Of all the topics that I cover in my school library licensure preparation courses, of all the assignments that I require of my future school librarians, none gives me more pause than assessment or evidence-based practice. Assessment of student learning was not a part of my own graduate school library preparation, and it wasn’t a large or memorable part of my teacher preparation coursework as an undergraduate. My prior knowledge is limited – not much for me to tap into except from my days of being assessed as a student and a corollary to the old saw that says you teach like you were taught ergo you assess as you were assessed.
In general, my preservice school librarians are creative beyond measure. They excel at preparing inquiry lessons, shine at collection management, embrace collaboration and co-teaching, craft powerful mission statements, lead makerspace initiatives, redesign-on-a-dime (or less) decrepit physical spaces into cheerful, engaging learning commons, tackle technology, and believe wholeheartedly in the power of reading. They struggle with assessment.
The unchallenged assumptions and conventional wisdom have long asserted qualitatively that libraries and the work of librarians contribute to the greater good and make a difference in people’s lives (Todd, 2007). I knew instinctively that I made a difference in student learning by the exuberance of the kindergartners who burst into the library each morning to check out a new library book independently; by second graders who navigated the nonfiction section self-sufficiently to find books for information; by the third graders who could confidently use spreadsheets to organize information comparing candidates running for office; by the fourth graders who were able to synthesize and draw conclusions from various information sources to predict which teams would be the most successful during March Madness; and by the fifth graders who collaborated and problem-solved to animate crucial scenes from Greek mythology. I knew by the students who would eagerly clamor for the next book in a series or for another book just like Harry Potter and who would delightedly engage me in serious debate as to whether Snape was bad or good. I knew from parents who told me how much their children enjoyed coming to the library or were more interested in reading and by my volunteers who recognized and valued my interactions with students and teachers every day. I knew that as the teacher librarian I was empowering students. I assumed everyone else knew as well.
In light of recent trends to abolish school librarian positions, eliminate the school library district supervisors, substitute clerks for professional school librarians, and assign extra duties to school librarians, assumptions and conventional wisdom no longer hold sway. From my vantage point now as an experienced school librarian and program coordinator preparing school librarians, I can and most definitely do understand, appreciate, recognize, value, endorse, and impart the wisdom of Harada, Yoshina, Zmuda, Kuhlthau, Todd, Loertscher, Tomlinson, Coatney, Donham, and others to my students often and repeatedly. While we can and should still value and collect whenever possible our qualitative data, we must assume it is not enough.
Todd, R.J. (2007). Evidence-based practice and school libraries: From advocacy to action. In Sandra Hughes-Hassell and Violet H. Harada (Ed.), School reform and the school library media specialist (pp. 57-78). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited
Author: Anne Akers
Clinical assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of NC at Greensboro working with school library candidates. Former elementary, middle, and high school librarian in Virginia, Mississippi, and North Carolina.