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From time to time, Education World reposts articles with important messages. This article, originally posted in 2000, makes a point worth revisiting about the importance of school libraries and librarians.

Last month, site-based management teams at 11 elementary schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan, chose to cut their budgets for the 2000-2001 school year by eliminating the position of school librarian. Did they make the right decision? A new study indicates that what they made was a big mistake! Included: Results of a recent study show that students at schools with strong media centers scored significantly higher on standardized tests than students at schools with less-well-equipped and staffed libraries.

Last month, site-based management teams at 11 elementary schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan, chose to cut their budgets for the 2000-2001 school year by eliminating the position of school librarian. Did they make the right decision? A new study indicates that what they made was a big mistake!

According to a recent study conducted by Colorado's Library Research Service (LRS), students at schools with strong media centers scored significantly higher on standardized tests than students at schools with less-well-equipped and staffed libraries. The results of the study, which examined the relationship between the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) and certain characteristics of school media centers, replicated those of earlier studies conducted in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Alaska.

Those results, detailed in the report How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards, revealed that statistically significant CSAP increases were related to five characteristics of school media centers:

  • Program Development: Test scores increased in direct proportion to the ratio of students to library media center staff and library media center resources.
  • Information Technology: Test scores increased in schools in which networked computers linked library media centers to classrooms and other instructional areas. The percentage of increase was related to the number of computers and the extent to which those computers provided access to library resources, informational databases, and the World Wide Web.
  • Collaboration: Test score increases were directly related to the degree to which library media specialists and teachers worked together and to the amount of time media specialists spent training teachers to use information technology.
  • Flexible Scheduling: Test scores increased when students had greater freedom to visit the library media center on their own and to use media center resources at home.
  • Leadership: Although no direct correlation was found between test scores and the degree of leadership shown by the library media specialist, leadership involvement was found to result in greater collaboration between teachers and media specialists. Greater collaboration resulted in higher test scores.

SUPPORT YOUR SCHOOL LIBRARIAN

Colorado Study Results

A recent study conducted by Colorado's Library Research Service (LRS) found that state achievement test scores

averaged 10 to 15 percent higher in elementary schools and 18 percent higher in middle schools with well-developed library media programs.

averaged 8 percent higher in elementary schools and 18 to 21 percent higher in middle schools when library media specialists collaborated with classroom teachers.

averaged 6 to 13 percent higher in elementary schools and 18 to 25 percent higher in middle schools when networked computers extended the library media center resources into classrooms and other instructional areas.

averaged 13 to 22 percent higher in middle schools in which access to the library media center is scheduled flexibly.

The study also indicated that collaboration between teachers and librarians is more likely when the library media specialist is a school leader.

"What the report shows," Keith Curry Lance, one of the study's authors, told Education World, "is that the most important factor in the school media center is the library media specialist. Almost every school has a media center. It was only in those schools in which library staffing was sufficient to allow for the active participation of library media specialists in curriculum development, student instruction, and teacher education that test scores increased.

"The school media center is not just a place, it's a program," Lance said. "The librarian is the best support classroom teachers could hope to have. [Librarians] can provide educational resources to students and teachers. They can teach teachers how to use informational technology to access additional resources. They can teach information literacy to both teachers and students. They can provide design and support to the curriculum. Eliminating professional school librarians for the purpose of increasing teacher-student ratios in classrooms, for example, handicaps every teacher and is extremely counterproductive."

REPORT RECOMMENDATIONS

The report offers the following recommendations to help school systems maximize the benefits of their school media centers:

  • Fund library media center programs sufficiently to allow for adequate professional and support staff, information resources, and information technology.
  • Institute policies and practices that encourage library media specialists to assume positions of leadership in their schools.
  • Network technology to make media center resources available throughout the school.
  • Institute flexible scheduling wherever possible to allow maximum student access to library media centers.

In addition, according to Lance,

  • principals should visibly support library media specialists.
  • teachers should take advantage of the support and services librarians provide.
  • schools of education should build into their curriculum expectations for introducing pre-teachers to library media center resources.

IS TECHNOLOGY ENOUGH?

A 1994 report on School Library Media Centers, from the National Center for Education Statistics, indicated that although 96 percent of U.S. schools had library media centers, 52 percent of schools did not have a full-time, state-certified librarian. The report revealed that 11 percent of secondary school students and 40 percent of elementary school students attended schools that lacked a full-time, state-certified librarian. According to Julie Walker, executive director of the AASL, not much has changed since that early report. This latest study, for example, found that professionally trained librarians run only about half the elementary school libraries in Colorado.

At a time when school systems are allocating more and more money to technology, it appears that not enough attention is being paid to the important role library media centers and library media specialists play in determining the value of those resources. According to Lance, "The people who think that computers can create a library-less society are the same people who thought computers would create a paperless society. The value of computer network technology is directly related to the extent to which it provides access to all library media center resources. Everything worth knowing isn't on the Internet."

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

School Libraries Work
The school library is critical to the learning experience and student academic achievement. [archived copy]

Benefits of School Libraries
This resource provides a handful of links to excellent resources that describe how school libraries benefit students achievement.

Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 07/11/2000
Last updated 07/14/2010


 

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