These are trying times for libraries, and librarians, in the K–12 space. School districts across the country are struggling with library closures and layoffs—in Washington, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, to name just a few.
ALA’s “State of America’s Libraries 2019” reports, “There are 90,400 public and private schools for grades kindergarten through high school in the United States. Of those, 82,300 (91%) have school libraries and only 56,000 (61%) have full-time librarians.” Those librarians are crucial: “Students in high-poverty schools are almost twice as likely to graduate when the school library is staffed with a certified school librarian.” ALA also notes that “[c]utbacks in school librarians may be yielding unintended consequences. According to a recent study by Stanford University, more than 80% of middle schoolers cannot tell the difference between sponsored content and a real news article.”
Debra Kachel and Keith Curry Lance wrote for Phi Delta Kappan in 2018, “Since 1992, a growing body of research known as the school library impact studies has consistently shown positive correlations between high-quality library programs and student achievement. … Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs.” Additionally, “when administrators, teachers, and librarians themselves rated the importance and frequency of various library practices associated with student learning, their ratings correlated with student test scores, further substantiating claims of libraries’ benefits.” Kachel and Lance wrote that more recent studies show that strong school libraries are linked to other student success indicators, such as graduation rates.
The main reasons for school library closings tend to be budget cuts and a lack of awareness of the value of the library, and especially the librarian, by school principals, parents, and funding organizations. Children currently live in a world in which fake news is rampant, Google dominates research efforts, and there is almost too much information to digest. Author Neil Gaiman referenced the challenge of information overload, stating, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”
ALA and AASL on the Front Lines
Jim Neal, past ALA president and founder of the ALA Policy Corps, reinforces why libraries and librarians are critical to student success in a 2018 American Libraries article: “We all want students who know how to look for information, evaluate sources, organize research results, present ideas and conclusions, and document their work. These are lifelong skills. They strengthen communities and promote civic engagement. They enrich lives. They transform learning. They enable public libraries and academic libraries to be more effective.”
School librarians are educators too, and as Mary Keeling, 2019–2020 president of the American Association of School Libraries (AASL), says, “Teachers are more likely to rate library resources highly when the librarian collaborates with the teacher community.”
Kathryn Roots Lewis, past president of AASL and a former classroom teacher and librarian at all levels, shares the importance of collaboration in a press release: “School librarians across our country make a profound difference in the lives of learners by empowering them to explore ideas, craft compelling questions, find information, inquire, tinker, invent, create new knowledge, think deeply, and read voraciously. These are important times that require us to work together to make school library programs relevant in every learner’s life.”
According to “Requirements for School Librarians: A State-by-State Summary,” “There is no federal constitutional requirement for school districts to provide school libraries or librarians. Each individual state, therefore, has the discretion to pass legislation and regulations allowing school libraries to be established, operated and maintained in schools.”
Nongovernment and State and Federal Resources
Several initiatives are attempting to help school libraries, including Neal’s ALA Policy Corps, which works with state and federal legislatures to promote the value of libraries and librarians, and hence, library funding. Others include The Case for a National Library Endowment and EveryLibrary’s Save School Librarians. EBSCO Information Services provides the following list of nongovernment and state and federal funding sources:
State & Federal Resources