Voices in Education

Success for Every Student with Effective School Libraries
If someone asked whether your school has an “effective school library program,” what factors would determine your response? You might say that a well-equipped library space, technology tools, and lots of books equal an effective library. This library may bustle with a full house of students visiting before class. Students and classes visit to borrow books, collaborate in groups, or maybe create robots or sew fabric in the makerspace. High circulation numbers, access to digital devices, and innovative classroom research projects signal that learning is thriving. A useful library website and curation tools guide students’ information needs in the library or anywhere via mobile device. Clerical staff and parent volunteers ensure that the professional librarian’s time is dedicated to student learning, and the school community recognizes the library as the heart of the school.

The constant across the constellation of best practices in today’s school libraries is professional librarians.

They are teachers and collaborators, joining forces with classroom educators to design, instruct, and assess engaging student learning experiences. They’re also leaders at the school level, serving on committees from technology to literacy, and using their school-wide vision to build bridges across subject areas, student needs, and teacher priorities.

As a university educator of school librarians and an editor of a national school library publication, I am an engaged and invested observer in ongoing efforts by school librarians to bring fresh attention to their work implementing new opportunities afforded by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Specific language is included in this legislation regarding “an effective school library program.” According to the American Association of School Librarians (AASL, a division of the American Library Association),

“an effective school library program has a certified school librarian at the helm, provides personalized learning environments, and offers equitable access to resources to ensure a well-rounded education for every student.” (http://essa.aasl.org/aasl-position-statements/)

As I understand the legislation and information that AASL has provided to the profession, ESSA includes language as to provisions—not mandates—for an effective school library program. But provisions equal potential funding, and this is language that resonates with administrators. And indeed, the outcomes that school libraries and librarians offer should resonate with their administrators! For instance, the “personalized learning environment” described above may take the shape of varied student learning products to demonstrate mastery of a curricular goal. This capacity to differentiate teaching and learning is a helpful example to illustrate school librarians’ range of strengths: a depth of knowledge of instructional resources for student learning, understanding of horizontal and vertical curricular maps, and a rich repertoire of tools (at varying levels of complexity) to enable students to ask questions, explore content, and share what they know.

As your district and school work to understand and implement the new ESSA legislation, I encourage you to leverage the expertise of your school librarian. Take this opportunity to learn more about integrating the school library into the academic curriculum, into literacy learning in particular, but across all subject areas. In today’s school libraries, rigorous learning builds students’ digital skills, core subject knowledge, and college and career readiness. Effective library programs are a critical element of today’s effective schools.

About the Author: Rebecca J. Morris is currently teaching as adjunct faculty in courses in school librarianship and youth library services. She is the topic center editor of School Library Connection, a print publication and online PD platform published by ABC-CLIO. She is the author of School Libraries and Student Learning: A Guide for School Leaders (Harvard Education Press, 2015).