School Libraries

Two girls sharing a book in a school library

A key to literacy: School librarians’ collaboration with other educators

School librarians are highly involved leaders playing a critical role in their schools through consistent and sustained collaboration with other educators, according to a report released in April 2013 by the National Center for Literacy Education. Additionally, school librarians not only participate in but deliver professional development to peers, educators, and staff in their schools, the report says.

The report, Remodeling Literacy Learning: Making Room for What Works, details key findings from a nationwide survey of more than 2,400 educators representing all grade levels and subject areas. It investigates the connection between professional learning, educator collaboration, and student learning.

Survey findings indicate that many schools are not structured to support the professional collaboration educators identified as important in strengthening their practice. Despite this, educators are participating in some forms of school-based collaboration, and school librarians are often participating at rates equal to or greater than those of other educators.

With the already small amount of time set aside for collaboration during the school day dwindling, a substantial number of school librarians are participating in professional learning networks on their own time. Fifty-one percent reported seeking and sharing ideas at least weekly in online networks and communities. Of those school librarians participating in the survey, 66% indicated they also provide professional development to peers and other educators, and 58% provide these services to staff inside their school. Further, 60% indicated their decision to do so was voluntary.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is one of 30 professional education associations, policy organizations, and foundations that are part of the National Center for Literacy Education coalition. An infographic with more data, is available on the AASL website.

What does the future hold? Increased cost-effectiveness, greater access

What will school libraries of the future look like, and how will they support students, teachers, administrators, and even parents?

“Students are going to have at their disposal a greater range of resources than ever before,” Matthew Lynch writes in Education Week. A principal goal of school libraries must be to engage students and to provide them with skills necessary to effectively function in academic life, says Lynch, author of the textbook, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching (Pearson, 2014). With the help of qualified libraries, students learn to independently research and expand their reading and writing via library resources.

Key components of future libraries must be increased effectiveness and greater access to a whole range of elements, from ebooks to academic databases to innovative programs that allow students to explore their creative inclinations, learn new skills, and apply their learning in innovative ways. More K–12 public school libraries will learn to automate their resource management strategies and develop rewarding collaborative partnerships.

The cost-efficiency of libraries is “very likely to increase,” Lynch says, with new technologies and features such as remote access to resources helping to reduce the general costs associated with library management. “Librarians can readily expand their library resources without having to take up additional space,” Lynch says. Parents and students will probably enjoy better access to their public-school libraries from home.

“Perhaps most interesting . . . is the expansion of partnerships,” Lynch says, noting that “some public schools have taken to partnering with their local libraries and with online organizations such as Limitless Libraries and MyLibrary NYC. The latter is a major innovation launched in 2011 to essentially combine public library and school library resources for students in New York City, allowing students to request materials from any of the three public library systems that serve the area.”

Some other examples of school libraries partnering with local public libraries:

  • In Seattle, students at two elementary schools are benefitting from expanded literacy programs and library resources this school year, thanks to a one-year pilot-program partnership with the Seattle Public Library funded by a $91,000 grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The grant allows SPL to loan books and materials to the students, provide special library cards to school teachers and librarians, and introduce a Raising a Reader program.
  • In Chicago, the Back of the Yards branch of the Chicago Public Library is also serving as a school library for students attending the new Back of the Yards High School next door. The library has two teen librarians, a children’s librarian, and a branch librarian who is also a K–12 media specialist.
  • In Worcester, Massachusetts, the One City, One Library initiative, a collaboration of the city, schools, public library, and community organizations, hopes to open libraries at a number of schools that do not have them or to refurbish school libraries that have been closed. The down side: All but three Worcester elementary schools lack a librarian.

The test for public-school libraries will be to maintain a balance between access to resources—innovative access where possible—and managing associated costs. “Future trends look set to help this balance, not hinder it,” Lynch says.

Despite widespread budget cuts, many schools, districts, and states are making a commitment to school library programs, acknowledging that strides in public education cannot be successful without a fully staffed and funded school library program. In 2013, the AASL bestowed the National School Library Program of the Year award on three schools whose school library programs meet the needs of the changing school library environment, among them Swan Valley High School, Saginaw, Michigan, where Principal Mat McRae vowed before the superintendent and school board that as long as he was principal, there would be no cuts to the library program.

The larger picture: School libraries are at a critical point

Squeezed school budgets and increased emphasis on high test scores have led professionals to recognize that school libraries nationwide are at a critical point.

“On one hand, budget and testing pressures have led to decisions to eliminate or deprofessionalize school libraries,” says Barbara K. Stripling, ALA president. “On the other hand, the increased emphasis on college and career readiness and the integration of technology have opened an unprecedented door to school librarian leadership.”

Stripling and the ALA are undertaking an advocacy campaign for school libraries that sets goals in five critical areas:

  • Literacy—Today’s school librarians must be able to teach critical new literacy skills to enable young people to evaluate and make sense of text presented in all formats and to be producers and communicators of ideas, not just consumers of information.
  • Inquiry—The mission of the school library is to ensure that students are equipped with essential critical-thinking and information skills, and school librarians must collaborate with classroom teachers to make inquiry an integral part of the school curriculum.
  • Social and emotional growth—The school library must be a safe space for discovery and collaboration where young people develop self-confidence, learn perseverance, and acquire social skills like the ability to be part of a team and show respect for the perspectives of others.
  • Creativity and imagination—School libraries must offer liberating experiences of imagination and creation. Students see characters in their minds as they listen to stories. Young people imagine their own stories or create expressions of their learning to share with others.
  • Thoughtful use of technology—School librarians must teach students and teachers how to use the latest technology tools for personal and academic learning, communication, production, and collaboration.

The task for school librarians, Stripling said, is to fulfill the dream that every school across the country will have an effective school library program.

School librarians navigate the new frontiers of learning

School librarians are assuming a leadership role in navigating a new frontier as student access to information continues beyond the school day in what is often called digital learning, blended learning, extended learning, expanded learning, or 24/7 learning. The role of the school librarian is to find new tools and activities, tether them back to institutional and curricular needs, and guide instructional opportunities for anytime-anywhere learning that will accompany students beyond the school library program.

David Warlick, an educator, author, and programmer who will be keynote speaker at the 2014 AASL Fall Forum, is an early adopter and promoter of technology in the classroom and has taught and written about technology integration and school curriculum for more than 30 years. Warlick says a new generation of learners has “witnessed an emerging new information environment and have participated in shaping its landscape, seamlessly utilizing technologies that have come to define their culture. Their outside-the-classroom information experiences are deep, diverse, rich, and compelling—and understanding these experiences may be an important key to achieving more effective and relevant formal learning.” Warlick asks: What are the qualities and contexts of these experiences? What might they look like if woven into the fabric of our school libraries?

Number of school librarians declines relative to other teachers

From 2006 to 2011, the number of school librarians declined more than the number of other educators, with the exception of instructional coordinators and supervisors, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The total number of school librarians increased by less than one percent from school year 2005–2006 to 2006–2007; then decreased less than 1% in 2007–2008, 1.1% in 2008–2009, 2.3% in 2009–2010, and 4.3% in 2010–2011.

Texas is an example of this trend, with librarian cuts (9%), more than double the combined cuts in classroom teachers (2%) and counselors (3%).

A comparison of school library staffing from 2007–2008 and from 2011–2012 reveals that the number of school library staff who hold only a classroom teaching certificate decreased by 5.2%. The number of staff holding a master’s degree in a library-related major remained steady, decreasing less than 1%. Of note: The numbers of school library staff who hold a state library media certificate increased by 14.3%, according to the NCES.

E-rate funding for broadband in schools to double over next two years

The E-rate funding that goes to broadband service in schools and libraries will double over the next two years, federal officials federal officials announced in early February.

The increase, to $2 billion a year from $1 billion, is intended to help meet President Obama’s promise to provide broadband service for an estimated 20 million American students in 15,000 schools. Financing for the new spending will come from restructuring the $2.4 billion E-rate program, which provides money for “advanced telecommunications and information services” using the proceeds of fees paid by telecommunications users.

The E-rate program is administered by the Federal Communications Commission; school libraries use broadband service for research, digital collections, streaming video, student collaboration, and content creation, among other things. The E-rate program is part of the Universal Service Fund, which also provides money to connect rural areas and low-income people to phone and internet service using money raised through fees on consumers’ phone bills.

Most of the redirected spending in 2014 will come from funds left over from previous years. Next year, much of the money will come from changes to the E-rate program, including the elimination of programs that pay for outdated technologies, like paging services, dial-up internet connections, and email programs that are available free elsewhere. The spending will be used to increase available broadband speeds and provide wireless networks in schools, which are increasingly in demand for students using tablets and laptop computers.

A 2010 survey found that about half the schools receiving E-rate funds connected to the internet at speeds of three megabits per second or less—too slow to stream many video services. The FCC wants to give all schools access to broadband connections of 100 megabits per second by 2015, and connections of up to one gigabit per second by the end of the decade.

School librarians and the Common Core State Standards

The January/February 2014 issue of the AASL’s Knowledge Quest, titled “Beyond the Core,” focuses on what other stakeholders expect from school librarians in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

“Yes, school librarians play an essential role in adoption of CCSS,” said AASL President Gail Dickinson. “School librarians have an important role in any curriculum implementation because it’s not about libraries—it’s about learning.”

Guest editor BJ McCracken, school librarian at Great Falls (Mont.) High School, said, “Whether or not we work in an adopting state, I firmly believe the shift in underlying educational philosophies expressed in the CCSS will create positive ripples throughout all of education. . . . Being able to think critically, find appropriate and accurate information, solve problems, and effectively communicate outcomes are now in the spotlight. This focus on using information effectively is a profound shift.”

Not all states have adopted the CCSS, and not all education professionals in the states that have are convinced of the benefits of the CCSS. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at University of Southern California, feels that the CCSS ignores the real problem in American education. “The Common Core State Standards will continue the process of turning schools into test-prep centers and bleed billions from places the money is badly needed, where it can help protect children from the effects of poverty,” Krashen said in “Beyond the Core.”

Still, among those who are advocates, many recognize the critical role the school librarian plays in helping students meet the standards. Chris Olszewski, director of curriculum and instruction for the Great Falls Public Schools, sees a common vision and a shared set of goals when he compares the focus of school library programs and the overall vision and structure of the CCSS. And April J. Senger, a science instructor at Great Falls High School, turned to her school librarian to develop a collaborative project to enhance an end-of-the-term review unit.

In November 2013, the AASL, in partnership with Achieve, a nonprofit education reform organization, released an action brief titled Implementing the Common Core State Standards: The Role of the School Librarian. The brief was designed not only for school librarians who are supporting higher standards for student learning but also for school leaders as they rethink the role the library should play in a major school initiative. The document provides no-cost takeaways, talking points, action steps, and CCSS implementation examples school librarians can put into practice immediately.

Shaping a new definition of school library spaces

School librarians everywhere are assessing their library spaces and their patrons in order to employ user-based design strategies to improve student learning, provide easier access to resources, and create a more welcoming space for students and teachers. Instead of patrons seeking resources for use elsewhere, school libraries have become places where students and teachers gather to access library resources and create new information spaces that can be shared.

“That the granite walls and marble halls of libraries are breaking down is inarguable,” says AASL President Dickinson in the March/April 2014 issue of AASL’s Knowledge Quest. “As the walls of the library have expanded, so has the job of the librarian. Teachers and students expect assistance nearly 24/7 in whatever tasks they undertake.” The issue focuses on ways to create, adapt, and use student-centered physical and virtual library spaces and includes discussion of learning commons, “maker spaces,” mobile libraries, virtual libraries, and maintaining a quiet space among collaborative learning and multimedia projects.


The State of America's Libraries 2014