School Libraries – More Than Just Books? (or More Than Just Book Check Out?)

In Michigan, we are preparing for an upcoming Michigan Library Advocacy Day on April 20, 2021. The virtual library advocacy day is a partnership between the Michigan Library Association (MLA), the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME), and the Michigan Academic Library Association (Mi-ALA). (https://www.milibraries.org/advocacy-day) The three organizations are working together to schedule a day to inundate legislators with Zoom meetings, tweets, e-mails, and phone calls on the importance of all libraries in Michigan’s communities. A theme for the day is “Libraries – More Than Just Books.” We want legislators to understand that libraries provide their communities with a multitude of services and these services have been especially important during the pandemic.

As I thought about this theme, I thought it would be better to shift the thoughts slightly for school libraries to “Libraries – More Than Just Book Check Out.” Reading and equitable access to diverse reading materials (books) are still core services provided by school libraries and it is important for legislators to understand this. The importance of reading for school libraries is confirmed in the AASL Common Beliefs: “Reading is the core of personal and academic competency” (AASL 2018). A focus on reading and books is especially important in Michigan where 4th-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have been low (French and Wilkinson 2019), and educators have been working to increase the reading achievement of our students. Also, research supports that when students have “meaningful and consistent access to books, they read more and read better” (Miller and Sharp 2018).

However, there is sometimes a misconception, that all school librarians do is check out books. With this misconception, school librarians can be displaced with school library paraprofessional staff. Yet, as AASL’s “The School Librarian’s Role in Reading” position statement states, “as literacy leaders, school librarians are positioned to elevate the importance of reading as well as reading proficiency to support all learners’ academic success” through “reading promotion, instruction, resources, and services” developed around the AASL Standards Shared Foundations of Inquire, Include, Curate, Collaborate, Explore, and Engage (AASL 2020).

A one-page information sheet “Librarians as Literacy Leaders” created by Christoper Harris (bit.ly/SLlitleaders) does a good job, I think, of summarizing a school librarian’s role as a literacy leader. In addition, the Michigan Association for Media in Education, with permission, has modified the document “A Visual Guideline to Staffing Choices in School Libraries” (https://www.studentsneedlibrariesinhisd.org/uploads/8/5/0/2/8502254/18_skills_spectrum_full_page_1.pdf) created by Dorcas Hand with support from others, with Michigan terminology. The updated Michigan document has been very useful in visualizing the differences in the skills, expertise, background, and training of a school librarian compared with non-professional staff or classroom teachers.

It is important for legislators to know that providing and supporting equitable access to diverse books and being reading leaders are important library services; but as the theme “More Than Just Book Check Out” suggests, school libraries do so much more! The Michigan Library Advocacy Day organizing group brainstormed a list of words that connect to this theme. The list of words is lengthy and there are some words that apply to only one particular library type. For instance, the brainstormed words unemployment assistance and tax forms apply more specifically to public libraries. For school libraries, some words that I think are relevant include teaching, learning, reading, diverse resources, diversity, inquiry, inclusion, collaboration, curation, engagement, exploration, information literacy, research, safe spaces, social-emotional learning, making, creating, coding, STEM, STEAM, critical thinking, problem-solving, digital citizenship, professional development, leadership, and partnership. I’m sure that there are other words that I missed since school librarians are skilled at translating their practices to meet the needs of their school communities.

School librarians support dynamic learning both within and outside of the library walls. Information and points provided to all Michigan library advocates include:

Michigan ranks 31st in the nation in 4th-grade reading achievement and 47th in support for school libraries. In addition, a key finding of a recent Michigan State University “Read by Grade Three Law” Study is that there is a disparity across Michigan school districts in the availability of library resources.

We believe that all students in Michigan deserve equitable access to effective school libraries staffed by certified school librarians who: 

  • Increase student achievement with a focus on reading achievement by supporting and teaching reading and inquiry learning
  • Provide equitable access to diverse resources in their schools
  • Teach media literacy, research, and digital citizenship skills to prepare students for college and career, and
  • Lead and support technology integration in their schools

Our ask will be for Michigan legislators to support specific funding for school libraries and school librarians and to support the Michigan school library bills (which should be reintroduced soon).

I am excited that Michigan library advocates will be coming together on April 20, 2021, to advocate for support from the Michigan legislature for all types of libraries. We are definitely stronger when we work together. I am hopeful for a positive impact for our learners and communities in Michigan.

Works Cited”

AASL. 2020. “The School Librarian’s Role in Reading.”  http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/advocacy/statements/docs/AASL_Position_Statement_RoleinReading_2020-01-25.pdf

AASL. 2018. National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: American Library Association.

French, R., and M. Wilkinson. 2019. “As Other states Backslide, Michigan Schools Are Now Average.” Chalkbeat Detroit (Oct. 30). https://detroit.chalkbeat.org/2019/10/30/21109127/as-other-states-backslide-michigan-schools-are-now-average

Miller, D., and C. Sharp. 2018. Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids. Scholastic Inc.

Author: Kathy Lester



Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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