy with stakeholders.
AASL offers several tools for program evaluation:
The Position Statement on Appropriate Staffing for School Libraries could be of help in thinking through access issues as well as supervisory functions of school library personnel, both laterally and within the school district structure.
School Libraries Count! provides national statistics including collection size and per pupil expenditures that may be used as a benchmark for local school libraries. Several states compile similar statistics and reports.
A Planning Guide for Empowering Learners offers a structure for evaluating and envisioning an exemplary school library program.
As new technologies develop and new formats emerge, school librarians remain committed to providing students with access to high-quality and up-to-date resources for learning.