The School Librarian Investigation—Decline or Evolution?

Antioch University Seattle has been awarded a $348,905, three-year grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to examine the nationwide decline in school librarian positions and explore how school administrators decide to staff learning resources—including school library and technology services—for K-12 students. Previous regional studies have found that school librarians are less available to poor, racially diverse, and at-risk learners and that high-poverty schools have inferior library programs and staffing. This research will shed light on the issue of equity and access of learning resources and instruction for K-12 students. The grant project was one of 31 applications out of 113 resubmitted that was funded.

Debra Kachel, Affiliate Faculty, School of Education, School Library Endorsement program, is the project director, and Keith Curry Lance, Consultant, RSL Research Group (Louisville, CO) is the principal investigator. This study will include an in-depth analysis of: 1) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) school library employment and other district data, 2) interviews with decision-makers in districts that have reported the greatest librarian gains and losses over the past five years, 3) job descriptions and announcements from interview sites, and 4) state survey data providing needed context.

Using NCES data, trends in national, regional, and state-level school librarian employment will be assessed noting differences associated with district characteristics, such as geography, enrollment, district setting, race/ethnicity, poverty, and per-pupil spending. A content analysis of current school library job descriptions and titles will also be conducted to determine the evolving roles and responsibilities sought by school districts. Finally, interviews of school administrators tasked with hiring library and instructional technology staff will identify various staffing models chosen by decision-makers—including school librarians and other positions—and factors that influence their thinking.

The International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE) and Future Ready Schools/Alliance for Excellent Education are project partners. A nine-member Advisory Council of prominent education and library experts, including Dr. Christie Kaaland, School of Education, Core Faculty, will provide direction and feedback on project deliverables. Dr. Kaaland will also attend conferences to meet with state and national library leaders and stakeholders to publicize and share project findings.  Representatives from 49 state library organizations or state library agencies have also agreed to disseminate project information and use relevant state data produced from the NCES data analysis.

Findings will be shared on a website with data tools, infographics, and videos. Web-based tools will make NCES data more usable and understandable by enabling users to generate tables, charts, and maps of state or district-level data, specifying years, library and other staff types, and values, or ranges of values, on district characteristics. The public website will allow school leaders to make data-informed decisions to improve equity of access to learning resources for all students. These deliverables will also help library educators and state associations and agencies to better understand the changing context of school librarianship and thus how school librarians and other learning resources professionals need to be educated and prepared to address the values and expectations of those who make staffing decisions.

This project was made possible in part by a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read more about the grant in Publisher’s Weekly.