Support Your Library and Raise Student Achievement

By Melonie Menefee

The presence of a strong and dedicated school library media specialist is crucial to the ability of a school to meet the challenges of No Child Left Behind as well as individual state-level accountability programs. In addition, a well-trained and devoted support staff and a school library media center powerful in both technology and collections are essential to high academic achievement.

Since the early 1950s, nearly 30,000 new school libraries have been established, and thousands of federally funded development and collection expansion projects have enhanced existing libraries in public elementary and secondary schools. At the same time, school libraries have evolved from having a primary focus on books to providing a rich selection of digital resources.

Problems arise, though, when there is a lack of educated staff to continue to oversee and enhance the growth of these libraries. Evidence continues to develop indicating that, when schools have neglected the library media centers, they have lost valuable potential in educating the students the school serves.

The school library media center has one purpose: to support the curriculum of the school. Despite the accumulation of data showing the importance of libraries and librarians, many schools have no trained school library media specialists and limited and noncurrent collections. One quarter of all schools have no librarian. Also, a shortage of librarians could be looming: The average age of a librarian is 45, with 50 percent of working school librarians planning to retire within the next 12 years.

This is discouraging, considering students who score highest on norm-referenced tests tend to come from schools with larger library staff and larger school library media collections. High academic performance also was associated with school library media centers where librarians served in an instructional and collaborative role. According to researchers Keith Curry Lance, Lynda Welborn, and Christine Hamilton-Pennell, the size of the school library staff and the collection are the best indicators of academic performance. 

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