What’s Behind the SLIDE? Findings from a Study of School Librarian Employment

Most of us know there have been large losses of school librarians over the past two decades.  What is less well known—and begs for attention—is that these losses pose a major educational equity issue. In our new study (Lance and Kachel 2021d), we found that everyone isn’t losing their librarians; losses tend to occur in districts where there are more students living in poverty, more minority students, and more English language learners. Districts with fewer such students are far more likely to have and maintain librarians. The other news is that, since 2015-16, several states have begun to see net increases in their numbers of school librarians. The School Librarian Investigation: Decline of Evolution? (SLIDE) study is based at Antioch University Seattle.

The study also found evidence that eliminating librarian positions may not be all about money. Between 2009 and 2019, an examination of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data revealed that instructional coordinators increased by almost 34 percent; district administrators, by more than 16 percent, and school administrators, by more than 15 percent. Teachers were reduced by a little over 1 percent, while school librarians declined by almost 20 percent. Per-pupil spending also hints that local district priorities may override school funding in staffing choices. Districts spending the least per pupil (less than $10,000) had better staffing than districts spending between $10,000 and $15,000 per pupil. However, districts spending over $15,000 per pupil had the best librarian staffing.

There is also some good news in how states support school librarians and their libraries. From a survey conducted in fall 2020 (Kachel and Lance 2021b), it was learned that over half the states have some language mandating school library staffing—some based on a ratio of students to librarian (Kachel and Lance 2021a). At least nine other states are currently attempting to pass legislation requiring school librarians in their schools (Kachel and Lance 2021c). Other factors showing state support of school libraries include:

  • Almost 90 percent of states provide access to licensed databases and e-resources.
  • Over two-thirds of the states have at least a part-time government official assigned with oversight of school libraries.
  • Over 40 percent of states have a state ratio of students per librarian of under 800 students.
  • Thirty percent of states provide direct funding to their school libraries.

And school librarian losses are not happening everywhere. A project goal is to learn from school administrators who determine whether librarians are employed or not what factors, priorities, and conditions impact their decisions. The NCES data from 2015 through 2019 revealed over 270 districts in 34 states where librarian positions were added. In the absence of school-level data, which NCES does not provide, a “District Ratio of Librarian FTE per School” was calculated by dividing the total number of librarians in the district by the district’s number of schools. An increase of .5 FTE was used to determine districts gaining librarian positions. Next year, with the help of “State Intermediaries”—school library association leaders or state government officials in each state—we will interview school decision makers in districts that gained or lost librarians. Learning how staffing decisions are made will help us as a profession to identify the thinking behind both adding and eliminating school library positions. Understanding the “why” may help us to figure out how we need to adapt to what school decision makers want and expect from school librarians and library services to meet what they perceive as local priorities.

NCES data are cumbersome to navigate and far from perfect. So, another goal of the SLIDE project is to facilitate access and understanding of the data for librarians, school leaders, and others to make appropriate choices for their schools. Interactive data tools available at https://libslide.org/data-tools/ will permit users to create and analyze customizable maps, charts, and tables at national, state, and district levels.

The interactive data tools include:

Profile – compares library staffing data for a selected district compared with peer districts

State Survey – provides state-specific information on librarian staffing mandates, number of universities preparing school librarians, and more

Advanced Search – examines district characteristics (enrollment, locale, and per-pupil expenditures) and student demographics (race/ethnicity, poverty, and ELLs) in relation to the employment of school librarians and others

While the two decades of NCES data examined overall does not paint a rosy future for school librarians, it also uncovers places where apparently school librarians are valued and their employment sustained. The state survey also revealed which states are supporting school libraries and how. Next year’s interviews of 100 school decision makers will help us to learn what leads to either adding or cutting librarian positions. This information will be essential to the future of school librarianship. The interactive tools will help districts to assess equities or inequities of librarian staffing to better provide library services for their students and teachers. Follow the SLIDE Project at https://libslide.org and @lib_SLIDE.

Works Cited:

Kachel, Debra E., and Keith Curry Lance. 2021a. “The Status of State Support of School Library Programs.” Teacher Librarian 48(5): 8-13.

Kachel, Debra E., and Keith Curry Lance. 2021b. Contexts for School Librarian Employment. https://libslide.org/pubs/contexts.pdf.

Kachel, Debra E., and Keith Curry Lance. 2021c. Requirements for School Librarian Employment: A State-by-State Summary. https://libslide.org/pubs/requirements.pdf.

Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2021d. Perspectives on School Librarian Employment in the United States, 2009-10 to 2018-19. SLIDE: The School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution? https://libslide.org/publications/perspectives.

Author: Debra E. Kachel and Keith Curry Lance

Debra Kachel is an Affiliate Faculty for Antioch University Seattle’s K-12 Library Media Endorsement program and Project Director of SLIDE: The School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution? https://libslide.org She serves as the Co-Chairperson of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association’s Advocacy Committee and received the 2014 AASL Distinguished Service Award. Her email is dkachel@antioch.edu. Twitter: @SchLibAdvocate and @lib_SLIDE.

Keith Curry Lance Keith Curry Lance, Ph.D., consults with the RSL Research Group as well as independently. He was the principal investigator for several statewide school library impact studies, earning him the 2013 AASL Distinguished Service Award. He and Debra Kachel collaborate regularly on research and writing about the changing status of school librarianship as a profession. His email is keithlance@comcast.net and his consulting website is KeithCurryLance.com.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Education News, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, News

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1 reply

  1. Thank you, Deb and Keith, for sharing these highlights from the NCES data you’ve analyzed and the data tools accessible from the SLIDE website. Your Works Cited offers additional findings that will be of interest and useful to school librarians (and their advocates).

    I used the interactive tools at https://libslide.org/ to create a report for Arizona’s school librarians and members of the Arizona Library Association. I highly recommend becoming knowledgeable regarding your own state’s data as well as comparing your state-level and school district-level data with that of others across the country.

    We all look forward to the findings from the SLIDE interviews with decision makers.

    With appreciation for this work,

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