Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

At school year’s end everyone is involved in assessment. Everything stops for student testing, including the library. School library classes are suspended and circulation is closed as school libraries are used as test centers and school librarians proctor and in some cases take on the administration of school-wide testing.

And when it comes to assessment, the school library is no exception. At year’s end, many school librarians complete a state-mandated annual report in which we assess our collections, our technology, and our programs. We count and weed. We track down missing items. We account for lost items.  We solicit returns. And then we submit our reports. The NC Digital Learning & Media Inventory (formerly the AMTR) “provides the legislature and the public a yearly snapshot of the state of digital learning.”

I remember those days well.  The waning days of May and early June still evoke negative memories of exhaustive hours spent counting and verifying and substantiating textbooks, equipment, globes, maps, copy and fax machines, kits, television programming, videos and DVDs, books, technology, subscriptions, and more. Not what I had envisioned I would be doing as a school librarian. Even as technology automated the process, it still dragged on. Well after the school year had ended and all the other teachers had gone home for the summer, I would still be at it alone in the library, frustrated with the fact that someone thought this was a good use of my time, irritated that I didn’t have any help, and exasperated that for all my time and effort I didn’t see the point. In all the years that I had carefully compiled data that would be aggregated in a state database, I never saw that anyone read it, used it, or cared about it.  End of story.

Wrong! Thanks to Keith Curry Lance and a multitude of others who have used this type of data and more to validate the contributions of school libraries to student success, it is only an end if we see it as an end. It is only pointless and wasted if we do not comb through it, separate the wheat from the chaff, correlate it to student achievement, and interpret it for our school community. It is only an end if we fail to use it to tell our stories.

wheat-8762_960_720Just look at how Joyce Valenza uses her data to tell her library’s story in 2011 (through both print and video). It is way more than a simple snapshot of her school library. The statistics are evident but it is an interpretation of the statistics that is compelling. It’s not just a count of how many materials are in the collection or how many titles circulated; it is the story of how circulation statistics alone do not paint the complete picture of library use and how her lower numbers reflect the national trend of students to prefer web and online over print resources. It’s not just the number of paid or volunteer support staff. It is a record of the contributions to students made by the two full-time assistants and multiple community volunteers, school library student interns, and student helpers. It’s not a static log of classes who have used the library over the course of the school year; it is a vivid celebration of student engagement through events, activities, and projects that have occurred in the library physically and virtually across the school day as well as before and after school. If you were a parent or teacher or school board member viewing Valenza’s report, what would be your impression of the value of a school library?

Valenza’s annual report discounts the notion that a snapshot of what we do as school librarians is enough. The data is stagnant without interpretation. We must make sure that gathering, compiling, and reporting our data, as arduous and grueling as it might be, is not the end of our story.


NC Department of Public Instruction (no date). Digital Teaching and Learning: North Carolina Digital Learning and Media Inventory . Retrieved from

Valenza, J. (2011, June 20). My report and a couple of (far more) stellar examples [Web Log post]. Retrieved from

“Wheat-8762_960_720.jpg” by Hans is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

1 reply

  1. Thanks for this reminder! I’m currently sitting alone in our library about to tackle equipment inventory, and this was much needed. Jennifer LaGarde also has shared a lot of examples about how to make library data more meaningful, Very important!

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