Principals’ Perspectives on the Value of School Librarians
I love working in the library market because it is full of people who are so passionate about serving their communities and communicating the value of librarians and libraries. This is often evident when I have the opportunity to meet the winners of Demco awards and grants. Their projects provide insights and models that deserve to be shared with the broader library community. When we share these stories it enables us to learn from each other and create an even brighter future for your library.
When I met Judi Moreillon and Teresa Starrett at the Texas Library Association’s (TLA) Annual Conference in 2013, I was very excited to hear about their plan to study the perceptions that school principals have about school librarians and their impact on student success.
Both women are assistant professors at Texas Woman’s University, Judi in the School of Library and Information Studies and Teresa in the Department of Education. While those of us who have been in the industry for a while are aware of numerous studies that indicate having a librarian in the school has a positive correlation to student achievement, this project was different.
What I liked about this project was that it not only utilized a survey, but also tied in interviews and video testimonials from principals who understand the value that the school librarian provides.
I was even more excited when Judi contacted me last spring to share the results of their project. They had compiled a compelling 5-minute video that gets to the heart of why librarians are so important to the school library. By capturing the administrator’s stories on video, it really brings the concepts to life and tells the story in a way that goes beyond the numbers.
I thought that it might be interesting to hear more from Judi and Teresa about how they developed their project and what they found and really appreciate their willingness to share.
Judi & Teresa’s Story (in their own words)
Identifying the Issue
In “Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs” (ALA 2009), the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) identified 5 roles for effective school librarians.
- Instructional partner
- Information specialist
- Program administrator
Many practicing school librarians report that their principals do not understand their roles in the school’s academic program. Our goal was to identify principals who did understand those roles and would agree to speak on behalf of the exemplary school librarians with whom they have served.
How We Brought This Project to Life
We received funds that supported the production of an advocacy video. School librarians from across the country provided us with connections to principals who would contribute testimonials. We received testimonials from principals and other school administrators from 8 different school sites in 5 different states. We hired 1 professional videographer to record a testimonial in Arizona and our university videographer captured a testimonial in the Fort Worth area. We hired and worked with an editor to help us ‘tell the story’ and a musician to compose original music for the video production.
The YouTube video provided us with a platform that could be easily distributed via social media, distribution lists, email and other electronic means. Using 21st-century tools to share these testimonials reinforces the nature of today’s communication: accessible, flexible and effective. Our intention was that colleagues across the country in education and school librarianship could promote this work on their social media networks. In the comments under the video, we provided an avenue for more information.
To date, there have been 7,636 views of the video.
Insights Gained As a Result of the Project
School principals and administrators who have experienced the positive results of working with high-quality, high-impact school librarians are strong advocates for the profession. School librarians need the support of principals and a collaborative school culture in order to thrive and contribute to the best of their ability. Taking a systems approach and engaging with collaborative partners makes it possible for school librarians to participate in and positively impact the academic program of schools.
School librarians have the opportunity to position themselves as essential and irreplaceable but they must SHOW their principals and administrators what they can do when they are given the necessary conditions in which to excel. School administrators can demonstrate their support for school librarians by providing them with flexible schedules, shared planning time with teachers, and sufficient support staff that allow librarians to collaborate and co-teach with classroom teachers in the library, lab, classroom, athletic field, or in whatever location is most appropriate for the instruction. School librarians also need support from their principals to serve as on-site professional developers who provide in-services for classroom teachers. The administrators in the video acknowledge librarians’ areas of expertise and give them opportunities to share.
Librarians Play Vital Roles in the Evolving School Library
The roles of leader and instructional partner position school librarians to have the greatest influence on students’ learning and teachers’ teaching. The video shows that these principals and administrators understand school librarians as professional developers. School librarians provide formal learning for faculty through workshops and one-on-one mentoring. They also provide informal professional development through co-planning, co-implementing, and co-assessing instruction. Connecting the resources of the library (and the world) with students, teachers and curriculum is a way to engage students in deeper learning. Creating, developing and sustaining the necessary conditions for this level of collaborative work is essential to effective 21st-century school librarianship and — these administrators might add — to 21st-century education.
Partnerships Are an Effective Way to Improve Libraries
Developing advocacy tools, such as this video, is an outstanding example of public and private partnerships. As university faculty, we had access to data that could be shared with a wide audience. As a private entity, Demco has a distribution network in addition to funds to support our effort. Combining our distribution and social media networks, we were able to disseminate this message to over 7,000 viewers … so far.
The implications of this project would indicate that when school principals, administrators and school librarians work in concert as leaders, learning happens. It happens for students, faculty, staff, families and for the leaders themselves.