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School librarians offer information literacy and technology instruction that is crucial for 21st century learners, particularly marginalized at-risk learners who may not have access to resources and computers in their homes. Furthermore, school libraries can provide students equal access to print and digital resources to help close the gap between privileged and at-risk students. (Martin 2008)
With the increasingly diverse educational needs of all students, it takes a team of professional to ensure student success. School librarians can be integral members of these professional teams. Through collaborative activities, libraries can meet the needs of at-risk students by working to implement strategies designed to help them experience academic success and prevent them from dropping out of school.
Using their knowledge of the overall curriculum, technological expertise, and the ability to locate resources, school librarians are in a unique position to collaborate with the educational team to teach and evaluate at-risk students… Furthermore, caring and compassionate librarians can make school libraries places where at-risk students' differences are acknowledged and respected.
While working in collaborative partnerships with teachers, librarians may also take time to get to know their at-risk students by applying specific strategies that meet individual student needs. These strategies include:
- Developing library collections that include universally designed resources on a variety of levels and in a variety of formats to meet the unique needs and learning styles of at-risk learners (examples include bilingual titles, graphic novels, and interactive books)
- Developing library collections that include culturally relevant curriculum materials based on students' backgrounds, languages, experiences, and interests
- Providing opportunities for students to become engaged and feel successful in their reading (examples include book clubs, reader's theater, poetry slams, and Teen Read Week)
- Educating themselves about at-risk students and providing information literacy instruction and library services that can be customized to their learning needs
- Making the library a welcoming and supportive place for students to come before, during, and after school by including comfortable reading areas, posters, and creative signage
- Involving the community by encouraging active participation from parents and community leaders through programming and/or tutoring services
Ninety percent of the students recognized that the school library had helped to boost their confidence as proficient information seekers and users, enabling them to work independently; 91.8% of the students appreciated the school library’s help regarding working out the most important information, and sorting and analyzing information. | (Todd 2005)
Students whose library media specialists played an instructional role—either by identifying materials to be used with teacher-planned instructional units or by collaborating with teachers in planning instructional units—tend to achieve higher average test scores. (Lance, Rodney and Hamilton-Pennell 2000a)
Public libraries create a bridge for teens across the digital divide.
High-speed Internet access is increasingly necessary for full participation in educational, cultural, and employment opportunities. Students from low-income families are less likely to have adequate Internet access than their wealthier peers. In its most recent report on Internet access, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce found that as income increases, higher percentages of Internet users have access to broadband service at home. Internet users with broadband access at home are also more likely to be daily Internet users (66.1%) than those without broadband at home (51.2%). Additionally, users without access to broadband service at home make up 90% of non-Internet users; of these, 75.3% of non-Internet users have no access to the Internet at home. This is a significant disadvantage when employers increasingly prefer (and some require) applicants to apply online. Access to the Internet is frequently a crucial step in the job search process.
Further, in a 2007 study [Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study 2006–2007], 73% of public libraries reported that they were the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Surveyed libraries said the three Internet services most critical to their community were online educational resources and databases for K–12 students (used by 67.7% of visitors); services for job-seekers (44%); and computer and Internet skills training (29.8%). | (United States National Telecommunications and Information Administration 2004; American Library Association (ALA) 2008; ALA and Florida State University 2007; Davis et al 2008)
Public libraries play a particularly important role in providing Internet access to minorities and teens in lower-income households.
Sixty percent of teenagers who go online use public library Internet access. For example, in households earning $75,000 or more per year, 99% of teens use the Internet from home, while 74% go online from school, and 57% go online from a library. By contrast, in households earning less than $30,000 per year, just 70% of teens go online from home, but 75% have access at school and 72% go online at the library. “For many minority and lower-income teens, schools and libraries serve as a primary source of Internet access. While 93% of teenage Internet users go online from more than one location, schools and libraries serve as a primary source of Internet access for many minority and lower-income teens.” | (Lenhart 2008)
Three-quarters of Americans believe it is a high priority for local public libraries to offer a safe place where teenagers can study and congregate. | (Public Agenda 2006)