As the nation celebrates April as School Library Month, it's a good time to reflect on the essential role that school librarians play in our children's education. A recent study in the state of Washington showed the wisdom of investing in school librarians. As part of the study, Dr. Elizabeth Coker conducted a data analysis of a 40-question survey conducted by the Washington State’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) among 1,486 of the 2,428 K-12 schools in the state.
The results of that study, which was undertaken on behalf of the Washington Library Media Association, were summed up in a report, Certified Teacher-Librarians, Library Quality and Student Achievement in Washington State Public Schools (PDF). Those results showed that students attending schools with certified teacher-librarians perform better on standardized tests and are more likely to graduate. The reason, the report states, is that certified teacher-librarians "are far more likely to be directly involved in teaching curriculum-designed around Common Core standards."
They are also "more likely to use up-to-date library curriculum developed in collaboration with general education teachers." Information technology plays a huge part, since librarians "carry a heavy load of teaching responsibilities focused on information technology; skills that are necessary for success in higher education as well as virtually any profession in today's world."
What this report demonstrates,” said Sharyn Merrigan, president of the Washington Library Media Association, “is that for a small investment in stronger library programs staffed by certified teacher-librarians, the state could reap a windfall in having students primed for college or careers and ready to contribute to society.“
But she had some words of caution as well.
“Yet the state has cut approximately 200 certified teacher-librarians from schools for the past 15 years, and many school districts have eliminated librarians and library programs entirely.”
After all, he said, “Who on staff is teaching information technology? Who on staff is helping teachers how to integrate information technology?” The answer? School librarians, since schools need school librarians to provide teachers with the instruction on how to use new technology.
Along with the legislation with updated language and the recent study, another good sign is that a recent Supreme Court decision ruled that the state’s schools are underfunded. Seasholes hopes that with the state making up for the shortfall in future years, he and others whose positions are funded at half time will become fully funded.
Seasholes, who is the librarian and a teacher at Sanislo Elementary School, a school with a population that is 75 percent free and reduced lunch, said that, in one of its significant findings, the report states, "while high-poverty schools do have worse graduation rates than low-poverty schools, this gap is not inevitable; and one key factor distinguishing high-performing high-poverty schools from low-performing high-poverty schools is a quality library program."
Overall, he said, there is reason to hope, as school librarians are using information technology to rebrand themselves, showing themselves to be an invaluable resource.
Learn more about why school libraries are essential.
Caroline Kennedy, 2013 National Library Week Chair, visits with students and school librarian, Craig Seasholes, at the school library at Sanislo Elementary in Seattle during National Library Week.
Caroline Kennedy visits with students in the school library at Sanislo Elementary School in Seattle during NA]ational Library Week 2013.