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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Data Collection

Every three-to-five years the National Center for Education Statistics conducts a survey of public and private School Library Media Centers as a component of its Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). The Schools and Staffing Survey is the largest sample survey of America’s elementary and secondary schools. The purpose of this survey is to obtain information about school library media centers, such as staffing, collections, and scheduling.

In addition, NCES collects information about school library staffing through the Common Core of Data (CCD) survey series, a comprehensive, annual, national statistical database of all public elementary and secondary schools and school districts, which contains data that are designed to be comparable across all states. Data about school library staff also are reported in The Digest of Education Statistics.

The School Library Media Specialist

For many children, the school library media specialist is their first experience with a librarian. These information professionals play a critical role, teaching students how to select, use and understand information in all formats. National guidelines recommend that every school building have at least one full-time certified library media professional with appropriate support staff. However, almost one-quarter of public schools and four-fifths of private schools lack a paid school library media specialist. Some numbers:

  • There are 62,364 state certified library media specialists in public schools and 3,909 state certified library media specialists in private schools in the U.S.1

  • Of the 76,807 public schools with a library media center: 19,026 (24.8 percent) lack a state certified library media specialist; 11,296 (14.7 percent) have only a part-time state certified library media specialist; and only 46,485 of them (60.5 percent) have a full-time state certified library media specialist. Also, the state certified library media specialists in 15.3 percent of these public schools spend time in more than one school.2

  • The ratio of students to school library media specialists varies widely. The state with the best ratio, Montana, has one school library media specialist for every 184.5 public school students. California, with the worst ratio, has one media specialist per 4,326 pupils.3

  • In the most recently published report from NCES, The Status of Public and Private School Library Media Centers in the United States: 1999-2000 (2004), 76.7% of public and 81% of private schools reported meeting weekly with classes in the library. The percentage of public schools with paid professional staff with a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science or other graduate degree in information studies was 41.6% (nearly 32,000 staff). Data collected in the 2003 CCD indicated that this number had grown to over 54,000.

The NCES Definition of School Library Media Specialist

In its studies NCES uses a definition of school library media specialists that does not position them as instructional staff to the school or school district. The NCES definition classifies them as support staff. In the most recent SASS study Librarians/Media Specialists were defined as "The count of Professional staff members and supervisors who are assigned specific duties and school time for professional library and media service activities." Support staff were similarly defined.

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Sources:

  1. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey, 1999-2000: Overview of the Data for Public, Private, Public Charter, and Bureau of Indian Affairs Elementary and Secondary Schools, May 2002.
  2. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The Status of Public and Private School Library Media Centers in the United States: 1999-2000, March 2004.
  3. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The Status of Public and Private School Library Media Centers in the United States: 1999-2000, March 2004.
  


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Last Revised: July 20, 2009
For many children, the school library media specialist is their first experience with a librarian. These information professionals play a critical role, teaching students how to select, use and understand information in all formats.