We know there’s a connection. Many state studies have made that connection. Just doing a basic Google search: impact of school library media centers on academic achievement, provides links to well-researched articles about numerous studies making a powerful connection. According to an ERIC Digest article summarizing work by Keith Curry Lance and others, over the last 50 years there have been about 75 studies. How many studies do we need?
Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the ERIC Digest:
- Many early studies of this topic demonstrate the value of the mere presence of a professionally trained and credentialed library media specialist.
- In all four states, the level of development of the LM program was a predictor of student performance. In all four states, data on staffing levels correlated with test scores. In Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon, additional data on collections and expenditures were predictive of reading scores. Where LM programs are better staffed, better stocked, and better funded, academic achievement tends to be higher.
I’m not going to attempt an in-depth examination of these articles or studies. There are already excellent resources that do that. I just got to thinking, given the preponderance of evidence, why are there schools with insufficient library resources and staffing?
I’m going off on a tangent now. Bear with me. Hopefully I can tie the ends together.
Lately I’ve been reading articles and blogs about the value of project based learning. While I certainly agree, I’ve also seen problems. Equity is an issue with this style of learning/teaching. If you have a teacher who’s good at it students can really fly. What about the teachers who are not so good at it? What about students who have a learning style that’s incompatible? A classroom can be in a state of apparent chaos and still have a huge amount of learning present. Another classroom is simply in turmoil. What’s an administrator to do? Turning to a standard textbook-based curriculum, taught by all teachers in the school, seems to be an obvious answer. Does this meet the needs of all the students?
Looking back at the original topic, I can see some parallels. There is no specific media center curriculum available. Almost everything that happens by way of instruction in the library is essentially project based. Teaching students how to do research when they have nothing to research is a waste of everyone’s time. There are many aids for teacher librarians such as books to read, games to play, etc. (sounds like another post) but connecting information literacy skills with work already happening in the classroom is much more powerful. In fact, the studies show that the amount of collaboration between classroom teachers and media specialists is a factor in student achievement.
For administrators the view can be unsettling. How do they measure student achievement? What is the librarian doing that makes a difference? How much support staff is needed to free up the media specialist for collaboration? How much time should be given to collaboration and what should the collaboration look like? What should the per student budget be for books and other resources to ensure improved student achievement? There aren’t any formulas and there isn’t a curriculum. What should they do?
Here’s another parallel. The availability of technology is also a factor. “Technology is an essential part of a successful L[ibrary] M[edia] program.” Why is it a factor? What needs to happen in the culture of a school for the benefits of technology to be maximized? Where’s the technology curriculum?
Now that I put all these things together, it’s no wonder that schools are struggling with 21st century learning. We are asking educators…teachers, media specialists, and administrators…to become comfortable in an unstructured world. We’re asking them to look at students as individuals and to find the teaching style and resources that works best with each individual. We know it can be done. It’s not as unstructured as it looks. There are connections and we have to find those connections. How do we do that? Could the media center be the base for the unstructured structure needed to help our students be successful?