School librarians are a significant part of the educational experience we offer our students. They provide collaborative, engaging learning environments full of information for our kids. They are a wealth of knowledge on the books they have available, easily able to recommend and direct kids toward their next great read. They develop positive relationships with the kids during their tenure at a school, often being the only staff members who engage with every single kid (Easley, 2017). They are vital to student growth, as evidenced in 34 state studies that have shown direct correlations between librarian staffing and student achievement scores (Lance & Kachel, 2018). And, despite all this, they are often the first staff members to be let go when budget cuts are made.
To me, that’s shocking. Fully certified librarians are incredible resources, not just for our students, but for us teachers as well. They provide incredible support and opportunities for educators to bring in 21st century learning, new tools and technology, high-quality literature, and digital resources into our classrooms… effectively. Because when a librarian, one who is truly passionate about the work they do, partners with a teacher, you are not just getting a giant list of resources in your inbox. You are getting a living, breathing person who will guide you through those resources, help you integrate them into a unit or lesson, and follow up with you to ensure it’s going well. It’s powerful, meaningful, and truly priceless.
There are many roles that librarians take on, and they each have a unique way of influencing student learning and achievement. A common misconception is that librarians simply catalog, order, and check out books to students and staff. And that’s just not true.
Librarians are so much more than the keepers of books. They provide instruction, whether it be co-teaching with a staff member or on their own, provide professional development, especially with new digital resources, serve on leadership committees, vet digital content and new literature, provide technology support and assistance with integration, foster reading appreciation through incentive programs, and so much more. There really is no limit to what librarians are able to do in a school building, and they devote time and energy to ensure it is done well.
The training a librarian goes through is intense. They are highly qualified individuals, unable to obtain a position without a Master’s degree in library science. Through this, they must demonstrate their proficiency at several core competencies, which include the history of libraries & human communication, library & information management, planning information literacy programs, instructional methods for literacy & research, and much more. Librarians come to our schools well-trained, passionate, and ready to help our students succeed. They often bring with them a fierce love of literature and information, and are willing to share that excitement with all who enter their library.
With the evolution of information, and the readiness we experience with the internet and Google, the necessity of a librarian comes into question more frequently. While some may assume that our cell phones provide us with plenty of access and that renders librarians less useful, the research shows exactly the opposite. In a study done in Kansas from 2004-2009, it was shown that when librarian’s hours were decreased or eliminated, a negative effect on student achievement resulted (Dow, Lakin, & Court, 2012). In fact, having a full-time librarian on staff showed significantly higher scores in all five core-subject areas, as illustrated by the chart below. So not only do librarians have the expected positive effect on reading and writing, but they also promote higher math scores as well. In a 2015 study in Washington, it was also found that certified librarians predict higher math scores in both elementary and middle schools (Lace & Kachel, 2018). Colorado, Pennsylvania, and the National Center for Education Statistics, among others, have all done similar studies and found the same result.
These studies, especially those that are more contemporary, have also taken into account the demographic and socioeconomic status of the schools involved. This, to me, is an incredibly important, if not the most important, piece of the argument for school librarians. Statistically, students in poverty, especially students of color, are less likely to read, consistently score lower on standardized tests, and are subject to systematic limitations of their success. The study done in Kansas showed that in high poverty schools, if they had certified, full-time librarians, students showed significantly higher academic proficiency (Dow, Lakin, & Court, 2012). In these schools, librarians provided so much more than just access to books. They partnered with teachers and specialists to provide useful programming, access to technology, and comfortable learning environments. Another study done in Pennsylvania showed that students in subgroups deemed ‘at risk’ benefited more than all other students combined (Lance & Schwarz, 2012). The reading and writing scores of African Amercian, Latinx, and students with disabilities showed marked improvement, and where there was more access, more staff, and greater varieties of material, the academic gains were even more significant. This tells us that where there are high-quality educators, including school librarians, students living in poverty are more likely to overcome these incredible challenges and become more academically proficient.
As education evolves, it’s becoming more personalized for our students. Concepts of voice and choice are becoming more prevalent in our schools because they have been shown to increase student engagement and deepen learning (Dabrowski & Marshall, 2018). The rise in personalized learning provides unique opportunities for our librarians. Due to their expertise at curating digital resources, they are able to ensure that student interests are accounted for while supporting their growth in research, literacy, and writing. This alone demonstrates the integral role highly-qualified librarians play in helping our students become more independent learners. It’s important that we allow room for choice, and librarians can help us maintain quality resources for all choices. Outside of digital content, school librarians can develop a collection of literature that is reflective of our students’ experiences, lives, cultures, and preferences. Because they maintain positive relationships with students throughout their careers at a school, they are able to build collections that allow our kids to make real connections and help them see themselves within the books they read. We all know how important this is, especially as we try to cultivate a lasting love of reading.
School librarians play a pivotal role in our buildings and in the education of the students they serve. They partner with teachers, administrators, and students themselves to provide access to technology, literature, and credible information. Their influence on our lives cannot be diminished. They are, and should always be, a fixture in our schools.
Dabrowski, J. & Marshall, T. R. (2018). Motivation and engagement in student assignments: The role of choice and relevancy. The Education Trust, 1-16. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED593328.pdf
Dow, M.J., Lakin, J.M., & Court, S.C. (2012). School librarian staffing levels and student achievement as represented in 2006–2009 Kansas annual yearly progress data. Research Journal of the American Association of School Librarians, 15. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ994364.pdf
Easley, M. (2017). Personalized learning environments and effective school library programs. Knowledge Quest, 45(4), 16-23. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1136309.pdf
Lance, K.C. & Kachel, D.E. (2018). Why school libraries matter: What years of research tell us. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(7), 15-20. https://doi.org/10.1177/0031721718767854
Lance, K.C. & Schwarz, B. (2012, October). How Pennsylvania school libraries pay off: Investments in student achievement and academic standards. PA School Library Project. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED543418.pdf
(2019). School librarian career guide. Teacher Certification Degrees. Retrieved from https://www.teachercertificationdegrees.com/careers/school-librarian/