Equity of Access to Certified School Librarians

Happy National School Librarian Day (April 4th) and School Library Month (April) ! I am so honored to be a part of the school library profession and want to acknowledge the great work of school librarians across the nation working to transform teaching and learning and to defend their students’ right to read in their schools. THANK YOU, school librarians, for all that you do!  The school library is the heart of our schools and as Jarrett J. Krosoczka said “without a librarian, it is but an empty shell.”

The page about National School Librarian Day says the following: “Every school has a library and no matter how small or big they are, these libraries also have librarians.” Wow! I wish that this was true. Certainly, all students deserve to have access to an effective school library staffed by a certified school librarian as stated in the AASL vision statement, “Every school librarian is a leader; every learner has a school librarian”.

However, data show that such access is an equity issue in our schools. As part of The School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution? (SLIDE) project, Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel have found that: “access to school librarians is strongly related to race and ethnicity and further exacerbated for students living in extreme poverty, in more-isolated locales, and in the smallest districts.” In 2021, there were 5.6 million students in districts without school librarians. Unfortunately, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), does not keep statistics on the districts (or schools) or students without school libraries. However, I have anecdotal evidence of many schools in Michigan without access to a school library let alone a school librarian.

Yet, with the current attacks on intellectual freedom in schools – including attacks on our student’s right to read and the teaching of full history – along with the decline in literacy achievement — it is more important than ever that all learners have access to a school library and that we have state-certified school librarians working in our schools. Intellectual freedom is part of our core values and our preparation programs include education in material selection and reconsideration policies, children and young adult literature, pedagogy for teaching all forms of literacy including teaching the ability to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, and more.

So, although advocacy should be a year-round effort (AASL President-Elect Courtney Pentland wrote a fabulous KQ blog post about this last year), School Library Month provides us with a great opportunity to not just celebrate school libraries and our school librarian colleagues with our communities, but also to advocate! Shout it out loud! Please share stories of all of the great things being done in school libraries beyond the silo of the school library – share with administrators, parents, school boards, and beyond. We can and we do make a difference in our school communities. Our teacher colleagues and our students rely on us for access to inclusive resources, creating a safe space for all students, developing a school-wide culture of reading, teaching information literacy and digital citizenship skills, and supporting meaningful technology integration. The infographic “Students Reach Greater Heights with School Librarians” with supporting research is a great item to share with stakeholders.

In the President’s column in the September /October issue of KnowlegeQuest, I wrote about the importance of local and state advocacy and the idea that “We Are All Advocates”.  We all need to advocate for our students – their right to read and their right to equitable access to an effective school library. In this article, I also spoke about the importance of building partnerships. These can be formal or informal partnerships and they are especially important right now. We need others to stand with us. So, as you are sharing positive stories during School Library Month and speaking with other education colleagues, administrators, family, and friends, don’t be shy in letting them know that school librarians are fighting for students’ rights and students’ equitable access and we need their awareness and their support.

With reading scores hitting historic lows , the current inequities for access to school libraries and certified school librarians, and the attack on students’ rights to read, we need to continue to raise awareness and to ask all stakeholders to prioritize literacy, prioritize the needs and rights of our learners, and to support access to effective school libraries staffed by certified school librarians.

Author: Kathy Lester, AASL President 2022-2023

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership

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