Library media centers are the social learning institutions of our schools. Students are free to work together to discover and construct information, using a plethora of print and digital resources. Research proves that there is a direct correlation between valuable school library media centers and student performance. Higher student performance can be achieved through improvement in number of faculty and staff in the library, the amount of library-centered instruction, the collaboration between librarians and teachers in curriculum development, and more current, diverse library resources.
Faculty and staff are a huge factor in the success of school libraries. The type and number of staff can seriously deplete the media center’s resource capabilities and individual attention to patrons. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction organized a study of Wisconsin school library media centers in an online survey from May and June of 2005. The study’s findings were compiled from the data of 505 elementary library programs, 250 middle school programs, and 288 high school programs (Smith, 2006, p. 1). According to results, 25% of elementary, 38% of middle, and 49% of high schools lacked certified library media specialists (Smith, 2006, p. 2). This means that aides without Library Science degrees run more than half of school libraries in Wisconsin. In the words of Todd and Gordon of Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries,
“School librarians bring pedagogical order and harmony to a multi-media clutter of information by crafting challenging learning opportunities, in collaboration with classroom teachers and other learning specialists, to help learners use the virtual world, as well as traditional information sources, to prepare for living, working, and life-long learning in the 21st century” (Todd & Gordon, p. 1).
Lacking library media specialists gravely inhibits students’ learning potential in and out of the school library. Aides and volunteers have limited knowledge of how to run a library and how to assist students in projects and research, let alone teachers in their curricula.
On the flipside, between 11% and 13% of Wisconsin school libraries operate without any kind of library aides (Smith, 2006, p. 2). It is nearly impossible for a librarian to run a library and hold events and programs by herself, including teaching research classes. Paid library aides can cover the circulation desk, freeing up the librarian to teach more classes and give one-on-one instruction. Most libraries have volunteers, whether adults or students, but these volunteers have limited abilities in terms of projects and programs due to their lack of library science training and experience. However, they are invaluable when it comes to the everyday running of the library. Volunteers help shelve books, check in / out books, answer ever-present directional questions, and can aid in reader’s advisory. The more faculty and staff a library has, the more programs and projects it can implement for its patrons.
Staff availability is another constant issue in school media centers. Students usually do their homework after school. If library media specialists are available for a few hours after school, students can gain more individualized attention on research questions and technology / resource instruction. In addition, many parent volunteers have more availability after school. A school librarian who stays late can facilitate after-school programs and events, utilizing those volunteers to improve what the library has to offer.
The school library learning environment is a give-and-take process. This process is clearly broken down in the Model of the School Library as a Dynamic Agent of Learning by Ohio School Libraries. This model shows the school librarian as information-learning specialist and curriculum partner-leader within the school library as information place and knowledge space, encircling the Formational / Informational / Transformational spaces of the library (“Impact Studies”, 2010). The library media specialist and the media center function to provide information resources, technology infrastructure, reading resources, reading engagement, information literacy, and technological literacy directly to the Formational sphere, encompassing student expectations and achievement (“Impact Studies”, 2010). In effect, these resources and instruction will lead to “knowledge creation, use, production, dissemination, values, and reading literacy” (“Impact Studies”, 2010). Especially in the age of technology, school library media centers must be able to provide instruction on research, reading services, and technology programs, as well as how to use them to create and build on knowledge across the disciplines. This process can be improved through teacher-librarian collaboration on curricula.
Librarians have been specially trained in research skills. Though many teachers know this, they do not realize that a librarian is a precious tool in curriculum development. Library media specialists in particular possess a toolbox of lesson planning websites and project resources for all disciplines. Not only does a good school librarian have books and subscriptions to databases that aid in curriculum development / implementation, she has access to lesson materials through interlibrary loan and a variety of websites. “Well stocked libraries, managed by a qualified school librarian, who actively promotes literacy and coordinates resources, provide the essential infrastructure for developing literacy” (Todd & Gordon, p. 5). Librarian-teacher curriculum collaboration is part of the library media specialist job description. Teachers should take advantage of all resources available for the sake of their teaching units and for the sake of their students. Sharing teaching materials is the key to effective instruction; students and administrators do not care where the lesson materials and / or ideas come from, only that they improve student performance.
Current, diverse resources and technology can be the difference between an effective library media center and a dismal one. Resource and collection developments are riddled with budget issues, but there are ways around this. Subscription databases frequently offer free trials. An interlibrary loan program can offer many more resources and little to no cost. Grants are always waiting for applicants. Even on a small budget, a resourceful librarian will be able to provide her students with most of the resources necessary to prosper. However, each population is different and librarians must remember to tailor their collections to the needs of the instructors and the student body.
For students to perform admirably, school library media centers must epitomize a successful learning environment. Qualified library staffing and availability are necessary for students’ individualized attention. An efficient library, and its staff, function as the central learning environment of the school in which students are guided through processing and manipulating information. Teachers and librarians must collaborate for students to receive the best instruction. Developing library resources around the school’s specific population is a must. School library media centers are the foundation of student literacy, urging students’ reading, writing, and thinking skills to flourish through instruction, cooperation, and investigation.
Impact Studies. (2010). In Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved fromhttp://cissl.rutgers.edu/impact_studies.html.
Smith, E. G. (2006). Student learning through Wisconsin school library media centers. In 2006 School Library Media Study. Retrieved from http://dpi.state.wi.us/imt/lmsstudy.html.
Todd, R. J., & Gordon, C. A. (2010). School libraries now more than ever: A position paper of The Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. In Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from http://cissl.rutgers.edu/.
- Link found between spending on libraries and student learning (scienceblog.com)
- Link found between spending on libraries and student learning (sciencenewsline.com)
- Link found between spending on libraries and student learning (eurekalert.org)
- The School Library Media Specialist: Program Administration (eduscapes.com)
- 23 Studies Find Positive Link Between Library Spending and Student Learning (newswise.com)