School libraries

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Use increases; workload as well

The role of school libraries continued to grow in 2009, with school libraries open, on average, 1½ hours more per week than in 2008, according to a survey conducted by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the ALA. The down side is that there was no increase in the average number of teachers who are also school librarians, and the survey showed that a majority of schools received less funding for information resources in 2009, compared to 2008. In addition, school librarians worked an average of almost an hour a week more in 2009 than in 2008.

These are among the findings in “School Libraries Count! AASL’s National Longitudinal Survey of School Library Media Programs,” published by the AASL. Other key findings:

  • School library collections continued to grow modestly, though in the periodical subscription area there was a large increase (29 percent), or nearly seven subscriptions per library.
  • Investment in networked computers with library access slowed in the last year; schools increased the number of computers that could connect to the library by 7 percent on average, compared with a 20 percent increase the previous year. The pace at which school libraries added remote access also slowed.
  • The average number of hours spent each week on planning showed a slight, though statistically significant, increase, to 2.4 hours per week in 2009 from 2.3 hours per week the year before. Significant increases were recorded among regular public schools, schools in metropolitan areas, and schools in the Midwest.
  • The average number of hours spent each week on instruction increased to 14.5 from 13.8, with significant increases observed in time spent instructing students in elementary schools, public schools, schools in the Northeast, and schools with low poverty levels.
  • The average number of hours per week that school library centers are staffed each week increased to 34.0, more than 1½ hours more than the previous year (32.4 hours).
  • The average size of school library collections grew in the number of books, video and audio materials, and, most notably, in the average number of periodical subscriptions, which increased 29 percent from the previous year (to 30.6 subscriptions from 23.7. The significant increases were in elementary schools, high schools, public schools, Midwestern schools, and low-poverty schools.



Table 1: Changes in school library holdings, 2007-2009
Average number of . . .   2007 2008 2009 2009 increase


12,889 12,672   13,086 +412 (3.2%)

Periodical subscriptions

22.8 23.7 30.6 +6.9 (29.1%)

Video materials

445.9 471.7 495.6 +23.9 (5%)

Audio materials

86.3  89.9   98.4  +8.5 (9.5%)


Overall there was a three percent increase in the average number of books per school, to 13,086 from 12,673 in 2008. On average, there were statistically significant increases in libraries in elementary schools, in metropolitan areas, and in the Western region.

In the technology arena in 2009, according to the “School Libraries Count!” survey,
the number of computers in schools that are connected to the library increased slightly. Overall the average number of computers in libraries increased seven percent (to 25.6 from 23.9), and the number of school computers outside the library that can connect to the library increased by six percent (to 178.4 from 168.4).

Overall there was a slight (two percent) increase in the number of schools that offer remote access to their school library’s licensed database. The increase was statistically significant among high schools, where there was a four-point increase, to 88 percent from 84 percent.

As seen in Table 2, there was a significant increase (19 percent) in the overall average of expenditures per school, from $11,390 last year to $13,525 this year. However, at the 50th percentile, 75th percentile, and 95th percentile levels, there are only decreases compared with last year. In other words, almost all schools experienced a decrease in funding for information resources, and the averages in Table 2 may be deceiving in that they are affected by the very small percentage of schools that had significant increases.


Table 2: Average school library budgeting, 2007-2009.
  2007 2008   2009 2009 increase

All schools

$11,169 $11,390 $13,525    +2,135 (19%)

All elementary schools

$7,032 $6,720 $7,772 +1,052 (15.6%)

All Middle Schools

$10,563 $11,173 $11,892   +719 (6.4%)

All High Schools

$16,473 $18,550   $23,679  +5,129 (27.6%)

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Recognizing English language learners

English language learners (ELL) are a sizable segment of the current U.S. student population—14 percent of schools that responded to “School Libraries Count!” survey reported having a student body with 25 percent or more ELL. The highest concentration was reported in elementary schools, where nearly one in five (19 percent) have 25 percent or more ELL students. The proportion of ELL was also 25 percent in the Western United States, and in metropolitan areas it was 18 percent.

One-fourth of respondents rated free-choice reading as the most effective ELL initiative. However, 91 percent of survey respondents reported that less than 5 percent of their collection is in a language other than English. For 16 percent of respondents, the only language available in the school’s library is English.

Responding to significant proportions of ELL, schools adopted a range of collaboration strategies, such as promoting reading by allowing students to choose their own reading materials from a collection (51 percent) or designing lessons that are rich in content without being too dependent on language (24 percent). However, 36 percent of respondents reported they don’t use either of these strategies. (See also Figure 1, below)


Florida State explores digital content for school libraries

A research study at Florida State University, “Digital Libraries to School Libraries (DL2SL): A Strategy for Lasting K–12 Open Content Implementation,” will explore how school libraries can successfully integrate digital library “open content” in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into their collections and services, according to a July 2009 press release from FSU. The project is headed by AASL member Marcia Mardis, an assistant professor at Florida State’s SLIS. Open content refers to digital materials that can be downloaded, edited, and combined.

Figure 1: Percentage of students who are English language learners (ELL) overall and by (from left) school level, public or private school, number of students in school, region, and metropolitan/other area. 

chart with complex data - long description provided

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BIE-funded schools lead in some categories, lag in others

A National Center for Education Statistics report issued in June 2009 showed mixed results for the three types of school surveyed (traditional public schools, public charter schools, and Bureau of Indian Education [BIE]–funded schools), with the BIE-funded school outscoring the others in spending on books and supporting family literacy activities.

The report was based on the NCES’s 2007–2008 survey of public elementary- and secondary-school libraries in the United States. This was the first comprehensive report on school libraries issued by the NCES since 1999-2000 (the 2003-2004 survey results were never issued in report form).

Highlights from the report, Characteristics of Public and Bureau of Indian Education Elementary and Secondary School Library Media Centers in the United States: Results From the 2007–08 Schools and Staffing Survey, include:

  • During the 2006-07 school year, BIE-funded library centers spent an average of $7,800 on books, traditional public-school library centers spent an average of $6,630, and public charter school library centers an average of $6,210.
  • BIE-funded schools did not fare so well in terms of technology to assist students and staff with disabilities. Such technology existed in 24 percent of traditional public school library centers and in 21 percent of public charter school library centers, but in only about 18 percent of BIE-funded school library centers.
  • But family literacy activities were supported by 53 percent of BIE-funded school library centers, as opposed to 42 percent of traditional public school centers and 33 percent of public charter school centers.
  • In the 2007-08 school year, 80,100 (92 percent) of the 87,190 traditional public schools had a library center, and 1,820 (51 percent) of the 3,560 public charter schools had one. Of the 180 Bureau of Indian Education (BIE)–funded schools, 160 (89 percent) had a library center.
  • Sixty-two percent of all public school library centers had at least one full-time, paid, state-certified library center specialist, and 11 percent had no full-time but at least one part-time such specialist. The remaining 27 percent had none.
  • In traditional public schools, 57 percent of paid professional library center staff had a master’s degree in a library-related major, a higher proportion than in public charter schools (29 percent) and BIE-funded schools (27 percent).
  • About 97 percent of library centers in traditional public schools, 88 percent in public charter schools, and 92 percent in BIE-funded schools had computer workstations.

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