Why School Libraries and Librarians Are Important

  • Why School Libraries and Librarians Are Important

    Today's libraries are more than just places to read a book.  Libraries are places where Information Literacy takes place, meaning they're even more critical to our school programs and student achievement.  Students have access to more information than ever before, but do they know how to discern the information being accessed?  The following Patch interview with Judi Paradis, president of the Massachusetts School Library Association, helps explains how librarians are still playing an essential role:

    1.) Why are school libraries and librarians important to students in our public schools?

    School library programs that are professionally-staffed and well-supported provide students and teachers with many resources and advantages that can make a real difference in learning, including:

    • a robust collection of print and nonprint (digital, audio, video) materials that are designed specifically to support the curriculum -- so that students who need support, enrichment or a different learning style can be supported
    • a rich collection of reading materials (and more often schools are also offering free e-books for students with Kindles, ipads, nooks and other e-readers) to ensure that students have lots of choices to entice them to read and become life-long readers
    • an instructional partner for teachers who can help to plan research projects and student learning experiences with an eye toward authentic use of technology, excellent materials aligned to student interests and abilities, and a knowledge of how to design student work that is not apt to be "cut and paste," but instead provides rich learning experiences for students
    • a school leader with knowledge of the curriculum and materials, and a knowledge of the faculty and students ... in this role, the school librarian can be an excellent addition to school committee work, to helping to create a common academic culture in the building, to making connections among students and classrooms, and to providing professional development to teachers -- especially around technology and its use in education

    2.) How do these students suffer, educationally, if librarian positions are cut? 

    There are several good research studies that indicate that schools with strong library programs have a measurable impact on student achievement.  The most recent study data we have from Pennsylvania and New Jersey confirm this.  A large study published in 2012 by the University of Pittsburgh found that reading and writing scores were better for students who had a full-time, certified librarian than for those who did not (Lance, Keith Curry, and Bill Schwarz. How Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in StudentAchievement and Academic Standards. PA School Library Project. N.p., Oct. 2012. Web. 10 June 2013. http://paschoollibraryproject.org/research.)   A study published in 2011 by Rutgers University found that students clearly found that a strong school library program made a significant difference in their ability to use online resources well.  (“The New Jersey Study of School Libraries,” New Jersey Association of School Libraries (NJASL), Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) and “The State of America’s Libraries, 2011,” American Library Associations (ALA) “The State of America’s Libraries, 2012,” American Library Associations (ALA) Young Adult Library Services Organization (YALSA) In Massachusetts, we have no state standards for our school library programs, nor is any state agency responsible for overseeing the status of school libraries in our public schools.  Despite strong research showing a clear advantage for students with school library programs, anecdotal evidence collected by the Massachusetts School Library Association indicates that there is a striking difference in programs from one district to another -- and sometimes there are differences even within a district.  MSLA believes this leads to serious inequities for Massachusetts students. I have attached an infographic with additional information from the NJ library study, and a monograph from Manchester University (Pennsylvania) Library School that provides a comprehensive summary of the current data on school library programs.

    3.) Are school librararian positions any less relevant in 2013 what with the continuing growth of online education and online tutorials?

    MSLA would argue that in today's online environment, school library programs are actually MORE vital.  Students can now find more "information" online than ever -- there really is no reason to have students memorize content -- it is there online for them to find.  This however, leads to the need for students to learn some key skills to manage what exist in this new digital world, and librarians are the teachers well-positioned to teach them skills such as:

    • online searching -- learning the best search engine, database or website to go to in order to efficiently find the information you need (sometimes Google is not best, but we know when it is and when something else is more authoritative or more robust)
    • website evaluation -- how do you know that the information you find is credible?  how can you critically evaluate what you find
    • plagiarism and copyright -- cut and paste is easy, but it is not learning and it is not ethical; how do you show that you've created a product that reflects YOUR new learning; how do you give credit to your source
    • digital citizenship -- we all now have a "digital footprint"; we teach students about online safety and online responsibility
    • using technology to enhance your learning -- what hardware, software, and online tools are going to work best to help you find, share and produce --we keep up with the newest tools and share them with students and teachers
    • online curation -- how do you keep track of your online world?  we can teach students how to use tools to manage and keep track of the most useful online information

    With the advent of the Common Core State Standards now adopted by Massachusetts public schools, there will now be a greater role for school librarians, as the Common Core is asking schools to:

    • use more informational texts, and find texts that are more complex than those used in the past
    • cite multiple sources to show evidence for statements you make in your work
    • use technology to research, create and produce educational products

    It is increasingly common for school librarians to be dual certified in library and information technology--a strong school librarian in an information age is a sensible investment for schools.

    To read the full article, please visit http://swampscott.patch.com/groups/schools/p/school-officials-plan-to-restore-librarian-positions