Not to be confused with library school.
A school library (or a school library media center) is a library within a school where students, staff, and often, parents of a public or private school have access to a variety of resources. The goal of the school library media center is to ensure that all members of the school community have equitable access "to books and reading, to information, and to information technology." A school library media center "uses all types of media... is automated, and utilizes the Internet [as well as books] for information gathering." School libraries are distinct from public libraries because they serve as "learner-oriented laboratories which support, extend, and individualize the school's curriculum... A school library serves as the center and coordinating agency for all material used in the school."
Researchers have demonstrated that school libraries have a positive impact on student achievement through the more than 60 studies that have been conducted in 19 U.S. states and one Canadian province. The major finding of these studies was that students with access to a well-supported school library media program with a qualified school library media specialist, scored higher on reading assessments regardless of their socio-economic statuses. In addition, a study conducted in Ohio revealed that 99.4% of students surveyed believed that their school librarians and school library media programs helped them succeed in school. A report that reported similar conclusions was compiled by Michele Lonsdale in Australia in 2013.
History of school libraries
Library services to schools have evolved since the late 1800s from public or state library book wagons to informal classroom collections to what we know today.. The later part of the 19th century marked the beginning of the modern American library movement with the creation of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1876 by a group of librarians led by Melvil Dewey. At these beginning stages of development, the school libraries were primarily made up of small collections with the school librarian playing primarily a clerical role.
Dewey wrote that "a broad conception at the end of the century of the work of the schools is simply this, to teach the children to think accurately, with strength and with speed. If it is in the school that they get their start, then where do they get their education?"
1920 marked the first effort by the library and education communities to evaluate school libraries with the publication of the Certain Report, which provided the first yardstick for evaluating school libraries.
By the 1940s, 40% of schools indicated the presence of classroom collections. Around 18% reported having centralized libraries. City schools reported 48% and rural schools reported 12%. School libraries experienced another major push following the launch of Sputnik in 1957, which forced the United States to re-evaluate its priorities for math and science education. NDEA was a response to Sputnik and Title III of NDEA provided financial assistance for strengthening science, mathematics, and modern foreign language . As a result, the 1960s were one of the greatest periods of growth and development for school libraries due to an increased flow of money and support from the private sector and public funding for education. Most notable during this time was the Knapp School Libraries Project which established model school library media centers across the country. Hundreds of new school libraries were expanded and renovated during this time.
Most recently, school libraries have been defined by two major guidelines documents: Information Power (1988) and Information Power II (1998).
Globally important mission statement is the Unesco School library Manifesto, which states: "The school library provides information and ideas that are fundamental to functioning successfully in today’s information and knowledge-based society. The school library equips students with life-long learning skills and develops the imagination, enabling them to live as responsible citizens" (para. 1).
The purpose of the school library
School library media centers in the 21st century can, and should be, hubs for increased student achievement and positive focused school reform--Kathleen D. Smith 
The school library exists to provide a range of learning opportunities for both large and small groups as well as individuals with a focus on intellectual content, information literacy, and the learner. In addition to classroom visits with collaborating teachers, the school library also serves as a learning space for students to do independent work, use computers, equipment and research materials; to host special events such as author visits and book clubs; and for tutoring and testing.
School libraries function as a central location for all of the information available, and a school librarian functions as the literary map to the resources and materials found within the library.
A school library functions as an opportunity for educators to work with librarians in support of a resource center for the students to be able to safely access the internet for both school work and interacting with each other. In her article, "Tag! You're It!": Playing on the Digital Playground, De las Casas discusses how today's youth is much more comfortable with technology than ever before, and believes that “We need to advocate for regulations and laws that support education of young people rather than simply limiting their access to the Web.”
The school library media center program is a collaborative venture in which school library media specialists, teachers, and administrators work together to provide opportunities for the social, cultural, and educational growth of students. Activities that are part of the school library media program can take place in the school library media center, the laboratory classroom, through the school, and via the school library's online resources.
In Australia school libraries have played a major role in the success of Reading Challenge programs initiated and funded by various State Governments.
The Premier's Reading Challenge in South Australia, launched by Premier Mike Rann (2002 to 2011) has one of the highest participation rates in the world for reading challenges. It has been embraced by more than 95% of public, private and religious schools.
The school library collection
School libraries are similar to public libraries in that they contain books, films, recorded sound, periodicals, realia, and digital media. These items are not only for the education, enjoyment, and entertainment of all members of the school community, but also to enhance and expand the school's curriculum.
Staffing of the school library
In many schools, school libraries are staffed by librarians, teacher-librarians, or school library media specialists or media coordinators who hold a specific library science degree. In some jurisdictions, school librarians are required to have specific certification and/or a teaching certificate.
The school librarian performs four leadership main roles: teacher, instructional partner, information specialist, and program administrator. In the teacher role, the school librarian develops and implements curricula relating to information literacy and inquiry. School librarians may read to children, assist them in selecting books, and assist with schoolwork. Some school librarians see classes on a "flexible schedule". A flexible schedule means that rather than having students come to the library for instruction at a fixed time every week, the classroom teacher schedules library time when library skills or materials are needed as part of the classroom learning experience.
In the instructional partner role, school librarians collaborate with classroom teachers to create independent learners by fostering students' research, information literacy, technology, and critical thinking skills.
As information specialists, school librarians develop a resource base for the school by using the curriculum and student interests to identify and obtain library materials, organize and maintain the library collection in order to promote independent reading and lifelong learning. Materials in the library collection can be located using an Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC). Often these catalogs are web-based from which students can gain access both at school and from home.
This role also encompasses many activities relating to technology including the integration of resources in a variety of formats: periodical databases; Web sites; digital video segments; podcasts; blog and wiki content; digital images; virtual classrooms, etc. School librarians are often responsible for audio-visual equipment and are sometimes in charge of school computers and computer networks.
Many school librarians also perform clerical duties. They handle the circulating and cataloging of materials, facilitate interlibrary loans, shelve materials, perform inventory, etc.
Notable school librarians:
Notes and references
- ^The goals of the school library program should support the mission and continuous improvement plan of the school district.Standards for the 21st Century Learner
- ^Morris, B. (2013). Administering the school library media center. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. (p.32).
- ^Morris, 2013, p.32
- ^Todd, R., Kuhlthau, C., & OELMA. (2014). Student Learning through Ohio School Libraries : The Ohio Research Study. Available online at: http://www.oelma.org/studentlearning/
- ^Lonsdale, M. (2013). Impact of school libraries on student achievement: A review of the research. Camberwell, Victoria, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research. Available online at http://www.asla.org.au/site/DefaultSite/filesystem/documents/research.pdf
- ^Dewey, M. (1920). What a library should be and what it can do. In A. E. Bostwick (Ed.). The library and society: Classics of American librarianship (pp. 75-78). New York: H.W. Wilson.
- ^Charles C. Certain Committee. (1986). Standard library organization and equipment for secondary schools of different sizes. In Melvil M. Bowie (Comp.), Historic Documents of school libraries (pp.34-51). Littleton, CO: Hi Willow Research and Publishing. (Original work published 1920, Chicago: American Library Association)
- ^Michie, Joan S., et al. "Fifty Years of Supporting Children's Learning: A History of Public School Libraries and Federal Legislation from 1953 to 2000. NCES 2005-311." (March 1, 2005): ERIC, EBSCOhost (accessed March 1, 2018).
- ^Boardman, Edna (September–October 1994). "The Knapp School Libraries Project: The Best $1,130,000 Ever Spent on School Libraries". Book Report. 13 (2): 17–19. ISSN 0731-4388. ERIC # EJ489785.
- ^American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1998). Information power: Guidelines for school library media programs. Chicago: American Library Association.
- ^American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1998). Information power: Building partnerships for learning. Chicago: American Library Association.
- ^Smith, K. (2002). "Building Student Learning Through School Libraries." Statement delivered at the White House Conference on School Libraries, available from: http://www.imls.gov/news/events/whitehouse_3.shtm
- ^Morris, 2004
- ^Felmley, D. (2010). How far should courses in normal schools and teachers’ colleges seek to acquaint all teachers with the ways of organizing and using school libraries?. Journal of Proceedings and Addresses of the Forty-Sixth Annual Meeting Held at Cleveland, Ohio, 1087-1095. Doi:10.1037/e597422010-207
- ^De las Casas, D. (2010). “Tag! you're it!”: playing on the digital playground. Knowledge Quest, 39(1), 80-82.
- ^Morris, 2004
- ^Center for National Policy, Washington DC, What States Can Do, May 2, 2012
- ^Morris, 2004; Thomas, M. J. & Perritt, P.H. (2003, December 1). A Higher standard: Many states have recently revised their certification requirements for school librarians. School Library Journal. Available online at http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA339562.html?industryid=47056
Lately I've noticed the same question coming up again and again: are school libraries still necessary? It started the other day on my state's listserv. Someone was asking for ideas because their district is going to have only one certified librarian for the entire district during the next school year. Yesterday, I saw the question being asked on Twitter. When I did a news search on school libraries today, I saw much of the same. School libraries are facing cuts at an alarming frequency.
The idea of cutting school library funding isn't exactly new. When I started working on my Library Media degree several years ago, library advocacy was a huge topic of discussion in every class I took. It's really no mystery how I feel about this subject. I absolutely believe that school libraries are a critical component for schools in the 21st Century.
But everything's online now, right?
Yes. And no. I'd venture to say there's very little information you can't find online. At the risk of revoking my library card (a little librarian humor), I will admit that even I vastly prefer finding factual information online. So if the information is freely available, and kids know how to use computers, research should be a no-brainer, right? Wrong.
Let's think about this logically. When I was a kid, there was a lot of information available in a library. Granted, not as much as what's available online today, but still a lot of information.
What if someone just turned me loose to research a topic without any guidance, just because I knew how to read? I would have no idea where to look for the kind of book I needed, so I would have to wander around browsing every book. That method may be effective, in that I would eventually find what I was looking for, but it is far from efficient.
Think about that in today's terms. Yes, there's a ton of information out there. Yes, most students have a basic understanding of how to use the Internet (although not as proficiently as you might imagine).
Do they know how to distinguish between factual information and someone's opinion? How about acceptable use - citing sources, asking for permission to use someone else's photos, etc.? Not so cut and dry. In my library lesson plans this year, I asked my 4th and 5th grade students to evaluate some websites. I found out that we have a lot of work to do in this area.
Librarians to the Rescue!
These situations are perfectly suited for what librarians have been trained to do. We can help students find and evaluate information, which is a critical skill in the 21st Century. Now you may be thinking, "My librarian doesn't do that." My response to you would be, "It's probably because he/she does not have the opportunity."
As you can see from my crazy schedule, the school librarian's job has evolved into a hodgepodge of responsibilities that may or may not be centered around teaching 21st Century skills to our students. While I'm a team player and very thankful for my job, I'm also very concerned about our students' preparedness for their working world - a place that will likely look much different than we can even imagine.
OK, so we can research in a computer lab. There's no need for fiction books because everyone reads e-books, right?
I found this interesting statistic on the Library Research Service website: only 23% of Americans read an e-book in the past year. Despite the technology all around us, people still enjoy reading paper books. Such reading is particularly important for the youngest students, who are still learning to turn pages, read text from left to right, and look at colorful pictures.
I believe there's a place for hard copy books and a place for e-books. I like to read them both. The idea that everyone is reading e-books is just not realistic.
So I'm still undecided: Are school libraries still necessary?
If you want to train students how to effectively and efficiently use information, yes. If you want to help students fall in love with reading, yes. If you just want to churn out students who can answer more questions correctly on standardized tests... Yes! Check out this infographic on School Libraries and Student Achievement.
Your school librarian is an awesome resource. When given the appropriate time and resources, your school library program can soar. In the words of Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow, "Don't just take my word for it." Check out the comments from real school librarians below.
School librarians, It's your time to shine! If you could share one thing with a principal or administrator who wants to know the answer to the question, "Are school libraries still necessary?", what would you say? Share with us in the comments!
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