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ANOTHER VOICE: Research supports school librarians’ positive impact on student learning

Changes in Oregon law and other trends point to the necessity of licensed school librarians and their positive impact on student learning.

The passage of the Strong School Libraries Act, or Oregon House Bill 2586, means that school districts are required to account for “strong school library programs” in the continuous improvement plans (CIP) that they must submit to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE). A school district must show in its plan that it provides all students and staff in each school equitable access to:

n A comprehensive library program which provides instruction in information literacy and research proficiencies, promotes integration of digital learning resources, advances reading engagement and creates collaborative learning opportunities with teachers; and

n A professionally developed and well-managed school library collection of current and diverse print and electronic resources that supports teaching and learning, college and career readiness, and reading engagement.

Licensed school librarians, sometimes referred to as library media specialists or teacher librarians, positively impact student reading, writing and information literacy skills in K-12 education. Yet, their numbers have dropped at an alarming rate.

Data collected by the Oregon State Library in Salem show that the number of licensed school librarians in Oregon has dropped from 818 full-time equivalent in 1980 to only 144 in 2013. That is an 82 percent decrease.

Conversely, the number of students per librarian has increased significantly. In 1980 there was one librarian per 547 students, compared with almost 4,000 students per librarian in 2013. As a result, some students may never come in contact with a licensed school librarian during their K-12 years.

The sizeable drop in numbers runs counter to the impact of school librarians on learning.

Numerous impact studies point to increased reading and writing test scores when a full-time licensed librarian is employed in schools. A 2012 report entitled “Creating 21st Century Learners: A Report on Pennsylvania’s Schools” found that both reading and writing test scores increase significantly when a full-time licensed librarian is employed at a school.

Furthermore, students at a school with a full-time licensed librarian are nearly three times as likely to score an advanced score on the state’s standardized writing test. An Oregon study, “Good Schools Have School Librarians,” found that if staffing, collections, and funding of library media programs grow, reading scores rise.

As school districts recover from lean budget years, they will need to respond to the Strong School Libraries Act by strengthening their school library programs. In response to the need for more instructional support with the new Common Core Standards, some districts in Oregon are currently bringing back school librarian positions.

Medford School District in Southern Oregon recently posted three job openings for licensed school librarians. More positive changes like this one are needed in all areas of our state.

Ultimately, this issue has to be addressed locally. Community members and parents can play a role in this trend by working with school districts to raise awareness of the importance of strong school libraries. Specifically, they can ask questions about the staffing and programming in their child’s school library.

For example, are the students in your neighborhood school served by a licensed school librarian? What information literacy and research instruction is your child receiving? Ask to review your school district’s response to the CIP. Does the library section match the program you know exists?

For more information about how you can get involved, contact Nancy Sullivan, Oregon Association of School Libraries president, atpresident@oasl.olaweb.org or Penny Hummel, Oregon Library Association president, at phummel.ola@gmail.com, or consult the OASL webpage on this topic (http://bit.ly/1hbxpOm).

Jim Tindall is district librarian and NBC teacher for the North Wasco County School District.

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