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