Here it is, December 9th, and my last day of the Fall 2011 semester. Unreal! It is apropos then, that our last discussion for my Information Technology in Educational Organizations class is on the topic of leadership, as if our professor is sending us off into the future but reminding us that we’re not always going to be library students. We are soon-to-be librarians, and that job description (officially and often, unofficially) extends way beyond the physical act of running the library. We are being cultivated as a crop of new community leaders – whether that community be a neighborhood, a government organization, a school or a company.
One important aspect of leadership is demonstrating value. Not just the value of you, as a member of a staff or faculty, or even just of your library as a space. (Though that is part of it.) We’re going to need to demonstrate the value of our library program to the community and possibly sometimes the value of libraries in the world. Sheesh! No pressure.
Here is a :30 Animoto promo as an example of the types of ideas school librarians need to reinforce in the educator/ administrator and student communities they serve. The statements here are true, but a bit vague. I hope this serves as a starting point for people to give them ideas of more detailed advocacy outreach they can do:
Other than video production, there is some every day work we can do to gather evidence to back up our assertions on the value of libraries/ librarians/ programs. Sometimes you may want to gather specific research or test results to show improvement on a specific challenge your community is having, but these measurements are good to have all of the time, as a way of comparing one semester or year over past years to show long-term accomplishments:
Circulation: It is strongly recommended that you have an automated catalog in your library. If this is feasible, there are reports that can be run all the time to show the circulation of books and materials. You can drill into this data to show what types of media is most utilized, the breadth and depth of the collection and how that supports curriculum needs, and measure the effectiveness of your library marketing efforts.
Use: This is separate from circulation, but can support similar points of discussion. There are a couple of reasons to try to document the level of library use during each period of the day.
- To show value for the resources you need funded for your media center.
- To continue to demonstrate your value and qualifications as an instructor.
At the risk of going on a bit of a rant here, I have witnessed a few occasions already in which a public school administrator has tried to undermine the library program and basically mine the media center for technology, space and personnel resources to fill gaps within other areas of the school.
- This often comes in the form of asking librarians to cover periods for other teachers at a level which exceeds what is allowable in contracts. When this happens, it means the library cannot be available for students to use.
- This comes in the form of a library space being designated to house all students with free periods because classroom space is scarce. This results in the library space being unusable for instruction in support of classroom curriculum.
- This comes in the form of librarians being asked to dissolve physical collections to make room for offices or another computer lab because administrators believe it is space that isn’t being used to its maximum potential (which may not be true!).
The simple act of requiring students to sign in and state their purpose in the library for that period can begin to paint a really detailed picture for administration when you are in danger of losing your scarce resources and being asked to take on responsibilities that may be detrimental to the library program.
Student Achievement: It is a good idea to always have on hand reliable research that points to the positive impact school libraries in general have on student achievement. A great resource that points to several state studies is School Libraries Work!, a research report published by Scholastic. Look for studies from your home state, as well. Additionally, you may want to track various measures of student achievement in your school from year to year. See if there are programs you can run that will support achievement gaps, and use these measurements to assess how well your efforts are working.
Student Work: When appropriate, collect student-generated work from the library program, including an after-school program if you run one. This can go a long way to showing your value as an instructor and pedagogical collaborator. Show the ways in which your library program supports the curriculum, 21st Century Learning Standards, State and Federal Standards, and school-wide goals and initiatives. You may even find ways to organize these pieces by standards or goals addressed and present it in an annual presentation, binder or report.
Most importantly, even if you are working to prepare one year-end report, remember that evidence-gathering and assessment is an ongoing process. Don’t wait until the end of the year to make a mad dash to gather this evidence. Look for pieces of support as you go, and create an organized way to maintain it – filing cabinets, binders, or digital repositories. Your analysis should be regular, as well. Continually evaluate what is working and needs to continue, and where you might make changes or eliminate unnecessary or unsuccessful programs to make room in the budget to try new things.
Obviously, the biggest obstacle to evidence-based practice for librarians is that most precious of resources – TIME. This is a tough nut to crack, as most successful school libraries are constantly buzzing with activity. Hopefully, a proactive and systematic way of collecting and analyzing information throughout the year will make this a project that you can spend a few minutes a week on, which is much easier to make time for than days at a time in a reactive, “urgent” evidence-gathering spree.