I completed this formal report for a project in my teacher-librarianship M.Ed. this month It has been so useful to do this under the tutelage of the Canadian experts in school libraries, like my professor Dr. Dianne Oberg. Not surprisingly (and to my disappointment) so little formal research has been done on the impact of school libraries. I would love to have your feedback on where I stand in my context, and how yours compares.
Orangeville District Secondary School (ODSS) is a composite school that has a long standing tradition of being the hub of the community. The site has housed a school for 127 years. The library houses resources for our diverse body of students, and 18 years ago it underwent a major renovation to accommodate 44 computers. Approximately 35% of our student population is bussed, which forces our programming to happen during school hours. The school has undergone extensive renovation in order to become accessible to our expanding program of developmentally delayed students yet the library remains untouched. The socioeconomic status of our community is also greatly varied. We are able to run multiple international trips per year, and at the same time there are those who are homeless attending the school. As it stands now the library facility is in need of renewal; the facility, the collection, the culture all need a makeover. Another physical renovation is due and funds will be forthcoming, so this evaluation is both necessary and timely. In preparation for this evaluation, informal interviews were made with administration, teachers and students. Readings of trends in libraries and library evaluation criteria were examined and informal research was conducted using quantitative and qualitative methods.
Analysis of Context/Policies
The new Ontario Library Association document Together for Learning (2010) is creating a momentum of change. The library at ODSS is no exception. We face a myriad of challenges in accommodating our aging facility, changing perceptions of the library’s role and staffing and funding the existing model. In our political climate, the library staff are trying to stay optimistic using evidence of impact on the success of students to gain attention. More than ever there is a growing need for direct instruction in skills for staff and students in digital fluency, information literacy and pedagogy to suit the current students in their diversity. Under the new image of a learning commons, the library’s role can occupy physical spaces and virtual spaces.
The most recent quantitative data available is through an education advocacy group called People for Education (2006). It illustrates how the funding cuts to education in the 1990s have greatly affected literacy rates, and how the school library funding formulas correspond with these cuts. ODSS falls within the provincial staffing average as reported in 2006.
According to informal data collected by the secondary librarians, the budget of ODSS is below average in our board (J. Eudoxie, personal communication, Febuary 9, 2012). According to The Ontario Library Association in 2006: “there is a stronger relationship between the presence of trained library staff and higher student achievement in Grade 6 than there is in Grade 3” (p. 9). The study goes on to summarize its analysis saying that indeed the only indicator between literacy test results and the library is in staffing. Not surprisingly, the literacy test scores at ODSS fell significantly last year. Four years ago I chaired the literacy test for our school and found 11 unique student populations that required some form of accommodation for the test. Last year 40 students requiring extra time as an accommodation were housed in the library under only my supervision for the duration of the test. Even the conditions for the literacy test are under-staffed. The staffing models used and the funding formulas implemented for school libraries for Upper Grand District School Board fall well below the national standards recommended (2003).
Community outreach is emerging as a way to gain more resources. Recently links have been made to the town’s culture committee and public library to boost programming for teens in both locales. As well, there has been a boost in the library’s digital presence for outreach purposes. Curriculum mapping and collection mapping are in the early stages of development and this is beginning to impact curriculum across the school. Two years ago the average age of the non-fiction materials was 1989 and now the average age is 1992. Through weeding and focused purchasing, the collection is more recent and relevant to its users. However, the number of items per user has diminished. Programming and leadership are our library’s strengths.
Survey of Library Services
The instructional programming through the ODSS library is its greatest mode of school-wide impact. Instructional services are available to every teacher during every period of each day. In conjunction with the expectations of the Learning Commons ideal, instruction happens in the physical library space, externally in classrooms, and through digital means. Consultation happens regularly both with individual teachers and departments at their request. The teacher-librarians are developing a continuum of reading, writing, research and digital fluency skills and implementation has begun. The weakest areas of the instructional services are in providing evidence of instructional units and curricular materials that support the school’s goals. There is also a library of professional development materials that teachers can utilize.
Management and personnel
An advantage of managing a large and well-established library is that the systems are in place and running smoothly. Budget planning is completed months in advance. Unfortunately, our resources are stretched and this affects our ability to be flexible. The staff that have the most difficulty working within our system aren’t used to our long-range planning. For example, a teacher who wants to try a new innovation using computers, comes to realize that the equipment has been booked weeks in advance and is unavailable. We haven’t yet put our space and equipment booking online because we don’t have access to software that meets the demands of our complex needs. We are moving to a new board-wide cataloguing system this semester that will be able to handle digital materials. The board is aware of our need to simplify access to our resources online, and this is steadily improving.
While no portion of our budget is dictated by the board, there are also no purchasing guidelines to assist in decision-making. Recently our library has been closed at lunches ten weeks of the year because of lack of staffing. With no board guidelines, the administration has prioritized other areas over the library. A lack of guidelines also affects our vision of the library’s future needs.
Professional development for our staff occurs with a few strategies. Firstly, we run a mandatory staff meeting twice a year to present the aims of our digital fluency goals, and to give some support with hands-on experience. Secondly, we take advantage of downtime on professional development days and no-bus days to offer support. Thirdly, anytime a teacher has a specific learning request we fulfill it offering support before, during and after implementation in class. I am currently advocating for a whole-school technology budget and vision, as there is a discouraging inequity of technology resources across departments. The inequity then trickles down alienating pockets of students with specific needs in disadvantaged areas of the school. Ideally students could sign out the equipment required from the library where we could schedule and maintain the equipment. Development of a five-year plan for purchasing of new library furniture and some renovation is also beginning.
Survey of Library Facilities
Access and mechanics
The library space is adequate for our needs at ODSS. However there is much to be desired in terms of access, especially for those who are physically challenged. On two floors, the library needs to have a button installed that automatically opens the main door, and an elevator or ramp to the lower library where our books are. Our security system is less than 30% accurate and is prohibitively close for wheelchairs. The original library lighting is all controlled from the circulation desk except for the newer lower library which requires two different sets of lighting quite far apart. Similarly, there are very few outlets throughout which cause issues for students who bring their own technology but want access to recharge. Likewise, there is no quiet area where students can use computers, or make recordings, without ambient noise. With the advent of wireless internet, the spaces have become more obviously outdated in their lack of flexibility.
Layout of resources
In general, the uses of each library area are diverse and not well designed. The traffic patterns in the original area flow well, but in the lower library the design is confusing as two portions of the fiction section are separated. Similarly, there is no teaching space with computers so lessons happen in a second space consecutively. A common problem is that we don’t have media equipment for each area and only share our limited resources. The reference area is rarely used but also isolated from the other research areas. Overall, the layout of our resources, through multiple generations of library renovations, is now confusing rather than helpful.
The areas that get the most use in our library are the computer labs, the lounge seating, and the group tables. Our multi-purpose conference room, seminar room and stacks are all under-utilized. The computer lab’s carpet is wrinkled, torn and due for replacement. The lounge seating is constantly in use, and is my most recent purchase. The group tables are solid, but don’t match from one area to the next which diminishes their flexibility. If possible, I’d like to redistribute the traffic to include more areas of the library. Updating our seminar room with flexible classroom and conference seating, mounting a projector and speakers, as well as adding a white board, would mean constant availability of this room as a teaching space. I’d like to move our reference collection downstairs to be with the rest of the books, although recommendations in Everhart’s (1998) guidelines would place it near circulation (p. 124). Reference required near the circulation desk is mostly available online now so having reference downstairs would solve the inaccessibility of it to students. Fortunately, because of the large space the library inhabits, these changes are possible.
I’m not sure that the work at the library will ever feel completed. I am definitely having difficulty prioritizing the work. To make better decisions about priorities, I am going to begin formalizing an evidence process using many of the recommendations by Zmuda and Harada (2003) in order to improve, monitor and sustain improvement in student achievement. In gathering this quantitative and qualitative evidence, it would put our library in a better position for advocating for additional funding which would allow us to maintain full hours and develop programming. At the same time, adapting to the future needs to be paramount to new renovations where providing flexibility will be key. In the meantime, work will continue in collaboration and community moving from a library mindset to a learning commons mindset (Together for Learning, 2010). Modeling this philosophy in my physical and virtual spaces, is the best way that I can create change within my current limitations. Being a change agent in my building and beyond is the renewal work that can begin today.
Asselin, M., Branch, J. L., & Oberg, D. (Eds.). (2003). Achieving information literacy: Standards for school library programs in Canada. Ottawa, ON: The Canadian School Library Association.
Everhart, N. (1988). Evaluating the school library media center: Analysis, techniques and research practices. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Ontario School Library Association. (2010). Together for learning: A vision for the 21st century [Brochure]. Retrieved from http://www.accessola.com/data/6/rec_docs/677_OLATogetherforLearning.pdf
People for Education. (2011). Reading for joy. Retrieved from http://www.accessola.org/ola_prod/Documents/OLA/issues/Reading-for-Joy.pdf
The Ontario Library Association. (2006, April). School libraries and student achievement in Ontario [Brochure]. Retrieved from http://www.peopleforeducation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/School-Libraries-2006.pdf
Upper Grand District School Board. (February 15, 2000). Provision of learning resources [Brochure].
Upper Grand District School Board. (October 2007). Collection management for school libraries [Brochure].
Zmuda, A., & Harada, V. H. (2008). Librarians as learning specialists: Meeting the learning imperative for the 21st century. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.