My research study titled “Enabling School Librarians to Serve as Instructional Leaders of Multiple Literacies” was recently published in School Library Research. This study was an extension of my previous research focused on exploring how school leaders can foster the development of an effective school library in which school librarians serve as instructional leaders.
I implemented this study in fall 2020, during the pandemic. The setting was a comprehensive PreK-12 public school district of approximately 15,000 students with 23 building-level school librarians, no library clerks, and no official full-time district-level school library supervisor. In this case study, I wanted to explore how to equip district leaders to support their school librarians in the absence of an official district library supervisor. Four district-level personnel and seven building-level school librarians participated in a series of interviews and focus groups.
Several issues arose from the results:
- School librarians are generally functioning as building/resource managers. During the COVID pandemic, their primary role consisted of serving as IT support to teachers and students.
- School librarians cannot function as instructional leaders without full-time clerks.
- There is a lack of clear expectations and alignment to current school library standards at the district level.
- District leaders tend to provide school librarians with training on digital programs (to assist others with navigation) rather than professional learning designed to advance student achievement through the school library.
- There is a lack of consistent, positive working relationships between school librarians and site principals.
Although these issues cannot be generalized beyond the setting of this study, they do raise concerns for the broader school library field. Of course, the obvious solution is to hire a full-time district library supervisor and full-time library clerks to assist every school librarian. However, that is not always feasible given the realities of school budgets. Alternative solutions must be considered to enable district leadership to address each of these issues.
Potential solution for issues #1 & 2: District leadership can work with school librarians to discuss priorities within the context of the current learning environment and available resources and then revise expectations accordingly.
Potential solutions for issue #3: District leadership can work with school librarians to revise and align the following documents to reflect the selected school librarian’s priorities and current school library and literacy standards:
- Board policy/regulation for school libraries
- Job description for school librarians
- Evaluation process for school librarians
- District and school site improvement plans–include the school librarian in the literacy, technology, and curriculum and instruction initiatives
Potential solutions for issue #4: District leadership can work with school librarians to:
- Incorporate ongoing school librarian-specific professional learning aligned to district/school improvement plans with an emphasis on how school librarians can impact student achievement.
- Provide time for school librarians to collaborate with one another.
- Curate and maintain a list of online school librarian professional learning sources (Twitter, Facebook groups, blogs, etc.).
- Work with university school librarian preparation program faculty to design and deliver professional learning.
- Designate school librarians to join/attend the major professional organizations/conferences that impact the school library program and share what they learn with one another.
Potential solutions for issue #5: District leadership can educate site administration about the school librarian job description, hiring criteria, and evaluation process. They can also encourage principals to:
- Spend time in the library and meet with school librarians.
- Increase school librarian access to teachers–enable school librarians to participate in teachers’ professional learning sessions, staff meetings, and co-teaching of lessons.
- Observe school librarian exemplars in action.
- Include school librarians on site leadership teams.
In my research, I have found that most of the administrative participants just don’t know where to begin to learn about the modern role of the school librarian and how to effectively support their school libraries. It is clear there is a need for an online resource to serve as a starting point on their journey to learning about the school library. I hope this will be helpful to those seeking to learn more about building effective school libraries.