School librarians and school libraries continue to evolve to meet the demand for equity and access in a culturally responsive learning environment offering physical and digital resources and connections to a global world. Today’s world requires them to navigate an increasingly complex information landscape, yet school librarians—a unique position in the school environment for understanding the questioning, selection, and creation of knowledge from this landscape—continue to be threatened with the loss of positions.
In a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, 83% of teachers responded that students are overwhelmed by the amount of information available online, and 60% stated that the increasing array of technologies makes it more difficult to locate credible information. The inability to curate information was echoed in a 2016 Stanford University study (PDF) that found nearly 80% of high school students struggle to verify the credibility of a source. This lack of knowledge and skill is the result of many schools failing to provide students with well-resourced school libraries staffed by qualified school librarians—the vital center in every school for improved reading scores, one-to-one technology initiatives, and expanded pathways to college, career, and life.
The 2018 National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries, developed by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of ALA, establishes an integrated framework for the learner, school librarian, and school library as an essential element of teaching and learning. Within this framework, the shared foundations (Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Explore, and Engage) are centered on information to enable success through innovation, collaboration, exploration, deep thinking, and creativity. School librarians hold a common belief that reading is the core of personal and academic competency.
As literacy leaders, school librarians are positioned to elevate the importance of reading and reading proficiency to support all learners’ academic success. Decades of research (PDF) indicates that there is a positive correlation between learners’ attending schools with full-time, state-certified school librarians and higher scores on standardized reading tests.
The need for school librarians to instruct students in information literacy is evident in the need for using data in decision-making. The perception is that youth growing up with access to ubiquitous technology can easily and effectively use data. Yet a recent report on data literacy found that “60% of US workers 16 to 24 years old—people who had been raised surrounded by technology—are overwhelmed by the data they must read and analyze as part of their jobs.”
As school districts face constrained budgets each year, all too many consider school librarians for potential cuts. In a nation rebounding economically from low unemployment rates, Forbes magazine notes that the “public school librarian sector has not rebounded, and the nation’s collective failure to rebuild its public information infrastructure is hitting minorities the hardest.”
Kerri Price, a Charleston County (S.C.) Teacher Librarian Cohort member in University of South Carolina's Library Scholar program, works with students in her school library, alongside her therapy dog, Bailey.
In South Carolina, which requires every public school to have at least one school librarian with an MLIS degree, the state had 60 school librarian vacancies in 2018.
In April 2019, every librarian in Spokane (Wash.) Public Schools was told that they would lose their jobs in 2020, since the school district suffers from a $31 million deficit.
School librarians have been described as an endangered species in Michigan. In 2019, 92% of schools statewide don’t employ a full-time, certified librarian, while the number of school librarians in the state declined 73% between 2000 and 2016, far beyond the national decline of 20% during that period. Michigan is 47th in the nation in the number of librarians it offers per student.
A 2019 A 2019 informational brief (PDF) sponsored by the New York State Library reviewed research studies on the critical role of the school librarian in the learning process. The brief found significance in the “sustainability of school libraries for the success of all students” and concluded that as education and employment changes, “the school librarians’ contributions, whether direct or indirect, are consistently shown to be of positive value to not only students and teachers, but the wider community” for future learning.