The library circulation desk at Oliver McCracken Middle School in Skokie, Illinois, offers “No Room For Hate” pins assembled by the Social Justice Club that demonstrate a wearer’s pledge to stand up against injustice. Photo: Tori Gammeri.
In today’s political climate, school libraries face the challenges of fake news, rising intolerance, and funding. School libraries support the curriculum, encourage creativity, and promote lifelong learning. School librarians know what resources are needed and how to use them. They partner with other teachers to develop meaningful learning experiences that prepare students for advancement to college.
Despite an apparent increase in intolerance of people who are perceived to be different from the mainstream, school libraries are a welcoming, safe space for all students and teachers. School librarians help students explore, select, and evaluate information for accuracy and objectivity.
A 2016 study by the Stanford History Education Group (PDF) found that students, from 8th grade through college, lacked the ability to interpret the validity of information they see on the internet. They had difficulty telling the difference between an advertisement and a news article and could not always identify the source of information.
School librarians provide instruction, situated in the curriculum, that helps students learn how to evaluate information. ALA’s American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Standards for the 21st-Century Learner call for students to learn to:
- Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.
- Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.
- Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
- Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.
Financial support for school libraries and librarians has declined in recent years. The National Center for Education Statistics National Center for Education Statistics reports (PDF) that 90% of traditional public schools have a library, while only 49% of public charter schools have a library. School librarians hold 51,516 of the nation’s 143,100 librarian jobs. Some optimism may be called for, as one study shows school library budgets are up to $8,315 in 2015–2016 from $6,970 in 2013–2014.
Hope for school libraries rose when President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law in December 2015. The law includes language that allows schools to budget funds for school libraries and acknowledges school librarians as specialized instructional support personnel. The AASL is examining ESSA, unpacking the provisions for school libraries within the legislation, and communicating how they will impact the school library community.
AASL offers the following resources:
- ESSA state workshops. AASL, in collaboration with ALA’s Office for Library Advocacy (OLA) and the ALA Washington Office, is offering a comprehensive workshop on ESSA to AASL affiliate organizations.
- The AASL Vision for Implementing ESSA was approved by AASL at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference. A task force is in the process of operationalizing its goals and implementing its recommendations.
- ESSA Opportunities for School Librarians. This document highlights library-related provisions in ESSA, and provides an overview of next steps to maximize opportunities for effective school library programming under the new law.
- Ask Me How School Librarians Ensure Student Success. This message card is an example of language that can be tailored to a school’s state or district.
An ESSA workshop conducted by the Massachusetts School Library Association on September 17 at Sharon (Mass.) High School.