Friday, June 29, 2012

School Libraries and Student Achievement

 In 2008, Scholastic published a compilation of school library researches dubbed as School Libraries Work! This document contains position statements of the National Commission on Library and Information Science of the US and highlights of school library related researches that were conducted in nineteen US states (from Alaska to Colorado; Ohio to Pennsylvania; Missouri to New Mexico) and in one Canadian province (Ontario). Researches conducted by the groups of Lance (2002); Kuhlthau et. al (2004); Smith (2006); Todd (2004, 2005,. 2006) spanning two decades showed similarly remarkable findings. The results of the empirical studies reflect the indispensable value of school libraries contributing greatly to student achievement. The presence of school libraries in the lives of children in grade school and high school levels lead to higher test scores; school library programs and services firm up study skills and research skills; the collaboration between teacher and school librarian leads to authentic learning with in the classroom and outside its four walls. The report further identifies four strong points on the role of school libraries (2008).

a. School libraries have an important role in teaching.

School librarians design programs that support the curricular offerings of the school. From the collection development program to the instructional program, school librarians consult, collaborate and work with teachers and school leaders for the planning and implementation of such. School libraries offer flexible teaching schedules to accommodate individual students, small group and big group classes.

b. School libraries are leading the way for technology use in schools.

School libraries provide information access to all. With this provision comes the technology necessary for students, teachers and school community to use information. Computers with Internet access are present in moodier school libraries. School librarians facilitate the training of these technologies to clients and users.

c. School libraries inspire literacy.

Students learn from the books, computers and resources available in the school library. When they read these resources and learn from them, a host of literacy and numeracy come into play.

d. School libraries don't matter without certified school librarians.

School libraries manned by certified school librarians are more likely to make a difference in the lives of students. The academic requirements and professional experience of certified school librarians prepared them to manage library systems, structures, programs, services in a wide array of technology and different learning styles and needs of students. Certified school librarians are bound by law and moral obligations to fulfill the task, mission, vision and goals of the learning institution.

     The tremendous effect of this research prompted legislators in the US to create a commission on school libraries called National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (June 2007). The commission submitted the following resolution to the US Congress:

a. School libraries be given and provided with up to date resources from print and nonprint materials;

b. School librarians or school library media specialist be given a "highly qualified" classification;

c. Every school library be staffed by a highly qualified, state certified school library media specialist.

         In the UK, Williams, Cole and Wavell (2002) conducted a critical review of literature pertaining to the impact of school libraries on student achievement and learning in primary schools. Evidences to prove and support the positive correlation between school libraries and student achievement were present. The following were identified as factors to learning: teacher and librarian collaboration; quality and variety of collection; adequate funding; flexible provisions of the library’s services and programs; quality and frequency of library input and participation in support of teaching and learning; qualified library staff; standards to enhance effective teaching and learning experiences. 

       The Australian version of the study (Lonsdale,2003) reported the same findings but distinguished the following factors as affective and effective to student achievement and learning: information literacy skills integration in the curriculum and strong computer network connecting the library to the classroom. The study also shows that provision of school libraries lead to an exposure to print rich environment and free voluntary reading. This develops comprehension, grammar, spelling, vocabulary and writing style of students. A positive effect of school libraries in students’ self-esteem, confidence and sense of responsibility for their own learning is indicated as well.

      Indeed, these consistent findings on school library research support the idea that school libraries are fundamental and vital to a learning community. Later, we will hear a paper presentation on the same topic and it will be interesting to see the similarities of the studies.

      Given these research findings and personal testimonies on the power of libraries to transform lives and the potential of school librarians as agents of change, let’s us now look at school library practices, promotion and advocacy, legislation and government initiatives on national level and in the international scene.

School Libraries Transform Lives

      In a recent regional conference in Bacolod by the Rizal Library and the International Association of School Libraries (IASL) last April 27-28, 2012, many school librarians from local private schools presented papers based on research and practices, projects and initiatives which they implement in their respective school libraries. However, a gaping hole was left open by the public school library sector. This is a reflection of the current state of school librarianship in the country. Private school libraries are better funded. Private school librarians have wider exposure to professional learning networks. Despite the revised School Library Guidelines (Order no. 56, s 2011) of the Department of Education that indicates staffing requirements for school libraries and standards of operations to be followed by both sectors, public school library system is faltering.

     Then again, hope floats.

    Collaborative projects between librarians in public and private schools are happening. The Book Mobile project of De La Salle Zobel (Marco, 2011) is aimed at providing books to public school children in the Muntinlupa district. The school librarians of De La Salle Zobel tell stories when the Book Mobile visits a public school. Another De La Salle School, the one in Lipa, Batangas City conducts the same outreach project. The school librarians of De La Salle are cognizant of the literacy values brought by books and reading. They have chosen the public schools in their district who are lacking in reading materials as recipients of their outreach activities. Similarly, the MUNTIPARLAS (Muntinlipa, Paranaque, Las Pinas School Association of School Librarians) conducts regular storytelling sessions and book donations to public schools in the area. By exposing public school pupils and students to books on top of the prescribed textbook readings

     As I mentioned at the start of my presentation, Sambat Trust, a UK charity that assists public school libraries in Tanauan, Batangas by establishing a curriculum and context based library collection is on its seventh school library project. It provides teacher training to public school teachers on literacy activities and basic library operations.

     With the implementation of the K-12 program of the Department of Education this school year, PASLI (Philippine Association of School Libraries, Inc.) organized a forum where school librarians listened, asked questions on the new program. The roles of school librarians were also discussed to prepare the mindset in the successful implementation of the K-12 curriculum. The forum speaker, Dr. Ed Hizon identified three roles of the school librarian in light of the K-12 curriculum. School librarians are library managers, instructional technologists and teachers too. I will flesh out these roles later before the end of my keynote. In the forum, a clamor for a standardized library instruction program where information literacy skills and media literacy are embedded came about. This would be PASLI’s challenge in light of the K-12 program.

     Speaking of library instructional programs, private school libraries like the Ateneo de Manila High School Media Center and the Assumption College Integrated School Libraries continuously update, not only their collection development program, but their instructional program too. The former implements an Information Literacy Skills Program following Kuhlthau's Guided Inquiry paradigm and model of information processing (Cabunagan, 2011). The later, on the one hand, enriches its library instruction program for the elementary grades by subscribing to the Lexile - Academic Enrichment Program of Scholastic. The program helps the school librarians gauge the readability levels of students and matches them with books they can confidently read (Nera, 2011).

    In the international scene, IASL and the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations) reports school library initiatives and activities from different parts of the globe. I am impressed at the speed in which school library associations in Europe, the Americas and progressive countries address issues like transliteracy, Web 2.0 applications, cloud computing and media literacy.

In Portugal, public libraries are creating family reading programs. By coordinating with schools, reading programs for children as young as the toddler age are set up. In Honduras, training for school librarians was designed by Lesley Farmer through a grant. Swedish school libraries are being established through new legislation supporting school library development. Next month, a reading conference cum book festival for children in Thailand, sponsored by the The Knowledge Park, will host librarians from Korea, Malaysia,  Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. A topic of interest in the said conference is on school libraries in the digital age for which, yours truly will present.

Position papers like the School Library Manifesto (IFLA 2002) and the "A Library for Every School" proclamation (IFLA, 2010) serves as guide for practicing school librarians in the field. The manifesto contains the mission, vision and goals of the school library for which, on top of local and national standards, can be used as a set of principles to anchor school library practice on. The UNESCO's white paper on the Literacy Decade (2003 - 2013) explains the contribution of the school library in actualizing the provision of the right to read and the access of information to all. Another document which school librarians will find informative and helpful would be the new Media Literacy Curriculum by the UNESCO. In light of all the talk, discussion and belief in providing literacy opportunities for all ages, gender and race, technology is one area where school librarians are expected to use as a tool and manage as an environment. I have not entirely read the Media Literacy Curriculum handbook, but this is one document every school librarian must read and examine. If anything, such developments in the practice of school librarianship need further analysis.

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