The School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution? (SLIDE) Research Project is an exploratory project conducted under the auspices of Antioch University Seattle and funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The project began its work in September, 2020, and will conclude the investigation in August, 2023. This study will determine patterns in the continuing national decline in school librarian positions and how school districts decide to staff libraries for K-12 students in the U.S.
Kachel, Debra E., and Keith Curry Lance. 2021. “Data Speaks: Preliminary Data on the Status of School Librarians in the U.S.” Teacher Librarian 48 (5): 30-31.
Published Project Reports
Researchers Dr. Keith Curry Lance and/or Debra E. Kachel have published two articles and a poster in Teacher Librarian that illuminate state-level survey data from the SLIDE study that may help you in your district-level advocacy (SLIDE 2021).
Ms. Kachel’s February article “Data Speaks: Addressing Equity of Access to School Librarians for Students” includes these alarming facts: “Nationally there has been a twenty-percent decline in school librarian positions over the past decade” (Kachel 2021, 52), and “seven million students in the U.S. have no access to a school library with a certified school librarian” (49).
“The Status of State Support of School Library Programs” appears in the June, 2021 issue of Teacher Librarian (Kachel and Lance 2021). In it, they share the results of a survey of all 50 states and Washington D.C. The State Survey page on the SLIDE website provides access to state-level data that was collected via the survey. On the website’s Publications page, SLIDE provides reports based on the state-level survey data.
While all states have certification requirements for school librarians, only 43 have school library program standards or guidelines. Ten states plus D.C. have enforced requirements for certified school librarians; 16 states have requirements that are not enforced. Arizona is one of the states that has no mandated requirement.
The researchers found that the school librarian positions decreased between 2009-2010 and 2018-2019 by 9% in states with enforced requirements, 23% in states where mandates are not enforced, and states without mandates experienced an average 29% decline.
Enforced mandates matter.
Arizona is one of 17 states that has no full- or part-time state-level employee at the Department of Education who oversees school libraries. Thirty-six states reported school librarian shortages; 22, including Arizona, reported shortages in the past 3 years. Arizona is also one of just five states with no higher-education institutions that prepare school librarians. The researchers also learned that more preparation programs lead to more school librarian positions.
A table in the June Teacher Librarian article provides a snapshot of data sampling from thirteen states that have ratio staffing that codifies the number of students that are to be served by either a part-time or full-time librarian.
The article also includes a “Data Speaks” poster and references that will be important for advocates in their work. (The image for this blog post is an excerpt from the poster in the June issue of Teacher Librarian).
The important takeaway from this article, poster, and data is spotlighted on the poster. “As of 2020-21, the 50 states and D.C. vary dramatically in the extent of their support for the presence of school librarians in public schools.”
The lack of equity in access to the expertise of school librarians
is a nationwide issue.
Perspectives on School Librarian Employment in the United States, 2009-10 to 2018-19
On July 19, 2021, the SLIDE Project released the Perspectives report (Lance and Kachel 2021a). In a press release for the report titled “Most Vulnerable Students Impacted by Declining Numbers of School Librarians,” the researchers note these facts from 2018-2019 National Center for Education Statistics data gathered from 13,000 local school districts:
- Three out of 10 districts had no librarians in any of their schools.
- More than 4.4 million students in high-poverty districts (50%+ free or reduced National School Lunch Program) had no librarians.
- Almost 3.1 million students in predominantly Hispanic districts were without school librarians.
- Almost 4.1 million students in predominantly non-white districts were without school librarians.
- Smaller and rural districts were more likely to have no librarians than larger and suburban districts.
- Nine out of 10 charter schools had no school librarians (Lance and Kachel 2021b).
The Perspectives Report includes an executive summary, introduction, national-, state-, and district-level perspectives, and a conclusion. Each section is available as a separate .pdf file. Tables and charts throughout the report clearly illuminate these data and the researchers’ analysis.
In the report conclusion, the researchers state this: “If school librarians (regardless of job title) are to have a long-term future in U.S. public education, the school library community needs to better understand the perceptions, values, and priorities of those who make staffing decisions” (Lance and Kachel 2021a, 83).
Today’s effective school librarians teach media literacy, online safety, and digital citizenship. They codesign and coimplement standards-based lessons with classroom educators including determining instructional strategies, resources, and technology tools to support the classroom curriculum. School librarians promote reading and teach students to apply comprehension strategies as they read to learn. They select resources and manage the library collection for the benefit of all students, educators, and families.
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). Decades of research shows a positive correlation between the work of school librarians and student achievement, particularly in reading (Lance and Kachel 2018).
Yet, the initial findings of the SLIDE Project show school librarians are endangered educators.
Next Steps in the SLIDE Project
Over the next year, district-level decision-makers will be interviewed to learn what factors are influencing whether or not they employ school librarians to serve the students, educators, and families in their districts. Interviewees will be asked about their current staffing model for school libraries and how and why they made the decision to use the model.
Coming next week: I serve on the SLIDE Advisory Council and as the Arizona State Intermediary for the project. In that role, I provide Arizona data and connections to the research team. I will share information focused on Arizona school librarians in next week’s 7/26/21 post.
Gretes, Frances. 2013. School Library Impact Studies: A Review of Findings and Guide to Sources. Prepared for the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. Available at https://baltimorelibraryproject.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/09/Library-Impact-Studies.pdf. Accessed July 15, 2021.
Kachel, Debra E. 2021. “Data Speaks: Addressing Equity of Access to School Librarians for Students.” Teacher Librarian 48 (3): 49-52. Available at https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&edid=6b457264-4b51-4275-87a1-c8ed62b44733&pnum=4. Accessed July 15, 2021.
Kachel, Debra E., and Keith Curry Lance. 2021. “The Status of State Support of School Library Programs.” Teacher Librarian 48 (5): 8-13. Available at https://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk/html5/reader/production/default.aspx?pubname=&pubid=eae030fd-f08f-4952-9fd7-f475edae2de1. Accessed July 15, 202l.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2018. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Kappan Online. Available at https://kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/. Accessed July 15, 2021.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2021a. Perspectives on School Librarian Employment in the United States, 2009-10 to 2018-19. Accessed at https://libslide.org/publications/perspectives/. Accessed July 19, 2021.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Debra E. Kachel. 2021b. Press Release: Most Vulnerable Students Impacted by Declining Numbers of School Librarians. Available at https://libslide.org/news/. Accessed July 21, 2021.
SLIDE. 2021. State Survey Reports. Available at https://libslide.org/news. Accessed July 15, 2021.