Data-Driven Decisions = School Librarians

Graphic: On the left, a data-filled report examined through a magnifying glass, and a group of people examining a line graph with several high and low points; in the center, a red equals sign; on the right, a school librarian prepares to scan two books, and to her left, a male librarian holds several books and smiles.School Libraries on the Chopping Block

New Jersey (and many other states) require public schools provide a “thorough and efficient education”. Numerous studies find that students achieve improved outcomes at schools with a full time librarian. And school librarians offer the best return-on-investment available in public education. Therefore, a thorough and efficient education should include a school librarian. Data-driven decisions about schools should include or add, not remove, school librarians. 

And yet, school librarians across my state lost their positions in a unexpected and unpleasant wave recently.

A district near my home proposed cutting their high school librarian’s position from full time to part time (50%). During the public comments of the meeting where the board proposed this idea, I shared a statement focused on the data of school librarianship. I later emailed a copy to the board and the school administrators so they could access the articles I referenced. 

If you find this statement or any of its parts helpful, please use it. 

The Email

Dear Elected Officials & School Administrators: 

I am writing to share with you the text of a statement I read at the May 21, 2024 school board meeting. It outlines some of the data that supports the proposition that having a full-time school librarian in a school is an educationally and fiscally responsible decision. 

Thank you for your time, and I trust that you will make the logical decision to retain your high school’s librarian as a full-time employee. 

Yours in Education, 

Dr. Steven Tetreault, M.Ed., Ed.D., M.I.

The Statement

Members of the Board:

I am Dr. Steven Tetreault. As a 26 year veteran educator with a doctorate in educational administration and supervision, I come to you to share some important information. As data-driven decision makers, I trust you will take into account the data on the effects school librarians have on schools. 

Impacts of School Librarians

Keith Curry Lance is a researcher who for years has gathered and analyzed data about how school librarians impact student outcomes. Back as far as 2011, Lance found that schools with librarians had students with higher reading scores. This finding held true across socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and English language proficiency. In other words, a full-time school librarian benefits all the students in the school. 

In the same study, Lance also found that when schools lost librarians, their students’ reading scores declined. The most noticeable decline occurred among English Language Learners, often referred to as ELL students. In other words, students suffered when a school lost its librarian; and the ones who suffered the most were the students most in need of literacy assistance. 

School Libraries Improve Equity

Nor is Lance the only researcher to unearth such data. Work by Elizabeth Coker in 2015 and John Horrigan in 2016 found that students who most need access to materials and equity of service – particularly students from economically-disadvantaged families – have markedly better scholastic outcomes when they have access to a school library with certified staff.

There are many more researchers and studies that have found positive correlations between student outcomes and schools with librarians; as well as studies that have found negative correlations between student outcomes and schools that lose their librarians. Even when controlling for socioeconomic status, ethnicity, location, and a host of other factors, researchers consistently find that school librarians make schools better across multiple measures. 

The Benefits of Independent Reading

Additionally, there is a plethora of research that finds those who engage in pleasure reading – what in schools is sometimes called independent reading – have increased moral development (see Johnson, 2012), increased prosocial behavior (see Johnson, Cushman, Borden, & McCune, 2012); and increased empathy (see Bal & Veltkamp, 2013 and Djikic, Oatley, & Moldoveanu, 2013, ) – even when controlling for pre-existing empathetic personalities (see Mar, Oatley, & Peterson, 2009). Certified school librarians are trained in collection development so they can offer all the students in the school a range of engaging reading material that encourages independent reading. They are also trained in helping individual students find specific titles that fit their interests. 

Best Return-On-Investment

All of this data focuses primarily on the ways a school librarian improves student literacy. But improving student literacy is only one function performed by school librarians. As a graduate of one of the top educational administration programs in the country (top 50 nationally, top 10 in the northeast), I know that in addition to research and data, dollars and cents matter. With that in mind, I must point out that it’s hard to find a better return on investment than a school librarian. 

A short list of additional jobs fulfilled by school librarians: technology coach; information resource specialist; professional learning facilitator; information literacy instructor; co-teacher; program administrator; curriculum designer. If a district hired someone for each of these positions at the median rate reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2022, the total annual salary would be $539,800. And yet, a school librarian’s salary is but a fraction of that cost. 

And so, as you consider the future of the library program at Monmouth County Regional High School, I hope you’ll make the data-driven decision and retain your school librarian as a full-time position. It is the fiscally and educationally sound choice. 

Thank you.


Author: Steve Tetreault

After 24 years as a classroom English Language Arts teacher, Steve became a school librarian in January 2022. He has earned an M.Ed. (2006) and an Ed.D. (2014) in Educational Administration and Supervision, and completed an M.I. degree in Library and Information Science (2019). He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership

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