What does a successful library look like? What is the rubric by which school libraries can be measured to determine if they are successful?

Library Success?

These were a couple of the questions that arose while I read fellow classmate Karen’s blog post about Making Libraries Successful. In previous courses I’ve encountered similar themes: marketing your library, promoting your library, increasing your library’s Return on Investment (which is absurd, really but that’s a whole other blog post-coming soon!). Karen was thinking about what sets the standard for success for a library. In her position, she spends much of her time focusing on acquisitions and her entire budget seems dedicated to collection development while the furniture falls apart and the computers are picked off one by one with age. There’s no money for upgrades let alone programming.

Putting programming aside for now, I want to talk about this broader concept of success in the school library. Of course the standard line is that school library success really depends on the individual library and the school culture but that’s a really unfulfilling answer. Surely we must have some basic standards that we can all agree on, right?

We do, and we don’t. This is the make-up of the USA and how for some reason each state needs to have power to control what standards are for them and this is why kids in  Texas have Social Studies texts that don’t think slavery was a bad thing, but I digress.

The guidelines that we do have are from the American Association for School Librarians Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs. These guidelines are referenced for nearly all school library programs in the US as well as the United Kingdom and Japan. But guidelines don’t delineate success. Sure, Empowering Learners references formative and summative assessments but each only garners a mention briefly and provides no practical application to determine whether our libraries are successful. What if I want a definitive test of my library’s success?

Are We Successful yet?

Before you go off suggesting that I’m all for standardized testing for libraries, that’s not what I’m advocating, not in the least. I abhor standardized testing (but not standards) and I feel they are as bad of an idea now as they were in the days of Sputnik when they first reared their ugly heads. Standardized tests/assessments won’t tell you your library’s  success any more than it’s an accurate measure of school achievement for students. Assessments are most beneficial when they are created by the person needing the information and based on the environment being assessed. For the same reason that a teacher knows best how to assess their students for progress, so too does the librarian know best how to judge success in their library.

In this way librarians should be creating a performance review for their library the same way they do for professional development.

  • Each year set goals for your library.
  • Set action steps.
  • Reassess.
  • End of the year assessment.
  • Were you successful? Reflect. Why or why not? What was missing?
  • Set new or amended goals for the next year

This is really the only way you can determine if your library is successful. Your goals may not be lofty. Karen (remember Karen who set all this in motion?) Karen’s principal wants library programs. But the library policy for funding seems to only allocate funds for collection development. If Karen flips through Empowering Learners she’s going to get frustrated and angry trying to mold her library into that success model. I suggest she start a performance review of her library. She can use Empowering Learners, IFLA, CA Model Library Standards and many many others to measure her program. Present it to her principal. “This is how our library is doing. This is what you’re asking me, and these are the policies in direct conflict to engaging in those activities. This is my proposal for library improvement.” Karen knows best what her library and her students need to succeed. Her principal (and most likely upper administration) don’t. I think the first measure of success will be Karen standing up for her library. I know she can do it.

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American Association of School Librarians (2009) Empowering learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs. Chicago: American Library Association

American Association of School Librarians (2014). School libraries transform learning. [Infographic]. Retrieved from http://ilovelibraries.lechleidermitche.netdna-cdn.com/sites/default/files/school-librarians-transform.JPG

Bressler Rockmore, E. (2015 October 21) How Texas teaches history. New York Times Online.  Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/22/opinion/how-texas-teaches-history.html?_r=0

California Department of Education. (2010). California model library standards. Retrieved from http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/librarystandards.pdf

Colorado Department of Education. (2016) 2016 Highly effective school sibrary program (HESLP) evaluation rubric. Retrieved from https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdelib/2016heslprogram

Crosher, A.L.  (2015) High school students exercise their First Amendment rights protesting high stakes testing. Retrieved from https://storify.com/callnumberninja/libr237-highstakestests

IFLA guidelines [Note: the IFLA website has been down for 2 days as of this post. link information will be added when the site is back up]

Massachusetts School Library Association. (2016). Standards and rubrics for school library programs. Retrieved from http://www.maschoolibraries.org/standards-and-rubrics-for-school-libraries.html

Rogers, K. (2017 January 30).  Making libraries successful? [Weblog post]. Retrieved from http://thatlibraryladykaren.blogspot.com/2017_01_01_archive.html

Sakai, C. (2002). Japanese librarians learning from American school librarianship. Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/mmschools/may02/sakai_nakamura_kitamura.htm

School Library Association (2017). International standards for school libraries. Retrieved from http://www.sla.org.uk/international-standards-for-school-libraries.php

University of New Mexico Human Resources Department. (2016) Employee performance review. Retrieved from https://hr.unm.edu/performance-review

Watters, A. (2015 June 20) How Sputnik launched Ed-Tech: The National Defense Education Act of 1958. Hack Education. Retrieved from http://hackeducation.com/2015/06/20/sputnik