School Libraries and Student Achievement

School Libraries2There is much attention around the importance of school libraries and advocacy for same. Are we missing the mark?

Do school libraries really make a difference? The answer is no, they don’t.

There is ample evidence of efficacy. See, for example, the fine work has been done by the Library Research Service (LRS) in Colorado in documenting the linkages between school libraries and achievement (see: Many associations also provide access to studies, including the Internatioanl Association of School Librarianship (see:

Now look at the great infographic below, prepared by the LRS to aid advocates.

School Libraries

We are confusing school libraries with teacher-librarians.

What is your issue? There are and will likely always be school libraries, by whatever name we label them this year. They are rooms filled with books and computers, and perhaps staffed by technicians or volunteers.

The impact is derived from the teacher-librarian. Not only that, it is linked to specific teacher-librarian behaviors, viz., collaborating with colleagues around formal teaching and learning and providing informal staff development opportunities for colleagues. This is indeed consistent with studies of behaviors preferred by school principals.

So, if we want to make a difference in advocacy, shouldn’t we dump the rhetoric around school libraries and start advocating for teacher-librarians and insisting on those behaviors for the benefit of student learning? We are all to ready to point fingers at funders while letting teacher-librarians off the hook for doing what really makes a difference.

Added to this of course is the issue that others need to advocate for teacher-librarians as well or it appears as simple self-interest.

As in every other library sector, long-term, thoughtful programs of advocacy need to be developed and implemented to ensure sustainable resources.

About Ken Haycock

Ken Haycock is currently Research Professor of Management and Organization at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, where he coordinates graduate programs in Library and Information Management.

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5 Responses to School Libraries and Student Achievement

  1. Deborah Owen August 12, 2013 at 3:45 am #

    Thank you for this Ken; I agree absolutely. The tools will change constantly. What we must do, as educators, is teach our students the skills they need in order to adapt to whatever new tools they find in front of them. Classroom teachers are inundated with new curriculum demands, which means that school librarians are in the best position to be able to help them – and their students – learn about and practice new information and learning skills regularly. Studies show that this is the difference-maker in measurable student success.

    Also, if the school librarian collaborates with every teacher in the school, then we know that all students are receiving these critical information and learning skills equitably (as opposed to a student being “lucky” and getting the one teacher in the grade who can do this well).

    Time and time again, the school librarian is the glue that holds together all the big goals for the school. Books and teaching fads will come and go (right now, the print books are going), but school communities will always need the librarian to help them wade through and make sense of the ocean of information. It’s time to change our advocacy – with the help of others, as you wisely suggest – to support the role of the librarian, not just the library.

  2. Robert A. Vegar August 13, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Ken, this is a wonderful illustration showing us that yes, school libraries and the librarians who manage them are key to student achievement. I believe in a rather short time frame school administrators will finally catch-up with the exploding information revolution and realize the greatest asset to a school’s community and its success will be centered around librarians and their abilities to provide collaborative resources for the teaching staff. There is absolutely no reason why school administrators are not librarians number one advocates. I find it rather astonishing school administrators are out of touch with this idea. In the meantime, teachers and the rest of our community members must bring the administrators up to speed! Our children’s information literacy depends on it.

  3. Gerald R. Brown August 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Is there a meaningful relationship between school librarians and academic achievement?


    Your question is very significant. I can’t answer it based on in-school experiences today, but I do have observations and perspectives from 1965 to 2013. I would respond to your question … absolutely ‘yes, there is a very significant relationship’ but I don’t know that society would like to hear my observations today.

    From my perspectives in Winnipeg School Division, over the years, it was obvious to me that the Principals with whom I worked, and who understood what we were trying to accomplish through the school library programs, appreciated the changes in their student’s test scores on CTBS, on the increased reading abilities, on the responsiveness of teachers to changing methods and approaches, and on the role of the quality teacher-librarians as leaders on their staff.

    I think that this appreciation came to the fore as the Principals understood what we meant by a Divisional School Library and Information Services (SLIS) PROGRAM. I spent many hours with the administrators helping them grasp the ways in which the teacher-librarian could be an integral part of the teaching and learning team. We worked on how the TL could help the administrators affect the educational changes they wanted to see happen in their curriculum programs. When the focus was on the educational development of the child, and not so much on the facilities or the activities or the show, then we were able to get down to developing serious strategies for teaching and learning, using resources and supportive teacher-librarian staff as leaders and associates.

    In most cases the teacher-librarians we hired came on stream with the Division SLIS program and philosophy. We found it most successful to do a strong staff development training program, so that the TLs felt part of a team working towards a common goal. It was possible to coach individuals who were doing quality activities, and to enable them to present the ideas to their peers. It became peer-helping-peer rather than sage-on-the-stage learning, and it was very successful. The Principals encouraged the staff development programs because they could see the spin off for them, and the feedback from their teachers to the new or different approaches were great endorsements. These were the Principals who became our strongest advocates and public relations voices. It was these Principals that I encouraged to share their success stories at Principals Councils, at Parent Council meetings, and with their Superintendents.

    It was not enough to assume that someone coming on staff with a graduate degree would be able to adapt to the WSD approach. At times, there were conflicts due to the various philosophies from different schools of librarianship instruction. We always encouraged all staff members to share and grow together. These staff development sessions were the glue that bound our program together so strongly. Without time to do the staff induction, training, and continuing support, it would have been relatively impossible to evolve a strong and creditable SLIS program.

    When it came to library staff who didn’t fall in line with the division philosophy, or who came from a training program that had a diverse approach, it soon became apparent that they were more interested in technical services, in cataloguing and re-cataloguing pre-processed book, in fastidious weeding, and moving furniture to make the place look good.

    Before long, the Principals asked for consultative assistance to get the program ‘back on stream’.. If the counseling didn’t work, or the practical field trips weren’t enough to cause a change, and if there was no significant change in the reading scores or the CTBS scores over a few years, then that librarian’s staff time was reduced, and they were encouraged to move to another school or to another field. The Principals wanted the value added services that make the teacher-librarian the leader on their educational team.

    With the help of the Principals and the TL staff, the components of the quality WSD SLIS program evolved, and integration into the classroom teaching and learning program became a very significant part of what we had set out to do. There is no doubt in my mind that when TLs made a professional commitment to helping kids learn how to learn, and helping teachers use cooperative planning, teaching and evaluation techniques, there was significant and measurable achievement across the grades. When the TL was an active promoter of the Children & YA Literature components, and integrated it with the Language Arts teachers curriculum and the Remedial Reading and Resource Teaches programs, we saw important growth among both students and teachers. When we incorporated the Resource-Based Learning modules and Independent Learning Skills components into the SLIS program, and strategically did the training and support programs, the acceptance of the role of the TL among teachers and trustees was awesome. Information Literacy became a guideline for us to balance the various parts of the program. With the implementation of library automation into the libraries, everyone benefited.

    Now with the involvement of Information Technology tools and programs, there is need for a conscientious strategy to help teachers learn how to use the tools appropriately in their classrooms. My observation is that when TLs accepted the technology as another tool in their arsenal to implement the SLIS program, and when they undertook the necessary personal and staff development training to become confident in the application of the tools to the overwhelming amount of software available, then those TLs have had security in their position and success in their programs. When there has been reluctance to adapt to this stream, there have been frequent reductions in professional library staffing. With these reductions, the professional leaders in the library may now be absent, or stretched so far that they cannot be as effective as is needed to adapt to the program changes. Librarian Technicians cannot be expected to perform the role of the TL in implementing the SLIS program. They have a very significant role however in the administrative and operational activities of the libraries resource centres.

    I think there needs to be a re-examination of the total school library and information services program components. Then we need a strong advocacy to project these new views into the current trends in educational change. This may not be enough to combat the testing movement that is currently flourishing, however, I think it could be influential with those school leaders who are educators, and not just administrators. It is imperative that we maintain a strong children and young adult literature reading program through Literary and Cultural Appreciation Programs across the grades, including their oral and written response to literature and the arts. Similarly, it is critical that the independent learning skills continuum be upgraded to relate to the changes that technology can play in providing reference and resource services, and problem solving skills. It seems to me that with these components re-established, it should be possible to show a direct relationship between the SLIS program and academic achievement.

    As teacher-librarians and quality educators, we need to live our lives to the fullest everyday; we need to love what we do with a passion; and we need to work to leave a legacy of learners who will change the world.

    Have a great day.

    Gerald R Brown
    Retired Chief Librarian, Winnipeg School Division, 1965-1992
    Consultant, SLIC, 1992-
    Archivist, Manitoba School Library Association, 1967-
    Honorary Ambassador, International Association of School Librarianship, 1997 –


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