It’s back-to-school time across the U.S. (and in many places around the globe) and school librarians are considering how best to enact their libraries’ mission statements and goals in the 2021-2022 academic year.
While there are many unknowns, there are two consistent themes that have emerged from a year and a half of intermittent remote, hybrid, and in-person schooling. Students, educators, administrators, and families have missed the community of school and the culture of learning that encourage all stakeholders as they achieve academic success and support students’ social-emotional health. And educators and families are concerned about the pandemic’s impact on students’ reading development.This quote from Jacques Barzum, known as a philosopher of education, can be our guiding light as we welcome young people back to school, reach out to classroom educators to support their curriculum goals, and help administrators revive a culture of deep learning in our schools.
Reading Reading Reading Reading Reading Reading
From a Culture of Books to a Culture of Reading
Thirty years ago when I entered the profession, school librarians were known as “book people.” Our work focused around reading, selecting, organizing, and promoting books. Later in the 1990s with the mercurial rise of technology launched by the Internet (see how the capital letter dates me), we greatly expanded our scope from books and some tech to print and digital resources in an ever-expanding range of formats.
Simultaneously, literacy learning expectations for students began to rise and continue to do so today with no limits in sight. In this educational landscape, school librarians cannot be satisfied limiting their services to physical and virtual access to reading materials.
School Librarians as Teachers of Reading
We must also do our part to ensure students’ intellectual access to ideas and information. We must be literacy partners who teach, coteach, and reteach strategies to help students comprehend what they read, view, and hear. We must be teachers of reading.
Research shows that “school librarians provide critical support to teachers and administration by recommending and teaching strategies and sources that develop reading comprehension and analysis of informational text in all content areas” (Gretes 2013, 3).
School librarians serve learning communities in the largest classroom with the greatest number of resources with the broadest range of reading proficiency levels in the widest variety of formats. School librarians are certified teachers whose work can have an impact on the entire school.
School librarians use read-alouds and booktalks to promote books and reading. When they model and teach comprehension strategies, such as making predictions and drawing inferences, during these activities, they provide students with opportunities to learn and practice these essential skills for making meaning from texts.
Reading for learning
is what the work of school librarians is about.
Whether reading literature for pleasure or resources for information, students use the decoding skills they learn in the classroom as foundational tools for making meaning from texts. Reading for learning is where the school librarian’s expertise contributes to students’ success. Learning and practicing reading comprehension strategies is the readers’ pathway to being efficient, effective, and critical users of ideas and information.
“School librarians [and other educators] know that students who are unable to make meaning from text cannot be information literate. They also know that to be critical users and creators of ideas and information students must be able to deeply interrogate the texts they read” (Moreillon 2018, 57-58).
Information Literacy and Reading Proficiency Connection
Effective school librarians who meet the needs of students, classroom teachers, and administrators help library stakeholders make the connection between information literacy and reading achievement. This chart of examples can be a guide.
|Information Literacy and Inquiry||Reading Comprehension|
|Connecting with prior knowledge using a K-W-L chart, topic web, or other organizer||Activating or Building Background Knowledge|
|Engaging with multimedia resources to build background knowledge||Using Sensory Images|
|Formulating inquiry questions and questioning the author/source while reading||Questioning|
|Analyzing texts for point of view and bias||Making Predictions/Drawing Inferences|
|Making notes||Determining Main Ideas|
|Rereading, writing about confusions, and other strategies for ensuring understanding||Using Fix-up Options|
|Using information or evidence from multiple sources to create new knowledge||Synthesizing|
*Reading comprehension strategies taken from Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (Moreillon, 2013) and Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (Moreillon, 2012)
In our role as teachers of reading, school librarians can directly and effectively document how their teaching and coteaching help classroom teachers build students’ reading proficiency.
Library Learning Leaders Don’t Sell Their Skill Set Short
Research also shows a correlation between the work of school librarians and improvement on students’ standardized test scores, particularly in the area of reading (Lance and Kachel 2018). In our independent and cotaught lessons, librarians teach and reinforce reading comprehension strategies at the Response to Intervention (RTI) Level II.
If our work is to lift the reading proficiency of all students, then we must not sell our skill set short. Others must not perceive us as book promotion people only because our skills and power to impact the learning community are far greater. We must not be satisfied with providing physical (or digital) access to books and resources.
We must collaborate with other educators to ensure that students have intellectual access to ideas and information.
“As a profession, we cannot afford to be silent about how our work impacts reading proficiency. We cannot fail to help our classroom educator colleagues reach their full capacity to meet the traditional literacy development needs of all students” (Moreillon 2021, 27).
Gretes, Frances. 2013. School library impact studies: A review of findings and guide to sources. Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. Available at http://bit.ly/2USKkQ9. Accessed August 8, 2021.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan 99 (7): 15-20. Available at http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/. Accessed August 8, 2021.
Moreillon, Judi. 2021. Library Learning Leaders Don’t Sell Their Skill Set Short. Teacher Librarian 68 (3): 22-27. Available at https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&edid=6b457264-4b51-4275-87a1-c8ed62b44733&pnum=4. Accessed August 8, 2021.
Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.