School Libraries

school library

Certified school librarians play an essential part in ensuring that students have 21st-century information literacy skills—by establishing meaningful partnerships with administrators, creating opportunities for digital learning, and making sure that professional standards and guidelines are followed.

Meaningful partnerships

April is school library month, school libraries transform learning

School librarians and administrators across the country are taking meaningful steps to further their collaborative partnerships as school-wide, student-centered educators. In November 2015, more than 10% of the attendees at the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) 17th National Conference and Exhibition—“Experience Education Evolution”—were administrators who were learning and exploring emerging trends side-by-side with their school librarians.

In most cases, administrators learn what school librarians do from school librarians. More than 90% of principals receive no formal training (PDF) related to school librarians during their principal preparation programs, and 65% percent of principals’ primary source of knowledge of the instructional role of the school librarian is derived from interactions with school librarians during their careers.

The value of certified school librarians continues to grow as administrators and teachers seek education resources to better serve tech-savvy students. Among other things, administrators are looking to school librarians to help them digitize education and lead blended learning activities in schools, thus bringing equity, connectivity, and personalization to instruction.

Digital learning

More than 2,000 school library professionals participated in the Speak Up National Research Project surveys, conducted each fall by Project Tomorrow, which help to shape the state and national dialogue concerning educational technology in schools. School librarians continue to be at the forefront of digital integration in schools, supporting students, teachers, and administrators every day with new resources, training, and strategies.

In the last six years, school librarians have seen significant changes both in what they are providing to teachers and students, as well as the challenges they are confronting to support digital content. In 2010, for example, only 35% of school librarians indicated they were acquiring digital content. By 2015, that number had increased to 69%. This trend is reflected across a variety of formats, particularly databases, ebooks, periodicals, videos, and games (Table 1).

Types of digital content 2010 2015
Ebook subscriptions 30% NA
Online periodicals 56% NA
Online ebook or periodical subscriptions NA 64%
Online curriculum 31% 39%
Online databases 58% 65%
Digital content subscriptions 35% 69%
Online textbooks 19% 22%
Online videos 38% 59%
Game-based environments 16% 35%

When we look at the challenges of supporting digital content in schools, there were large increases in the percentage of school librarians who reported insufficient internet access, students lacking access to technology in school, difficulty locating appropriate digital content, and teachers uncomfortable using digital content (Table 2).

Challenges 2010 2015
Internet access is insufficient 19% 35%
Lack of student access to technology in school 17% 49%
Difficulty locating appropriate digital content 10% 29%
Teachers are not comfortable using digital content 33% 47%
How to move teachers from sporadic to sustained use in the classroom NA 54%

Setting the standard

This year AASL embarked on a standards remodeling project to ensure that school librarians are leading progressive, engaging, and dynamic learning opportunities for students. A multilayered survey, data, and research process began in September 2015 with an online survey to assess attitudes and perceptions about the current national learning standards and program guidelines documents developed by AASL, especially their content, usability, and implementation.

Survey respondents (91% were AASL members; 83% non-members) indicated that they are very familiar with the AASL standards and guidelines. Most describe them as relevant, well organized, practical, easy to use, and easy to explain. However, despite their value, 41% of school librarians feel the AASL standards and guidelines need updating. The most common request was to develop both student and professional standards that are more closely aligned, increasing appeal and validity in standards components for administrators and teachers.

Demonstrating the value of school libraries and librarians continues to be a challenge. Research that demonstrates the impact of school libraries and librarians on student learning is one effective approach to demonstrating value. Many school library impact studies (PDF) have been conducted over the past few decades. The results consistently demonstrate a strong relationship between student achievement and quality school library programs staffed by credentialed school librarians. The results show that:
School libraries Transform Learning snapshot template for measuring impact at individual school libraries.: Number of class visits for Information literacy instruction; Number of Students connected online for digital literacy instruction;  Number of Books circulated to promote lifelong love of reading and learning; Number of Students received personalized instructon throughindividual reference exchanges; Number of professional consultations with faculty and staff; Number of collaborations with teachers to identify resources, plan instruction, and integrate technology; Number of students attended academic enrichment programs before/after school and during lunch; Number of print and digital resources curated for student and teacher use.

  • Access to books through school libraries develops life-long positive attitudes in students towards reading and helps them read more.

  • Students consistently perform better on tests when there is a full-time, certified librarian and appropriate assistant on staff.

  • Extended hours of operation and flexible scheduling have a direct impact on student achievement.

  • Higher expenditures and larger, newer, and varied collections contribute to improved student test scores.

  • Collaborative planning between school librarians and teachers enhance student learning.

  • The higher the number of visits to the library, the higher the scores on student achievement tests.

  • School libraries are essential to students by providing facilities and tools to prepare them for navigating the information age and entering the work place of the future.

A recent study (PDF) shows a strong relationship between the presence of a credentialed librarian and a higher graduation rate. The study also reports that having a school library increases equity to technology and accessible library facilities.

Further research is being conducted by AASL through a 2015 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The purpose of the grant is to conduct research to discover what works at the intersection of formal and informal learning in the school library learning space, and to provide reliable information by which to assess the impact of specific actions in library programs and certified school library staffing.