SLJ Summit Recap

Image of Laptop with Bookshelves on the ScreenI appreciate School Library Journal for organizing a purely virtual 2020 Summit. The line-up of content was outstanding with many familiar as well as new (to me) and diverse voices represented. The interface was easy to use. My only regret is that my schedule did not allow me to attend all of the live sessions in real time, which were not recorded for later access.

CORRECTION: The live session recordings are now available! Please don’t miss the recording of “In Conversation with Patrisse Cullors” moderated by Erika Long!

Reimagining School
After a Zoom social and welcome remarks, the opening session “Reimagining School” was a perfect way to launch the day-long conversation about challenges faced and solved for successful remote learning, equitable access to resources, and serving underserved students and families.

The presenters were Susan Gauthier, Director, Library Services, East Baton Rouge Parish School District, Dr. Jacqueline Perez, Assistant Superintendent, Equity, Access & Community Engagement, Riverside (CA) Unified School District, Brian Schilpp, STEM Supervisor, Garrett County (MD) Schools, Marlon Styles, Jr., Superintendent, Middletown City (OH) Schools; the session was capably moderated by Kara Yorio, SLJ News Editor.

Each of these presenters shared their unique teaching and learning environments and highlighted that a one-size-fits-all response to remote, hybrid, or in-person learning during a pandemic is not recommended or even possible.

Susan Gauthier expertly presented the pandemic worldview from the school librarianship perspective in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. With over 41,000 students, Susan and her librarians’ biggest challenge was scaling their digital collections to meet the needs of all students, educators, and families. She wisely started planning for the closure this fall with a stakeholder survey; the results showed that no one wanted physical book checkouts and all resources would be delivered electronically. Here are the highlights of what Susan shared:

  • Promoting and using e-resources exclusively meant the district had to rethink their reading culture, including orientations to the virtual library, reader’s advisory, and reading challenges.
  • Expanding adoption of e-resources from broad acceptance at middle school to the entire K-12 community was essential and a leadership opportunity to school librarians.
  • The district had benefited from FEMA hurricane funds and built on their “weather resistant” collections, including expanding into nonfiction and titles in Spanish.
  • District librarians made a concerted effort to collaborate with the public library to ensure all students had e-cards that provided access to the public library’s digital collection.

Susan thanked the vendors who provided their district with free e-resources, including MackinVia, TeachingBooks, ABDO, and Follett’s Lightbox.

Here’s one takeaway from each of the other presenters:

Jacqueline Perez stressed the critical importance of taking an asset-based view of each individual student in terms of addressing their needs and engaging them in learning. (Another asset-based view in Riverside district involves the community and volunteers in organizing and staffing learning hubs particularly for homeless or other students who lack adult support.)

Brian Schilpp noted that “aggressive” professional development for educators must be individualized—meeting educators “where they are” is essential. (The district’s drive-in movie theater set-up for sharing information with families is brilliant.)

While all of the presenters talked about the importance of building on the relationships they had formed with students, families, and community, Marlon Styles, Jr. reinforced this truth in all of his comments. His best quote: “Creativity is free!” (Co-creating individual reading plans with students and families is an outstanding way to gain support for youth from the adults in their homes.)

After the session there was a post-panel discussion in Zoom where participants crowdsourced ideas and resources.

I have watched two previously recorded sessions so far.

Nick Glass, founder of TeachingBooks, spotlighted the amazing digital resources offered on the site—232,000+ and rising! In addition to the TeachingBooks search tools, the site offers a Diverse Books Toolkit, Reader’s Advisory, and Library Programming. As an added benefit, particularly during remote learning, sharing tools allow librarians and other educators to connect TeachingBooks resources to their learning management systems.

Watching this resource evolve over the past twenty years has been amazing. If you don’t know and use TeachingBooks, be sure to sign-up for the free trial offered to SLJ Summit attendees.

I also viewed “Vote Woke: Empower Students to Vote with Books and Community Support” by Cicely Lewis, 2020 School Librarian of the Year and founder of Read Woke. (To learn more about Read Woke, connect with Cicely’s blog). In this session, Cicely shared how she engaged high school students in registering themselves and their friends to vote. She stressed how students took the lead in all of the voting initiatives launched at her school. Cicely recommended The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (2020) as a must-read title for engaging youth in discussions around voting. She earned a $5,000 MTV Virtual Program Grant and her students had the distinct pleasure of a private Zoom call with former First Lady Michelle Obama and Jenna Bush Hagar.

Cicely was joined by Ron Gauthier, Branch Manager of the Grayson Public Library in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He shared how he and his team have partnered with public schools and the community to provide supplemental materials and programs tailored to their needs. This public library – school library collaboration is admirable and should be replicated across the county.

Sadly, for me, I was unable to attend the final live session of the Summit: “In Conversation with Patrisse Cullors.” Patrisse is an artist, activist, and educator; she co-founded Black Lives Matter in 2013. The movement, now an international organization with dozens of chapters around the world, campaigns against anti-black racism. Patrisse’s memoir When They Call You a Terrorist was a New York Times bestseller. Tennessee school librarian Erika Long moderated the conversation. Erika was part of the ALA Presidential Initiative: Fight for School Libraries, AASL Presidential Initiative Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and is a co-contributor to the “Equity” chapter in the forthcoming book Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

I turned to Twitter colleagues to get their takeaways from their session (with thanks to them):

Lindsey Kimery @LindsKAnderson Loved the conversation btw @erikaslong & @OsopePatrisse -Young people need to know they have the capability to be leaders right now. Educators need to be on the front lines of supporting the voice and vision of young people- Patrisse Cullors. #blm #sljsummit #mnpslibhack #tasltn

Jennifer Sharp @JenniferSharpTN – “Young people need to know that they have the ability to be leaders right now.” “There is a vibrancy to this moment that is very different than 2016 and everybody feels it.” Loving these thoughts about the activism of young people, @OsopePatrisse and @erikaslong Raising hands Clapping hands sign #sljsummit

Sara Kelly Johns @skjohns Just watched a powerful session at the @SLJ Summit with @erikaslong facilitating a conversation with Patrice Cullors, author of When They Call You a Terrorist. Whew! I am going back for another listen. #sljsummit #BlackLivesMatter

Kathy Ishizuka @kishizuka – An inspired and hopeful note to end on. @erikaslong @OsopePatrisse Peace, and remember to #vote #sljsummit #thankyou

Thank you again, SLJ, for this fine learning opportunity. I intend to make time this week for taking greater advantage of what you have generously offered.

Image Credit
kalhh. “Learn Media Internet.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/learn-media-internet-medium-977543/

Inquiry Learning Today

Former ALA and AASL President and retired library educator Barbara Stripling conducted and recorded an interview with Darryl Toerien, Head of Library and Archives at Oakham School in the United Kingdom. Both Barb and Darryl are engaged in an individual and a shared on-going inquiry into inquiry learning. This conversation focused on how students (and adults) engage with information when conducting inquiry in the digital environment.

Barbara has been instrumental in developing and recently revising the Empire State (New York) Information Fluency Continuum, a PK-12 continuum of the information and inquiry skills required for in-depth learning. Darryl is the originator of FOSIL (Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning), which was originally modeled after the Stripling Model of Inquiry.

This transnational conversation, “The Process and Stance of Inquiry in the Digital World” was hosted by and is available online from School Library Connection.

Inquiry as a Process
Brian captured my attention immediately with this anecdote. There was a sign that read: “Are you ignorant or apathetic?” Under the sign, someone replied: “I don’t know and I don’t care.” This was a brilliant way to make the case for why inquiry is critical in today’s educational landscape.

The inquiry process involves a continuum of skills that some of us have called “information literacy.” Some educators approach and teach those skills as a linear progression; others apply a spiral approach in which students revisit more or less the same skills in increasingly more sophisticated contexts and applications. Regardless of the approach, Barbara and Darryl agree there is a decades long history of inquiry as an effective (and preferred?) learning process in librarianship and in education. (I was first introduced to inquiry learning in my preservice classroom teacher program in the 1980s.)

When thinking about inquiry in K-12, we cannot ignore assessment. Assessment in inquiry does not only focus on what we learn as the result of our exploration. Rather it also focuses on how we came to know what we learned. The emphasis on process is one that aligns with the school librarian’s goals for students to grow as lifelong learners who will be able to transfer and apply the skills they learn and practice in K-12 throughout their lives.

Darryl brought viewers’ attention to Chapter 5 in the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions IFLA School Librarian Guidelines, 2nd Edition that makes the case for inquiry as a “tool” that provides a means to an end—namely learning. Inquiry sparks curiosity and the desire to find out. Barb noted that inquiry has the potential to change students’ attitudes toward learning—to make them more generally curious and to help them realize the importance of taking ownership and demonstrating agency as they pursue answers to their questions.

Inquiry as a Stance
To build on the idea of increasing curiosity, inquiry can also be a stance. As Salman Khan notes: “The crucial task of educators is to teach kids how to learn. To lead them to want to learn. To nurture curiosity, to encourage wonder, and to instill confidence so that later on they’ll have the tools for finding answers to many questions we don’t yet know how to ask” (cited in Moreillon 2018, 37).

In order for individual students and classrooms of students to achieve success, the adults in the school must ensure that this stance pervades the learning community. When all educators at every grade level and in every discipline approach learning from an inquiry stance, the likelihood that students will become lifelong inquirers increases exponentially. Inquiry, then, will be experienced as an authentic approach to schooling as well as learning and life.

This idea of inquiry as a stance connects strongly with my experience as an educator. I believe and have experienced the role of the school librarian as a leader who ensures that inquiry is systematically integrated into school curricula. Leading classroom teachers and specialists to the need to dedicate time for inquiry and creating space for students to explore is essential work for school librarian leaders. Although I have never had the total experience of inquiry being the sum total of the curriculum, I can imagine it.

Inquiry in the Digital World
Along with our students, all connected adults have or have had the overwhelming experience of locating too much information related to a particular topic or idea. We have also experienced misinformation, disinformation, and outright propaganda, and the digital siren song of distractions that are constantly competing for our attention. All of these contribute to the challenges students (and adults) experience in learning in the digital world.

Remote learning during school closures has only exacerbated this situation because the alternatives to pursuing information online are constrained without physical access to resources. Sorting facts from fiction, perspectives from biased information, content that meets our purposes and answers our questions can be even more difficult when we are socially separated from peers and guides.

Problems Create Opportunities
Last week, I attended the Arizona Library Association’s virtual conference. Brian Pichman, Director of Strategic Innovation at the Evolve Project, was a keynote speaker. In his talk, Brian stated this: “Problems create opportunities.” I agree with this statement but I often wonder who gets to identify what the “problem” is. From whose perspective is this a “problem?”

In the case of inquiry in the digital world, my perspective is that “inquiry” is not the problem. Giving students time and space to develop curiosity and explore are essential to their development as thinkers and doers. For me, the “problem” is the digital part in that many students today—if they are given the time and space to be inquirers—lack the skills and guides they need to be successful in the chaos of the online learning environment.

How can school librarians capitalize on our knowledge and pedagogical skills to solve the problem of students’ digital overload? How can we insist on knowledge construction in the digital world rather than more and more consuming? How can we solve students’ and our problem with Zoom fatigue?

Is “isolation” the problem? I believe translating our practice and emphasizing interactivity between educators and students, connections between content and students out-of-school lives, and increasing one-on-one, peer-to-peer communication in the virtual learning environment may hold promise. What do you think?

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2018. Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy. Chicago: ALA.

Pichman, Brian. 2020. “20 Ideas to Spawn Innovation 2020.” Arizona Library Association Conference. Online. October.

Stripling, Barbara K. 2020. “The Process and Stance of Inquiry in a Digital World [15:46].” School Library Connection Video. October. https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2254856?topicCenterId=2252404.

Image Credit
geralt. “Laptop Question.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/photos/laptop-question-question-mark-2709647/

Innovation and Leadership During Challenging Times

In writing an op-ed on the topic of the Invest in Education Act (Arizona ballot initiative Prop. 208) “Our Opportunity to Repair (Arizona) Public Education,” I wanted to be sure that I was accurately representing the work of Arizona school librarians during closures or hybrid teaching.

I connected with several Arizona school librarians and compared their testimonials to the Back-to-School Survey data collected by the American Association of School Librarians and to my conversation with North Carolina School Library Media Association (NCSLMA) Leadership Academy members.

I am proud to report that school librarians across the country have been and continue to be innovative leaders during remote and hybrid teaching and learning.

Last month, I had the opportunity to think and share with NCSLMA Leadership Academy members during an hour-long Zoom meeting. They had spent several months reading Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy (ALA 2018).

Our September conversation focused on the challenges they have faced as librarians delivering library services outside the physical spaces of libraries. We framed our conversation with quotes from George Couros’s The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead in a Culture of Creativity (2015).

These are some of my takeaways from our conversation organized around the quotes that guided our discussion.

Leadership: “Leaders, whatever their role, will more easily change if they allow others to see them taking risks, failing, recovering, and risking all over again” (Couros 2015, 59).

When we were classroom teachers, we took daily risks with our students. While students are still the primary “audience” for our teaching, school librarians work in fishbowls. When we take risks, we have witnesses: students, classroom teachers, student and adult library aides and volunteers, and administrators, too.

Remote teaching and learning during the pandemic have upped the ante. With libraries closed or in a hybrid model, we often have parents and caregivers who are supporting their children in the (Zoom) “room” just like today’s classroom teachers do. This may test our willingness to take risks, fail, recover, and risk all over again.

The NCSLMA school librarians shared their experiences with taking risks during school closures. They realize that their ability to be vulnerable has been tested in these challenging times. Those who shared expressed that their confidence has grown as they have tried new strategies for serving their learning communities remotely.

Innovation: “Innovation is not about changing everything; sometimes you only need change one thing” (Couros 2015, 60).

Striving for equity can lead to innovation. Spring semester 2020 required thinking outside the box, especially when technology devices and access to broadband were unequally distributed among our students and families. We talked briefly about how the Washington (D.C.) School District, led by Washington Teachers Union President Elizabeth Davis delivered 100% teaching via TV when they learned that 38% of students had no devices or connectivity.

One elementary NCSLMA school librarian talked about collaborating with art, music, and PE teachers to develop televised presentations that could reach all their students. This powerful experience with collaboration could provide the experience these educators need to continue offering topical or thematic connections among their disciplines into the future.

NCSLMA school librarians who were experimenting with curbside pick-up for students expresses the age-old concern of all librarians: will the books come back?

One NCSLMA high school librarian solved the equity problem at her school. She gathered all of the computers that remained in the building and set up an appropriately distanced Internet café in the auditorium. Students who lack/lacked devices or connectivity in their homes signed up to use these workstations to continue their learning.

Technology: “Technology invites us to move from engaged to empowered. It provides opportunities to go deeper into our learning by giving us the ability to consume, and, more importantly, create” (Couros 2015, 140).

The NCSLMA school librarians discussed the problem posed by an emphasis on consumption over creation in face-to-face or remote teaching and learning.

One NCSLMA school librarian mentioned a professional development plan she created in conjunction with her new principal. Their goal is to engage students in inquiry learning using “Applied Digital Skills with Google.”  The outcome and deliverable she has proposed is for 4th/5th grade students to create tech-enabled learning products.

One challenge NCSLMA school librarians identified is that when learning went remote last spring many devices were sent to students’ homes. With the return to hybrid or in-person learning, the resources that were previously in school are now dispersed.

As a result, we asked these questions: What do teaching and classroom-library collaboration look like when all the tech is in students’ homes? Could this be a return to “slow” hands-on learning? How will students respond to using pens and pencils to physically write and to use tactile materials to create learning products?

We talked about the potential of real “hands-on” learning and students working in collaborative small group pods as strategies for helping them rebuild social skills they may have lost when they had little or no face-to-face contact with their peers. We talked about how engaging small groups of students in projects such as writing and performing scripts and music could benefit the whole child/student.

We also mentioned the idea of an “emotional café,” a physical or virtual space, where school librarians can help classroom teachers stay grounded in today’s reality with its current affordances and constraints. We all agreed that leading the social-emotional health of our learning communities is important work for school librarians and other school leaders.

Collaboration: “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning. It is the application of learning that breeds innovative ideas and practices that work for your unique context and begin to make an impact for the learners across schools and classrooms” (Couros 2015, 182).

In meeting other people’s needs, school librarians are in a position to build strong collegial relationships that lead to collaboration and build advocates for the contributions we make to the learning community. Through learning with our colleagues, we will be able to apply innovative ideas and practices. We will be able to analyze the results, modify our practices, and engage in continuous improvement as we explore and integrate our own professional development.

Leadership and Vulnerability
I just finished reading Senator Kamala Harris’s autobiography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey (2019). While I highly recommend the entire book, the “Test the Hypothesis” section near the end connected with the NCSLMA Leadership Academy conversation and with other school librarians navigating these challenging times for teaching and learning.

“Innovation is the pursuit of what can be, unburdened by what has been. And we pursue innovation not because we’re bored but because we want to make things faster, more efficient, more effective, more accurate… We expect mistakes; we just don’t want to make the same mistake twice. We expect imperfections; it’s basic for us… We know that the more we test something, the clearer we’ll understand what works and what doesn’t, and the better the final product or process will be” (Harris 2019, 253).

Thank you to the NCSLMA Leadership Academy school librarians for sharing your experiences, questions, and plans with each other and with me. I leave you with a parting quote: “Leadership requires confidence and vulnerability” (Harland and Cellucci forthcoming). You will be able to achieve a high-level of leadership if you continue to take risks, remain vulnerable, and continually increase your confidence through practice and reflection as you lead students, colleagues, and families through this challenging time.

References

Couros, George. 2015. Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead in a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Harland, Pamela, and Anita Cellucci. 2021. “Leadership.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. J. Moreillon. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Harris, Kamala. 2019. The Truths We Hold: An American Journey. New York: Penguin.

Image Credit

Pixabay. “Abstract Blackboard Bulb Chalk.” Pexels.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-blackboard-bulb-chalk-355948.

#lafcon Learning

Image: Books with a sign: "So many books, so little time."

And so many sessions, so little time!

Last week, I participated in the Library Advocacy and Funding Conference.  I appreciated that the conference organizers made it so easy for people to participate. All of the sessions were pre-recorded and those of us with other obligations on these days could dip and out of the presentations that met our perceived needs. (I also appreciate the access was extended through to the end of the week. Thank you, @EveryLibrary and #lafcon sponsors.)

When I wrote a conference preview last week, I thought I would write about all of the sessions I attended. However, such a post would be too long for this blog space and I did post thank-you tweets for most of the session I attended (see @CactusWoman and #lafcon).

Instead, I want to share my take-aways from two phenomenal sessions: “Small Doors and Broken Windows” presented by Alvin Irby and an interview with Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington (D.C.) Teachers Union. Each of these speakers had so much to share with school librarians, in particular; the following are just the highlights.

Alvin Irby, Small Windows and Broken Mirrors
Alvin Irby, former classroom teacher and part-time stand-up comedian, is the founder of Barbershop Books, a non-profit which he calls an “identity-based” reading program. Barbershop Books puts books selected by Black boys in child-friendly, male-spaces (barbershops) with the goal of all boys seeing themselves as readers.

Mr. Irby puts this work in a context. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 85% of Black male fourth-graders are not proficient in reading. Fewer than 2% of U.S. teachers are Black and a majority of Black boys are being raised by single mothers. Barbershop Books creates the possibility for access to books and Black role models that can help boys identify as readers.

And many of the books these boys choose for the program make them laugh! Mr. Irby cites information from the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report. Parents (and likely educators, too) want kids to read books that inspire them to do something good—books with good stories that make kids think and feel. And what do kids want? They want books that will make them laugh—good stories that are humorous.

In that vein, Alvin Irby delivered a critique of the books librarians honor with awards and the lists we curate for young readers. Where are the funny or gross books? You won’t see Captain Underpants or Walter the Farting Dog on these lists, but these are the kinds of books kids who are beginning to identify as readers want and need. (This may be a stinging critique for one of our sacred cows, but I think it is one to seriously consider as we rise to the challenges posed by illiteracy and aliteracy.)

There was so much in Alvin Irby’s session that was memorable and quote worthy for me. Here are two quotes:

“Cultural competency at its core is about humility. It’s about educators/librarians being humble enough to recognize that they (we) don’t know enough to recognize that they (we) don’t know everything that they (we) need to know to make that (reading) experience as relevant and engaging as it could be and that by actually taking time and making space to gain a better understanding of who the audience is and about what’s important to them…”

“If you look at a book list for any child and there are no laugh out loud books on it then I don’t even know what to say other than that book list is not allowing children to see their whole self.”

At the very end of his presentation, Mr. Irby gave librarians a critical key to success. Guest readers will read books differently. If, for example, we want to impact the reading experiences of 4th-grade Black boys, then we should invite Black readers into our libraries to share.

During the pandemic, many authors have given us the gift of reading their own books online (or giving recognizable celebrities permission to read their books). These recordings can be our guest readers. Let’s look for the ones read by Black men if we want to create relevant and engaging reading experiences for Black boys. (And the same practice will be true for any other group of library patrons.)

Whether or not you saw his #lafcon session, I highly recommend Alvin Irby’s 8-minute TED Talk: “How to Inspire Every Child to Be a Lifelong Reader.”

Elizabeth A. Davis, President of Washington Teachers Union (WTU), Washington, D.C.: Interview with John Chrastka, Executive Director, EveryLibrary.org
Ms. Davis: “Education is a civil right.” When she ran for WTU president, Ms. Davis’s platform was to transform WTU into a social justice union that would come to the table with solutions, not just problems, would amply the voices of teachers, and build respect.

She had been an activist educator who taught students how to write letters to decision-makers. In the interview, Ms. Davis tells an inspiring story of a 6th-grade student in her class in 2005 who wrote a letter to the principal asking why the library was closed. He responded that there was no librarian but he allowed the student access to the library during lunch. The girl discovered that the same books that were on the shelve in 1953, when the school was all White, were still on the shelves for her and her all Black and Brown schoolmates. After writing another letter, Representative Elijah Cummings invited the student to the Capitol to present her findings at the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

When schools were on the verge of closing in spring 2020, Ms. Davis asked all teachers to survey their students regarding their tech access. They found 38% did not have computers, and all of them had TVs. Using these data and a commitment to equity, Washington, D.C. schools delivered instruction via TV during spring 2020. Brilliant!

John Chrastka: “Politics is people or money.”

Fully resourced, fully staffed school libraries are a funding issue. WTU sponsors an Annual Fund Our Schools, Fund Our Futures budget campaign to activate parents to speak before the city council in support of school funding. This kind of parent activism could transform how budget decisions are made in every district across the country.

As Ms. Davis noted, leaders must listen to all education stakeholders to learn what matters to them. Ms. Davis found that in Washington D.C. “equity is the thread that connects the dots among school stakeholders.” She also noted that “if logic doesn’t work, shame does!”

I agree with Ms. Davis that educators (especially school librarians) have to realize our power. Through the students we serve in our schools, we are connected to parents, relatives, and caregivers who are voters. Educators must activate voters to change things that aren’t working. We must adopt strategies to change our daily working environments for our own and our students’ and colleagues’ benefit.

Ms. Davis’s advice to school librarians: Look at the power of the services you are providing and where those services are falling short in your school. Then, focus on how your contributions are lifting that up for students and classroom teachers.

This is the second time I’ve heard Elizabeth Davis speak about her leadership and organizing efforts. She is a wonder and her personal stories as a student and an educator are powerful. I wish there was an organization specifically for teachers’ union presidents. If there is/were one, she should be speaking at their conferences and leading their charge.

The D.C. school librarians are doing outstanding work, and it helps their cause beyond measure that they have an advocate like Ms. Davis who will stand up for them and with them and speak truth to power. She is a brilliant impassioned leader. Thank you, @EveryLibrary, for spotlighting her voice and work.

#lafcon 2020
As a no longer practicing librarian, I might not have attended #lafcon without the support of the Lilead Project. I appreciate that they gave me this opportunity.

By participating, I learned that as a literacies and libraries consultant, author, and school librarian advocate there was so much valuable information in the conference for someone like me. Thank you to those in the School Librarians Group who posted reviews of the sessions they attended and engaged in brief exchanges in a discussion forum.

I gained a great deal of knowledge that I will apply in my consulting, writing, and advocacy work. My only wish was that I had had more time to take advantage of more of the session offerings.

Image credit:
Prettysleepy. “Books Library Education.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/books-library-education-knowledge-5430104/

 

School Librarian Advocacy in the Time of the Coronavirus

These are uncertain times for many school librarians across the U.S. This summer, some are fighting to keep their positions even though they went the extra mile to support students, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents during the COVID-19 spring school closures. Others are fighting to restore school librarian positions because some decision-makers have come to the understanding that the pandemic and equity/social justice require all hands on deck and that school librarians have an essential role to play in education whether learning and teaching are conducted face to face or remotely this fall.

Megaphone with School Librarian Advocacy Text

It is in this climate that advocacy for our profession is most especially welcome. And this past week, we had Virginia Spatz from CommunityUnderCovid.com (Community thru Covid) to thank for that.

Ms. Spatz conducted an interview with Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington, D.C. Teachers Union and Kathy Carroll, President of the American Association of School Librarians. These three leaders discussed the role of school librarians on “Wednesday Act Radio.”

This is the link to the entire broadcast and this is the link to the piece with the exchange between Elizabeth Davis and Kathy Carroll (with thanks to K.C. Boyd and Debra Kachel for sharing this information on ALA Connect.)

Take-Aways
I listened to the latter and these were a few of my take-aways:

Ms. Davis gave a huge shout-out to D.C. school librarians for stepping up to the plate to help the Washington Teachers Union make the case for restoring and maintaining school librarian positions. All school librarians should have steadfast advocates like Ms. Davis. See background information below.

Ms. Davis also noted that when every D.C. school faculty includes a librarian, they must be allowed to focus on professional work; they must not be asked to do odd jobs like custodial work or “duties as assigned.”

The D.C. school librarians were proactive in aligning their work with district priorities and with standards. By advocating for school libraries and their positions, they were had a seat at the table and were able to garner advocates among the union leaders.

AASL President Kathy Carroll is an articulate and effective spokesperson for AASL’s support for professional school librarians. (AASL has supported this effort by the D.C. librarians.)

Ms. Carroll also noted the many ways school librarians supported remote learning during the spring 2020 school closures. She emphasized how the work of school librarians helps educators, administrators, and families reach their goals for youth.

Both Kathy and Elizabeth noted that listeners must vote for decision-makers who support equity in public education and library services, and school librarians for all, in particular.

The Best for Last – Gratitude and the ASK
Ms. Carroll was genuinely appreciative of Ms. Spatz for conducting the interview and for Ms. Davis’s understanding of the critical need for D.C. school librarians and her exemplary advocacy on their behalf. Kathy’s sincere gratitude was a positive way to conclude the conversation…

But Ms. Davis squeezed in the last word. She did what all advocacy campaigns must do. She made the “ask.”

She gave listeners the phone number of the Washington, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. She asked that everyone phone Mr. Mendelson and ask him for the necessary funds to adequately address the needs of D.C. students and schools, including providing funding for school librarians.

Chairman Mendelson’s number is: 202.724.8032

I made that call this morning. What about you?

Image Credit

Tumisu. “Megaphone Loud Scream,” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/megaphone-loud-scream-loudspeaker-911858/

Background information: EveryLibrary.org through SaveSchoolLibrarians.org worked with the D.C. school librarians to advocate by collecting signatures on an online petition. This effort was part of the political pressure placed on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser who increased the 2020-21 public education budget 3% or $70M, creating an opportunity for the Washington Teachers Union to seek restoring and maintaining school librarian positions as part of their negotiations. Read the Washington Post article.

A Conversation with Calvert County School Librarians

Last week, I had the pleasure of an online conversation with a cadre of outstanding Calvert County Public School (CCPS) school librarians and their district-level Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning Jennifer Sturge. This team of librarians serving students in Maryland, led by their colleague Monique, were in the process of a professional book study focused on Maximizing School Librarian Leadership: Building Connections for Learning and Advocacy.

After last week’s blog post “School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2,” their voices from the field were critical to furthering my understanding of ways to increase school librarians’ service to their learning communities—whether or not our physical library facilities are open. Note: Selected indicators interjected into this post are from the 6/15/20 post and demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators.

Photograph of a reflection in a pond sending ripples out from a single pointAs a way to engage in reflection, I launched our conversation by posing a “what if” question: “If you are serving your school learning community remotely in fall 2020, what would you do differently from your practice this past spring?” The librarians’ responses fell into four categories: getting physical books in the hands of students, increasing rigor through inquiry learning, communication and collaboration, and working with principals. Although more than one librarian addressed these topics, I have identified one or two people who took the lead in the discussion in each area.

Book Checkout
Many school librarians across the country and around the globe did not have the opportunity to plan for the best ways to get physical books into the hands of K-12 students before schools closed. Theresa shared how she is strategizing some effective ways to checkout and deliver/send books directly to students, especially if they cannot access the physical space of the library. I suspect all of us in the “room” agreed that getting high-quality, diverse books into the hands of youth helps keep their minds engaged in learning and growing as thinking and empathic people. (If you haven’t yet seen it or if you need another smile, checkout Nashville Public Library’s PSA “Curb Side, Baby” | What You Need to Know about NPL’s Curbside Service.”)

For me, this goal reinforces a key indicator in “Reading and Information Literacy Instruction:”

  • Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.

Inquiry Learning
Inquiry learning is a core practice in CCPS. High school librarian Donna would like to see increased rigor in remote learning through a greater emphasis on inquiry. School librarians have a strong commitment to inquiry learning as a way to honor student choice and voice. As authentic learning, inquiry prepares young people for lifelong learning. Classroom-library collaboration for instruction and shared responsibility for guiding students’ inquiry projects could improve student success even more when teaching and learning are conducted online.

Promoting inquiry in the online classroom/library is an essential aspect of “Integrated, Collaborative Teaching;”

  • Coteach with other educators whether face to face or online to engage students in critical thinking and deep learning.
  • Co-assess student learning outcomes with other educators to improve instructional strategies and resources and ensure continuous improvement for students and educators.

Communication/Collaboration
Mary Brooke shared her experience of the importance of school librarians communicating with a collective strong voice. She talked about the previously planned lessons that were ready to implement when learning when online. In addition to the lessons created by CCPS librarians, we talked briefly about accessing published lessons and units of instruction in order to fast-track instruction when time for planning is even shorter than usual.

Later in the conversation, we talked about the challenges of carving out collaborative planning time. While most educators agree that time is in short supply, using online tools for collaborative work is essential whether our academic program is face to face or virtual. School librarians who have developed strategies for using online tools to plan may have been ahead of the curve in meeting the needs of colleagues in spring 2020. In addition, educators must encourage school principals to create dedicated planning time for classroom and classroom-library collaboration, which in turn establishes a value for collaborative teaching.

For me, this conversation reinforced the indicators under “Collaborative Planning:”

  • Reach out to teaching teams and attend face-to-face and virtual team meetings to support colleagues’ teaching goals.
  • Reach out to classroom teachers and specialists to coplan and integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum.

Working with Administrators
Again, I believe everyone in the room understood the importance of positive and strong relationships between principals and school librarians. Both Anne and Monique shared their value for working with administrators to address the teaching and learning needs of faculty and students. This spring, many principals and other decision-makers may have been overwhelmed. Anne noted the importance of sensitivity to other people’s stress and monitoring one’s communication accordingly. Monique shared how she worked collaboratively with classroom teachers online this spring. In the process, she created advocates for the library program who may be poised to speak up for the impact of classroom-library collaboration on student learning outcomes.

For me, this is an excellent example of “Library Advocacy & Support:”

  • Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.

Learning from Spring 2020
A belief attributed to John Dewey based on this writing in Experience and Education (1938) can be our guide as we prepare for the 2020-2021 academic year: “We do not learn from our experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflecting on our practice as school librarians is essential and the change and challenge thrust upon educators in spring 2020 created a golden opportunity to learn from our reflection.

Thank you to Jen and the Calvert County Public School Librarians for sharing your reflective process.

Image Credit

From the Personal Collection of Judi Moreillon

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 2

Image: Equity spelled out in Scrabble letters.I believe a high-quality education is a human right, and literacy is the foundation for all learning. From my perspective, every student and educator in every school across the country and around the globe deserves to have a literacy learning leader in the person of a certified school librarian. However, lack of funding and misplaced priorities at the state-, district-, and school-site levels have resulted in fewer and fewer professional school librarians and a loss of equitable education for all.

Over the past decade, and in some cases longer, many state legislatures have chipped away at district public school funding. (For the unconscionable situation in my state, see the Arizona Center for Economic Progress’s 5/27/20 “K12 Budget Webinar.”) With ever-shrinking funds, school districts have been put in the position of making difficult choices and far too many times school librarian positions have been seen as “extras” and have been eliminated.

In addition, and as unfortunate, our local reliance on property tax-based funding for public schools undermines an equitable education for all. This perpetuates a system that results in “have” and “have not” districts. Districts with less tax revenue struggle to provide complete academic programs, including well-resourced, fully-staffed school libraries, up-to-date technology tools, art, music, and more.

Site-based hiring practices have also negatively impacted school librarian positions. Without leadership from district-level leaders, far too many site-level administrators fail to understand the value of having a professional educator guiding the literacy learning that takes place through the largest, most well-equipped classroom in the school—the school library. If cutting librarians is based on their poor job performance, then the appropriate response would be to put them on plans of improvement or replace them rather than depriving students, educators, and families of professional library services.

What Is a Librarian to Do?
The school closures of spring 2020 created an opportunity for school librarians to demonstrate to administrators, colleagues, and families their many contributions to student learning outcomes whether or not anyone had access to the physical space of the library.

It is in that context that I share indicators that demonstrate the roles effective school librarians fill in their learning communities as leaders, instructional partners, teachers, information specialists, and program administrators. In these five roles, they:

Leader
Culture of Learning

  • Create a sense of belonging, ownership, and inclusion in the physical and virtual spaces of the library.
  • Design a welcoming and universally accessible online library presence.
  • Provide and advocate for equitable access to diverse resources representing all cultures/identities and divergent points of view in multiple genres and formats.

Library Advocacy & Support

  • Collaborate with administrators to assess students’ and classroom teachers’ needs and develop and implement plans to address them.
  • Communicate clearly and frequently with library stakeholders (students, other educators, administrators, families, and greater community) in order to share the impact of school library resources and the library program on student learning.
  • Seek learning community support for library initiatives to improve student learning.

Instructional Partner and Teacher
Collaborative Planning

  • Reach out to teaching teams and attend face-to-face and virtual team meetings to support colleagues’ teaching goals.
  • Reach out to classroom teachers and specialists to coplan and integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum.

Integrated, Collaborative Teaching

  • Coteach with other educators whether face to face or online to engage students in critical thinking, deep learning, and the ethical use of ideas and information.
  • Co-assess student learning outcomes with other educators to improve instructional strategies and resources and ensure continuous improvement for students and educators.

Reading and Information Literacy Instruction

  • Promote reading for information and for personal enjoyment.
  • Coteach how to locate, find, analyze, and use information.
  • Coteach making meaning from texts in all formats (reading comprehension).

Information Specialist
Information Access and Delivery

  • Reach out to colleagues to support educators’ and students’ use of digital devices and tools and electronic resources.
  • Integrate the paper print and virtual resources of the library into the school’s face-to-face and remote academic learning program.
  • Provide instruction to support students and educators in using electronic resources ethically and safely whether from home or from school.
  • Provide online tutorials to support students and educators in using electronic resources effectively.

Program Administrator
Library Management

  • Align the library vision, mission, and goals with those of the school and the district.
  • Use library management software to generate reports and use data to improve library services.

In-School and Remote Collection Aligned to Curriculum, Classroom Teacher, and Student Needs

  • Assess and develop the paper print and electronic library collection to meet the instructional needs of colleagues.
  • Assess and develop the library collection to meet the academic and personal reading needs of students.

Funding & Budget Management

  • Write grants and seek funding to provide students and other educators with resources, including technology devices and tools.
  • Manage the library budget responsibly and help guide district-level purchases to meet the academic program and personal learning needs of students, educators, and families.

Taking Action
Serving as an effective school librarian is a complex job. It requires a passion for learning and literacy and a steadfast commitment to serve the entire learning community. There are exemplary librarians serving at this high level across the U.S. and around the globe. For two examples, see last week’s post School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1.

If you are an effective school librarian or other educator, please share with me what I missed. If you are a school administrator or school librarian educator, consider how we can shore up the school librarian profession to ensure that all students, educators, and families have equitable, high-quality library services.

Image Credit

Wokandapix. “Equity Fairness Equitable Letters.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/equity-fairness-equitable-letters-2355700/

School Librarianship in the Time of Coronavirus, Part 1

Perhaps like me, you are an educator who believes that part of achieving restorative social justice in the U.S. involves creating and supporting a high-quality public school system that is equitable and relevant for all preK-12 students regardless of where they live. Such a system would require at least one state-certified school librarian in every public school across this country.

It is in this context that school librarians and our state-level organizations and national association have conducted surveys, held meetings, and worked to develop flyers, posters, and other marketing tools to share how school librarians support student learning—even when the physical space of the library is shuttered and its paper print resources are, for the most part, inaccessible to students, classroom teachers, specialists, and families.

In times such as these, it is important that we look for the bright spots of success that flourish across the U.S. and around the globe as we describe school librarianship in the time of coronavirus and adapt exemplary practices to our own teaching and learning situations.

Two Brilliantly Bright Spots
Last Friday, I attended “Building Strong Partnerships with School and District Leaders,” a webinar sponsored by Future Ready Librarians®. The teacher librarians and administrators from two distinctly different districts shared how they met the challenge of school closures.

Van Meter Community School District (VMCSD) (IA) Superintendent Deron Durflinger and Shannon McClintock Miller, Future Ready Librarians® spokesperson and VMCSD K–12 district teacher librarian shared how their digital learning efforts align with the district’s vision, mission, and culture. Shannon noted that the district was able to build on the communication and collaboration practices that began when they implemented a 1:1 program eleven years ago and fine-tuned in the last few years. In VMCSD, they attribute their success to a focus on empathy and “being there” for their classroom teachers, students, and families. They also noted that having confidence in the support they would receive and “being in it together” gave educators the essential right to fail, learn, and grow.

Vancouver Public Schools (VPS) (WA) teacher librarian Traci Chun and Jeremy Tortora, Associate Principal and Athletic Director, shared how they partnered with one another and their faculty, staff, students, and families to meet the needs of their learning community during the shutdown. Although VPS has had a modified 1:1 program for ten years, it wasn’t the devices alone that Mr. Tortora attributed to their success. He noted that the district and the schools in the district focus on sustaining a culture of collaboration supported by teacher librarians. As Mr. Tortora noted, librarians know the strengths of individual educators and what they need. In addition to tech support, this knowledge helped Traci and other school leaders provide social emotional support for educators.

Both Shannon and Traci shared how the curation tools they had developed with classroom teachers and used with students prior to the pandemic were instrumental in ensuring that students, educators, and families had access to resources and were comfortable using these pathways. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators were careful not to overwhelm classroom teachers. They provided information and support but enacted the “less is more” concept in terms of covering curriculum and implementing new digital tools.

Reoccurring Themes
As readers of this blog know, I listen and light up when I hear the words “collaboration” and “coteaching.” This webinar did not disappoint. The focus on communication and listening in both districts provided a foundation on which to build their collaborative work. At the building level and at the district level, Shannon, Traci, and all teacher librarians can share their global perspective of the learning community to support educators transitioning to remote learning as well as guide district-level tech tool purchases.

Communication was another reoccurring theme. In both districts, teacher librarians and administrators listened to other educators’ needs and responded promptly and with sensitivity for where the teachers “were at.” They monitored the frequency of their communications and carefully considered the level of support they offered based on individual educators’ needs and capacity to utilize new strategies and tools.

The emphasis on relationship building in a culture of collaboration and clear communication in both districts were in evidence throughout the webinar.

Adapting Practices
Clearly, school closures highlighted the grave injustice created by the inequitable distribution of technology devices and resources needed for students to conduct learning from their homes. In the webinar, moderator Mark Ray noted that some librarians and others listening to this webinar would be thinking about how to adapt the practices in VPS and VMCSD to their own learning environments. I was one of those.

When schools closed in Arizona, 100,000 or more students were without the necessary devices to engage in remote learning. In Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), 18,000 lacked these tools. With about 40,000 students, TUSD, the second largest district in the state, serves an urban, high-needs student population. The district scrambled to provide devices to all students and families. For more on the specifics of the situation in our state, see my 5/15/20 op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star: “What the pandemic has taught us about K-12 schooling in Arizona.”

In light of this situation, my big take-away from the FRL webinar was how many years VMCSD and VPS had been (unknowingly?) “preparing” for the pandemic. While they were ramping up their 1:1 programs and their technology tools support for students and educators, they were focused on the big picture—their districts’ vision and mission and developing a culture of learning and collaboration that carried them through this spring’s school closures.

Bottom Line
It was in this network of communication, caring, and sharing that their efforts succeeded. It was collaboration at all levels—among students, educators and teacher librarians, administrators, and families—that made their move to fully online teaching and learning a success.

Collaboration is the difference we can make… with the support of our administrators. Shannon McClintock Miller

Say, yes! and “be brave before perfect.” Traci Chun

Thank you, Shannon and Superintendent Deron Durflinger, Traci and Associate Principal Tortora for sharing your exemplary work. Thank you, Mark Ray, for moderating this webinar. I highly recommend that all school librarians view this webinar and reflect on their capacity for leadership as they plan and go forward into the 2020-21 academic year.

Image Credit: From the personal collection of Judi Moreillon

Social Justice in the Library

Do you believe that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities? Do you believe in equitable access to these opportunities—meaning that everyone is supported in getting what they need to succeed?

Image: Hands holding a heart with the scales of justiceFor me, access to high-quality literacy learning is a social justice issue. If you believe that access to high-quality literacy learning is an essential right of all children in the U.S. and around the globe, how will you take action for this human right?

Social justice must manifest in the everyday lives of all people. Finding a workable definition for social justice is not an easy task. Many definitions focus on “fairness” and “equalization” but they fail to suggest how (universal) equity can be achieved.

Social Justice in the Library
What does social justice look like in the library? In addition to a diverse collection of resources that is available and barrier-free for all library users, what are the criteria with which we can assess the evolution of our library programs toward social justice? In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to paper print and technology resources for learning through school and public libraries and the work of librarians are two of many areas of inequity and injustice in U.S. society that have been exposed during the current health and socioeconomic crisis. (See @MediaJustice and the #Right2Connect campaign and get involved.)

What are other ways that social injustice in manifest in our schools and libraries? Are we meeting the needs of all English language learners and their families? Are we providing the necessary technology and support to students with special needs? Is our community serving incarcerated and homeless youth? Have school closures finally made voters in our states aware that a large percentage of young people in the U.S. today rely on their school for daily meals? Are many of these injustices based on race and socioeconomic status?

If social justice is to be achieved for children, it is up to adults to ensure that preK-12 students advocate for and enact these rights for youth.

Educating Ourselves
Librarians must first educate ourselves. Project READY is an Institute of Museum and Library Services funded initiative of the University of South Carolina, Wake County Public Schools, and North Carolina Central University. “The primary focus of the Project READY curriculum is on improving relationships with, services to, and resources for youth of color and Native youth.”

As noted in the Project READY glossary: “Social and institutional power is unequally distributed globally and nationally, and may be conferred by one’s gender, race, sexuality, wealth, education, or other means.” If social and institutional power were equally distributed, then social justice would be achieved.

The website offers a “series of free, online professional development modules for school and public youth services librarians, library administrators, and others interested in improving their knowledge about race and racism, racial equity, and culturally sustaining pedagogy” (Project READY).

I believe today during school closures is the opportune time to access the information and resources on this site. Why not invite other librarians or classroom teacher and administrator colleagues to join you in this professional learning opportunity?

Educating Students for Social Justice
With this knowledge and a commitment to continuing to learn and reflect on our practice, we can collaborate with our classroom teacher and specialist colleagues, and public librarian children’s and teen librarians to teach K-12 students the principles of social justice. Two resources may be of particular interest in that endeavor.

Teaching Social Justice
TeachingTolerance.org offers social justice standards to support a K-12 anti-bias education. Educators and administrators can use the Teaching Tolerance curriculum guide “to make schools more just, equitable, and safe.” The standards are divided into grade bands and are organized around four domains: identity, diversity, justice, and action. The curriculum includes school-based scenarios to help students explore anti-bias attitudes and behaviors.

These are examples of standards under each of the domains.

Identify: Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Diversity: Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.

Justice: Students will recognize stereotypes and relate to people as individuals rather than representatives of groups.

Action: Students will express empathy when people are excluded or mistreated because of their identities and concern when they themselves experience bias” (Teaching Tolerance 2016).

A recent EBSCO blog post offers additional resources and connections including a link to a January/February 2020 Knowledge Quest article “School Librarians & Social Justice Education” by Marianne Fitzgerald, Donna Mignardi, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker. In their article, these coauthors share how they are implementing the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards alongside the American Association of School Librarians’ National Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018).

Librarian Activism
As we prepare to return to our schools and libraries this spring, summer, or next fall, let’s consider how we are supporting students, other educators, and administrators in enacting principles of social justice. Let’s make a commitment to be leaders who act on our belief that high-quality literacy learning is an essential right of all children and take action to address this human right for their benefit and for our shared future.

Works Cited

EBSCO. 2020. “Social Justice Education Ideas and Resources for School Libraries,” https://www.ebsco.com/blog/article/social-justice-education-ideas-and-resources-for-school-libraries

Fitzgerald, Marianne, Donna Mignardi, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker. 2020. “School Librarians & Social Justice Education.” Knowledge Quest 48 (3), https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/KNOW_48_3_OE_SocialJustice.pdf

Teaching Tolerance. 2016. “Teaching Social Justice: The Teaching Tolerance Antibias Framework.” https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2017-06/TT_Social_Justice_Standards_0.pdf

Image Credit:

GJD. “Heart Love Passion Peace Sign.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/heart-love-passion-peace-sign-2028061

Equity for All Learners

Last week, I spotlighted one of the top five critical topics from the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) “What’s Hot in Literacy” survey: access to high-quality diverse books and content. In my post “Librarians Curate During the Pandemic,” I provided some examples of how school and public librarians are selecting and annotating online resources to support student learning and teachers’ teaching during school closures.

Image: Equality or sameness compared with equity or fairnessAnother of the top five critical topics was “increasing equity and opportunity for all learners. This topic has most certainly been highlighted both in the U.S. and around the globe during the pandemic. According to U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, nearly 12 million K-12 students nationwide lack broadband access in their homes in 2017 (cited in Common Sense Media 2019).

When librarians and classroom teachers are considering the necessity of providing online resources during this crisis, we must not forget that so many young people will lack the means to access those resources. See my March 16, 2020 post “Inequitable Access During School Closures.”

Equity in Classroom Book Collections
It is no surprise to librarians that equity is a top concern of teachers, higher education faculty, researchers, literacy consultants, and administrators. (As it was in 2018 “What’s Hot in Literacy” survey, equity is the top of five critical issues and respondents identify as deserving more attention and focus. When looking more closely at the issue of equity, the Literacy Today article quotes a respondent from Illinois: “educational inequalities are huge in all areas, such as teacher preparation, teacher opportunities for professional learning and development with their peers, adequate resources in terms of classroom libraries, and small class sizes. All of this greatly impacts literacy learning for students” (Bothum 2020, 24)

As a former school librarian and current librarian educator, I was saddened to read this particular comment. While I agree with this person’s assessment of the impact of these resources and activities on student learning, I am frustrated that school libraries and librarians are not mentioned. Classroom “libraries,” which are really “collections” not “libraries,” will never be able to achieve the robust diversity of resources afforded by a well-funded school library that serves the diverse academic and personal reading needs of readers at all instructional levels within a school.

Of course, classroom teachers must provide books and other reading materials in their classrooms. But investing in school library resources results in schoolwide equity. Classrooms will never be able to offer the range of reading resources that a school library can. A well-stocked library and library program facilitated by a state-certified school librarian also reflects a commitment by the school district and community to serving all students, educators, and families.

Access to School Libraries and Librarians
In the area of equity, forty-nine percent of the respondents say they want more support in addressing inequity in education and instruction. While all of the factors cited in the survey are important, I would humbly suggest that supporting fully-funded school library led by an effective state-certified school librarian should be a top priority in every school and district across the U.S. (and around the world). An open school library where students can check out, return, and check out more books and materials to read based on their needs and choices makes a difference in the quantity and quality of students reading.

Ninety-two percent of respondents agree that “educational equity for all students cannot be achieved without instructional equity” (Bothum 2020, 24). An effective professional school librarian who collaborates with classroom teachers to integrate vast array of library resources and coteaches the classroom curriculum can elevate literacy learning for every student in every classroom in a school.

Collaboration to Increase Equity
ILA Board of Directors member Rachael Gabriel notes that “structures aimed at collaborative problem-solving can be used as practice grounds for more equitable conversations because of their emphasis on protocol, participation, and the use of evidence.” When classroom teachers and school librarians share ideas, they further develop their understanding of how to best need the needs of all students. When they coplan, co-implement, and co-assess student learning outcomes, they gather evidence of the effectiveness of their teaching and can make modifications for improvement in their instruction.

Since sixty-one percent of ILA respondents identify collaboration as an area of concern, school administrators around the globe must step up to help provide educators with collaborative planning time with school librarians as well as with classroom teacher peers and specialists.

School Librarian Roles During the School Closures
The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conducted a survey from Monday, March 30, 2020 to Monday, April 6, 2020. There were 843 respondents representing all fifty U.S. states. (AASL will conduct and report on similar surveys in the coming weeks.) The librarians who responded cited unequal access to technology tools suitable for online learning as a problem during school closures. Librarians reported that students:

  • have full access to technology and Internet for personal use in their home (laptop or desktop computer): 49%
  • have shared access to technology and Internet for use in their home (shared computer): 25%
  • have access through mobile device (tablet, phone): 22%
  • do not have reliable access: 12%
  • do not have any access: 10% (AASL 2020).

The survey captured the many ways school librarians are adapting to changes in instruction and are offering the same services and activities provided during regular school days, including:

  • Offering resource curation and technology tools for “classroom” instruction: 84.89%
  • Expanding online resources: 80.37%
  • Virtual assistance: 82.06%
  • Virtual meetings/collaborative events: 74.29% (AASL 2020).

Please read the entire AASL survey report.

Schools Without Librarians
What the AASL survey could not capture is the lack of equitable access to online learning in schools without state-certified school librarians. We can speculate about what is happening for students, educators, and families in schools where a state-certified school librarian is not on the faculty. To be sure, educators in some of those schools have technology coaches who are helping them transition to fully online learning, but are they collaborating with educators to provide the specific learning and teaching resources needed to student and educator success? In some districts, there may be a “library” or “technology” person at the district-level who is providing some of these services.

However, without a building-level school librarian these services will be hit and miss in terms of the actual needs of students, educators, and families at any given school site. Some of the educators in all of these schools are the very ones who, on the ILA “What’s Hot in Literacy” survey, noted they were looking for instructional equity for all K-12 students.

For example, when schools closed in Arizona, the state superintendent of instruction stated that 100,000 of the 1.1. million students in the state did not have the tools they needed to be successful in online learning. The Tucson Unified School District identified 18,000 families that lacked such tools. (There are around 40,000 students in the district; the number of families is unknown to me but there are only 13 state-certified school librarians serving 86 schools.)

The pandemic has spotlighted inequity in K-12 education. How can we achieve social justice in education if access to broadband, technology tools, library-based elearning resources, and the expertise of school librarians are not universally available to all of our students?

The short answer is we can’t – but what can we learn from this situation, and how can it motivate us to take action going forward?

Note: In this blog post when I refer to learners, they are educators and administrators as well as students. All members of a school community must be learners.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2020. “Snapshot of School Librarian Roles during School Closures,” KnowledgeQuest.aasl.org, https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/snapshot-of-school-librarian-roles-during-school-closures/

Bothum, Kelly. 2020. “What’s Hot in 2020—And Beyond: ILA’s Biennial Report Highlights the Topics Most Critical to Shaping the Future of Literacy.” Literacy Today (January/February).

Common Sense Media. 2019. The Homework Gap: Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/kids_action/homework-gap-report-2019.pdf

Image Credit:

OccupyAwareness. “equality equity2.0.” Creative Commons.org, https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/9ebc181e-48a4-42c6-ab27-c86854d1ee0a