School Libraries

the state of america's libraries 2011: a report from the american library association

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Averages for:

2007 2008 2009 2010 2009-2010 change

All schools

$11,169 $11,390 $13,525 $12,260 – $1,265 (– 9.4%)

Elementary schools

$7,032 $6,720 $7,772 $8,408 + $636 (+ 8.2%)

Middle schools

$10,563 $11,173 $11,892 $11,642 – $250 (– 2.1%)

High schools

$16,473 $18,550 $23,679 $19,129 – $4,550 (– 19.2%)

Source: School Libraries Count! National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Programs.

Table 1: School expenditures on information resources take some hits

No doubt reflecting financial woes at the federal and state levels, many school libraries –– especially at the middle school and high school levels –– saw their budgets reduced in 2010 from 2009 levels. In areas of high poverty, however, the reductions were significantly larger; average spending in these areas decreased to $10,378 in 2010 from $13,935 in 2009, a loss of 25.5 percent.


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School libraries squeak by –– except in high-poverty areas


Most school libraries managed to escape the economic trials of 2010 largely unscathed––with the exception of those in high-poverty areas, which saw significant declines in spending on information resources and in collection size.

These trends are revealed in the 2010 version of the School Libraries Count! survey conducted annually by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the ALA.

Overall survey results show that school expenditures on information resources were approximately $12,260 in 2010, compared to $13,525 the previous year, a decrease of 9.4-percent. However, average spending on information resources in schools in high-poverty areas decreased 25-percent, or $3,557, on average, compared to 2009 survey results.

The survey also found that school libraries in high-poverty areas saw significant declines in collection size in 2010. While schools in low-poverty areas that registered slight increases in most areas of collection size, schools in high-poverty areas reported a 4 percent decrease in books, an 11 percent decrease in video materials and a whopping 22 percent decrease in periodical subscriptions. The only collection area to report an increase at schools in high-poverty areas was audio materials, and even there the modest increase –– 3 percent –– was dwarfed by a 12 percent increase in schools in low-poverty areas. (See Table 1, above, for a summary of changes in school library collection sizes.)

Total library staff hours declined, with an average of 2.4 fewer hours per week reported in 2010 than 2009, the survey indicated. The regions reporting the largest decreases were the Northeast, reporting 5.3 fewer hours, and the Midwest, with 3.1 fewer hours. Among certified school librarians, the survey found an increase of 0.8 hours per week.

The School Libraries Count! survey was conducted March 4–May 17, 2010, and had 5,191 respondents, mainly (95 percent) from public schools. The preponderance of the respondents (65 percent) represented metropolitan schools; 42 percent were from elementary schools, and 42 percent were from the South.

Other key findings included:

  • The average number of hours school library staff spent each week delivering instruction continued to increase (0.5 hours more than in 2009, for a total of 15 hours). The number of hours they spent on budgeting or on meeting with teachers to plan instructional units did not change significantly.
  • School libraries reported being open fewer hours than in 2009, but the availability of flexible hours remained constant.
  • School library collection sizes were consistent with the previous years, but there was a decline (2.6 percent) in the number of books. This decline was most evident in high-poverty areas.
  • There were no notable changes in the collection size for periodicals, video materials, or audio materials, though decreases in video materials were noted among schools with enrollment of 1,000-1,999 and schools in metropolitan areas and high-poverty areas. There were statistically significant increases in audio materials among public schools and non-metropolitan schools.
  • Schools had more computers outside the school library but with networked access to library services. There was also increased remote access to school libraries’ licensed databases.

    The survey’s margin of error was 1.4 percentage points, with a 95 percent confidence interval.

School library collection metric 2007 2008 2009 2010

 2010 change

Average number of books

12,889 12,672 13,086 12,741 –345 (2.6%)

Average number of periodical subscriptions

22.8 23.7 30.6 27.0 – 3.6 (11.8%)

Average number of video materials

445.9 471.7 495.6 470.7 – 24.9 (5.0%)

Average number of audio materials

86.3 89.9 98.4 98.4 + 0.2 (0%)

Average copyright year for the Dewey range 610-619, health and medicine

1993 1994 1994 1995 1

Source: School Libraries Count! National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Programs.

Table 2: In school library collections, periodicals take the largest proportional hit

School library collection size generally held steady or experienced small declines in 2010, with the exception of periodical subscriptions, which declined almost 12 percent. The overall figures shown here hide some anomalies, such as a sharp loss in book holdings in high-poverty areas; larger-than-average decreases in video materials in schools with enrollments of 1,000-1,999, metropolitan areas, and high-poverty area; and statistically significant increases in audio materials at public schools and non-metropolitan schools.


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Survey focus in 2010: Digital content and resources

The 2010 version of the School Libraries Count! survey indicated that 61 percent of school library staff provide professional development for teachers in the use of digital content. Of those providing training, 71 percent spent between one and six hours or more a week training teachers on digital resources.

These data were gathered as part of the survey’s continuing practice of focusing each year on a specific current issue within the school library field –– in 2010, digital content and resources.

Figure 1

survey results: percent of schools with school library staff as source for digital content professional development- long description provided

Source: School Libraries Count! National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Programs.

The survey revealed a limited shift from print to digital content; 86 percent of elementary schools and 51 percent of high school libraries reported that less than 5 percent of their collection had moved to digital content. The figure for middle school libraries was 69 percent.

Almost half the responding schools (49 percent) reported that their libraries have more than five database subscriptions.

When asked what impact digital content will have on the future of school library programs, 77 percent of respondents said they thought there would be an increased demand for technical support. Six in 10 of those surveyed reported that such an increase in digital content would cause an increased demand for network infrastructure in schools. However, more than half of respondents believe budget lines would shift but without increases.


Figure 2

results of survey: impact of digital content on school library programs-long description provided

Source: School Libraries Count! National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Programs.

Survey responses indicated a belief that the impact of increased digital content would extend beyond the school library walls. Fifty-eight percent of respondents felt that as digital resources continue to have an impact on school library programs and student learning, there would be an increased need for remote access to school library resources from within the school. Forty-nine percent noted that this impact would also create an increased demand for remote access from outside the school.

Fifty-one percent of survey respondents also noted that increased access to digital content will bring increased challenges to district filtering. Forty-six percent see increased intellectual freedom issues related to digital materials.

Metrics: Computer in School libraries 2007 2008 2009 2010

 2010 change

Average number of computers in school library

22.6 23.9 25.6 27.4 +1.8 (7%)

Average number of school computers outside library with access to library services

136.8 168.3 178.4 194 +15.6 (8.7%)

Total of library and library-connected computers

159.2 190.6 203.6 220.4 +16.8 (8.3%)

Source: School Libraries Count! National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Programs.

Table 3: Networked access to school library resources is expanding

While the average number of computers in school libraries increased only slightly in 2010, access to school library resources from outside the library expanded. School Libraries Count! respondents reported that the number of school computers outside the library with networked access to library resources jumped more than 8 percent and that remote access to school library databases increased 3 percent overall.

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Young-adult librarians go to bat for their constituencies

Schoolchildren benefit from library services both in and out of school, of course, and the Young Adult Library Services Association created a number of new advocacy resources in 2010 to bring public attention to the value of libraries.

One of these was a downloadable brochure, “ Teens Need Libraries (PDF),” which contains statistics from a range of sources to help young-adult librarians and others advocate for better teen services in their communities. The brochure was developed for librarians to print out and distribute to government officials or concerned citizens to demonstrate the importance of funding teen library services and how teen success is dependent upon that funding.

A few of the data from the brochure:

  • Three-quarters of Americans believe it is a high priority for public libraries to offer places where teenagers can study and congregate.
  • Forty-nine percent of public libraries do not have one full-time staff member dedicated to youth services.
  • Eighty percent of public libraries offer online homework resources, and 90 percent offer access to online databases, with content in virtually every school subject.
  • Ninety percent of students recognize that the school library helps boost their confidence as proficient information-seekers and -users, and 92 percent appreciated the school library’s help in sorting and analyzing information and gaining media literacy.
  • Students in programs with more school librarians and extended library hours scored 8.4 to 21.8 percent higher on ACT English tests and 11.7 to 16.7 percent higher on ACT Reading tests compared to students in schools where libraries had fewer resources.
  • Twenty-one percent of public secondary schools do not have a paid, full-time, state-certified librarian.

YALSA also created “ Why YA? Recruiting for YA Librarianship,” an online toolkit aimed at encouraging library students to become YA librarians.

And the organization also launched an update of its national guidelines, “ YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth: Young Adults Deserve the Best.” The competencies, first developed in 1981 and last updated in 2003, reflect changes in youth services, particularly in the area of technology. YALSA developed the competencies for individuals and institutions, offering librarians guidelines for providing quality library service in collaboration with teenagers and giving libraries a framework for improving overall service capacities and increasing public value to their respective communities.

Research shows that the most significant factor in determining the level of education a young person attains is the number of books in the home –– but a number of studies have shown that thousands of families in low-income areas have few or no books in the home. With that in mind, YALSA launched a fundraising initiative, Books for Teens, powered by Facebook, with the goal of providing low-income youth with free new age-appropriate books. Funds raised will be distributed to libraries in communities with a high level of poverty, where teen-services librarians will buy and distribute new books, encourage teens to obtain library cards and provide them with reading-focused events and activities.

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“Vision Tour” shines a bright light on outstanding school libraries


Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), wants to make sure that exemplary school libraries nationwide get the recognition they deserve –– and a chance to serve as models for others.

And so she has undertaken what she calls her Vision Tour, a series of road trips from her home base in Tallahassee, Fla., to 35 states to gain support for Learning4Life, the AASL’s national plan for implementing two AASL publications, “ Standards for the 21st-Century Learner” and “ Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs.”

Learning4Life has two objectives: 1) to identify exemplary models and transferable visual products for implementation at the local, district, state, and national levels; and 2) to develop a national roster of celebrities, well-known educators and organizations, and other public figures as advocates for school librarians and library programs. School libraries on the tour were selected by their state’s AASL affiliate to represent them.

Everhart chooses schools by asking the AASL state organizations to provide the name of an outstanding school library in the state. When the school is chosen and the visit scheduled, the hosts generally arrange a program that’s designed to let people know what school libraries are all about –– and to show them what kids without school libraries are missing. Often these occasions include student performances of the Vision Tour theme song, appropriately titled “Check It Out.”

The events are attended by parents, principals, school superintendents, school board members, area school and public librarians, state library personnel, mayors and state representatives and other government officials. Rep. Fred Upton (R–Mich.) had a commendation read into the Congressional Record about Portage Northern High School’s honor. Some celebs participate in other ways; Robin Roberts, host of ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America,” sent video congratulations to Byrd Middle School in Richmond, Va., that was screened during a school-wide assembly.

Everhart says the tour can produce major changes for the good. “In one instance, a school librarian who had her job reduced was reinstated to full time. In another district, school board members left the Vision Tour celebration noting that cuts they had been contemplating were not going to happen — and they’ve stuck to it,” Everhart says. “It’s all part of the message of the tour — to let everyone know what outstanding school libraries are all about.”



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