The Role of The School Library
The Legislative Special Commission on School Library Services in Massachusetts was established by the Massachusetts Legislature in July 2014 to look at equity of access to school library programs in our public schools. Underlying the formation of this commission was an understanding that there are many factors to be considered in evaluating a school library program. They include:
- Access to technology
- Staffing (licensing, quality and number of staff members)
- Access to the physical library
- Access to digital and online resources, as well as access to technology devices such as computers and tablets
- Amount of library instruction delivered
- Amount and quality of print and digital materials
The commission supports a series of recommendations backed by data from an extensive survey of school library programs that the commission believes will:
- Guarantee access to school libraries and school librarians
- Ensure access to information resources in school libraries
- Ensure access to information technology
- Ensure access to library instruction and support
- Guarantee access to funding
According to the Massachusetts School Library Study, the DESE “recently revised its educational frameworks in ways that indicate the importance of the skills and resources that are provided by a strong school library program. These standards focus on the need for strong print literacy skills for all students, beginning in the early grades, as well as building technological capacity for all students. Information literacy skills — the ability to find, assess and think critically about information — are now explicitly included in the new Digital Literacy and Computer Science Frameworks.”
More than 60 studies in 22 states show that the levels of library funding, staffing levels, collection size and range and the instructional role of a school librarian all have a direct impact on student achievement.
Findings and Implications
Based on the research and conclusions drawn by Drs. Carol Gordon and Robin Cicchetti, the commission reported that the data indicate equity issues for Massachusetts students. These include:
- Equity of access to professional staff
- Equity of access to the school library
- Equity of access to information digital resources
- Equity of access to information technology
- Equity of access to funding and subsidized resources
- Equity of access to library instruction and help
Data and significant findings reveal a lack of equity, especially for students from urban and rural districts.
Commission members urge the Legislature to work with DESE toward the development of equitable and effective school library programs. Library programs that align with national standards can provide public schools with a cost-effective means to provide all students with significant digital learning support. The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015, recognizes that school libraries provide schools with meaningful literacy support, and federal grants are now available to fund them.
The commission states that access to digital resources through an effective school library program provides a measure that can close the technology gap between high-income, high-performing students, and low-income, low- performing students. In addition, effective school library programs also provide schools with an instructional leader to help coordinate curricular work, maintain a friendly and clean atmosphere, help students find books on shelves, check out books, answer phone calls, print overdue notices, inventory books, give out library passes and display books.