Numerous recent events have demonstrated the inability of many Americans to distinguish real from fake news, demonstrating a serious gap in information literacy skills (1) among our citizens. And, equally disturbing, this problem is not being adequately addressed at school. A recent research study by the Stanford University History Education Group concluded that “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak. Our ‘digital natives’ may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.”
Clearly, if these students graduate from high school without more preparation in information literacy skills, the problems adults are having interpreting information sources will only get worse. What is needed? Our schools need to take leadership in making information literacy a priority. And, while such instruction should be the shared responsibility of teachers in all subject areas, the logical leaders of this curriculum are teacher librarians.(2)
Why? Teacher librarians, through their training and academic preparation, have special expertise in information literacy. They bring a lot more to the table at their schools as well. They also lead, teach and support their schools and/or districts in the goals set out by the Future Ready Schools (FRS) initiative through their professional practice, programs and spaces.have special training and expertise in key components of the future ready schools initiative. Collect and curate rich print and digital collections for their students and implement programs that encourage students to read, gain knowledge, and create. They are natural curricular leaders in their schools, since they are aware of and work with classroom teachers in every subject area. They know which classes are the most effective places in which to include information literacy instruction and to collaborate with classroom teachers in delivering it. They are also leaders within their communities on educational technology, so savvy in how to leverage it for such instruction.
Unfortunately, though, the majority of public schools in California lack teacher librarians, depriving our students of teaching and services they desperately need. Please continue reading to learn more about the state of public school libraries in California and find out how you can help to correct this inequity.
1. The Association of College and Research Libraries defines information literacy as “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.”
2. Teacher librarian is the terminology used in California to identify certified school librarians who possess a teacher credential and an additional credential in library services. In other states and countries, the terminology may vary, including school librarians and library media specialists.
California School Library Programs
California’s Common Core Standards for K–12 schools state that students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and summarize information and ideas to be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society. According to the American Library Association, teacher librarians are uniquely qualified to teach students how to transform isolated bits of information into knowledge, how to evaluate sources, and how to think critically. Students in grades K–12 can learn these skills, known as information literacy, through instruction that teacher librarians provide as part of a school’s library services.
California teacher librarians hold a valid teaching credential and complete an additional credentialing program approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to be authorized to provide students and teachers with a broad range of library services. So, they are teachers first who then move onto extra training in school librarianship. There has been extensive research (see Research links) regarding the positive effects that school libraries and teacher librarians have on literacy, information literacy, school leadership and professional development for teachers and administrators. However, unlike many states, California does not require a teacher librarian in each school. The majority of California schools don’t have a teacher librarian, and there have been many reports of positions being eliminated.
Though the law does not dictate the level of library services school districts must provide, the State Board of Education adopted model standards related to school library services in 2010, to guide school districts in implementing strong library programs and to raise student achievement. The model standards establish educational goals for students at each grade level and describe the minimum staffing and resources required for effective school library programs. The model standards delineate a program for information literacy instruction that encompasses both primary and secondary education, and they provide grade‑level standards that address the evaluation of information in text and other sources. As for staffing, they set the minimum level at one teacher librarian per 785 students, plus a full time assistant in all schools.
In late 2015 the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, replacing the No Child Left Behind legislation. One element included in ESSA was support for “effective school library programs.” However, much of the implementation of the ESSA legislation is left entirely to the states and local districts. It relies on us to assure that support for libraries is implemented in ESSA funding.
California State Audit of School Libraries
In 2016 the Joint Legislative Audit Committee directed the California State Auditor to determine how well school districts and county offices of education are providing library services to students and if a sufficient number of teacher librarians are employed within the state. Results of the audit reported that “vague state laws and a lack of monitoring allow school districts to provide a minimal level of library services.” The audit revealed that the number of teacher librarians employed statewide is far lower than the number the model standards recommend—in fiscal year 2014–15, California averaged one teacher librarian for every 7,400 students rather than one full-time teacher librarian for every 785 students recommended. In fact, California ranks last out of the fifty states in student-to-teacher librarian ratio. This means that there is less opportunity to help our children develop a love of reading; to teach them research, information literacy, digital literacy, and digital citizenship skills to excel in high school and beyond; and to provide them with a place to be innovative and creative. The audit also revealed many schools have no teacher librarian, thereby sending students to college or the workforce without critical information and digital literacy skills. Finally, it was revealed that many teacher librarians are often responsible for covering numerous responsibilities across multiple schools, reducing potential impact.
You Can Help
We evaluated the research of highly effective school library programs, the passage of ESSA, the results of the state audit, and compelling stories of teacher librarians who are striving to continue to serve their students despite great challenges, and have determined that improvement is necessary. All students deserve and need equitable access to strong school library programs. Please support taking the steps needed to ensure that California students have the opportunity to reach their potential through effective school libraries. Will you join us in standing up for students?
Please visit this link (have it go to Partner page, on which there will be a Google signup form) to join our movement. We will then contact you with specific ways you can help such as writing letters, providing input to the California ESSA plan, speaking at school board meetings, and more.