Infomancy n. 1.The field of magic related to the conjuring of information from the chaos of the universe. 2.The collection of terms, queries, and actions related to the retrieval of information from arcane sources.

The 100% School Library

February 2nd, 2006 by infomancy

When I wrote about School Library 2.0 recently, one of the things I touched on was the idea of re-positioning the library within the school. I spoke about the “school library as a platform,” except that my wife told me that was a horrid word and she refused to have it applied to her library. When Stephen Abram was down in a neighboring region recently, we brainstormed a bit and he helped me come up with a new word – foundation. So, this is about the “School Library as a Foundation” and a bit about re-branding (re-imaging, re-imagining, re-viewing, re-garding, whatever) the concept of school libraries.

You may recall that I ranted on a bit about a crazy idea called 65%.

65% is one of the more visible symptoms of what some would say is fast approaching a “do or die” time for schools in general and school libraries in particular. 65% is an altogether too powerful rallying cry for a fringe element that wants to eliminate libraries by forcing schools to spend 65% of their funding on student learning in classrooms. Oh, and libraries aren’t classrooms according to them (me).

Well, I wasn’t just crying wolf as a new story up on LISNews shows. “School Libraries in Trouble?” links to a Houston Chronicle story with an even more disturbing title – “Choosing sports over libraries is only one battle brewing under Gov. Perry’s 65% spending directive.”

From the article:

Tax-conscious business leaders and voters across the country have embraced it as a way to more efficiently use existing funds to boost student test scores. Many school superintendents and teachers are opposed to the idea, saying it’s nothing more than a gimmick that divides the education community.
Coaches are in, librarians out (Houston Chronicle).

But wait, there’s more:

Standard & Poor’s analyzed data in Texas and eight other states considering instituting a 65 percent classroom spending requirement. It found no significant positive correlation between the percentage of funds that districts spend on instruction and the percentage of students who score proficient or higher on state reading and math tests.

“Interestingly, some of the highest-performing districts spend less than 65 percent, and some of the lowest-performing districts spend more than 65 percent. Student performance does not noticeably or consistently increase at 65 percent, or any other percentage spent on instruction,” concluded the report (Houston Chronicle).

Being an Infomancer, I couldn’t help but take my own look at the data. The sidebar of the story helpfully lists the different Houston area school districts who spent 65% or more on “classrooms” as well as those districts that spent less than 65% on “classrooms.” Guess what…drum roll please…the 65% idea is crap.

In the districts that spent 65% or more, the average percentage of students passing the state exams was 69.25. In the districts that spent LESS than 65% on “classrooms” and more on other things like libraries and staff development, the average percentage passing was 70.7 (including an extreme outlier of only 35% passing). If we look at our data another way, we see even more. The median (middle point) for the districts spending more than 65% was 66% of students passing. The median for districts spending less than 65% was 74.5% of students passing.

While this in no way implies that libraries are the cause for higher achievement in districts that spend less than 65% of their funding in so called “classrooms”, I think it does suggest that 65% and eliminating libraires may not be a good idea. We know, after all, that there is a correlation between strong libraries and higher achievement. Apparently the 65% thing is just so much hot air.

So why are we even having this conversation? The Houston Chronicle could have mentioned that football (considered classroom expenditure under 65% rule) was trumping staff development (not classroom with 65%). My guess is that the general public doesn’t understand or really care all that much about staff development. Those of us in the field know that there are mountains of research showing the efficacy of staff development, but that doesn’t equate to a lovable “brand.” I would suggest that the juxtaposition of football and libraries shows that libraries are considered to be a high-quality, respected brand. Remember, after all, this is Texas where football is in no way “just a game.” Still, the Houston Chronicle must have figured that showcasing libraries in this position of danger would encourage people to read the article.

Let’s face it: People Like Libraries. Which is why I had to scratch my head alongside Walt Crawford as he looked at a rant from a marketing consultant calling for an end to all “libraries.” I am proud to be able to say I am a certified librarian. I like working with and for libraries. Because, People Like Libraries.

What I said over at Walt’s blog, and what I have been saying here for a while, is that libraries do need to take a careful look at their brand. I should clarify that I am speaking about school libraries when I say “libraries” because that is all I can really speak to. This whole 65% thing shows the danger of school libraries not being seen as the foundation of a school’s instructional programs.

My thoughts on what we probably need to tackle:
1) School Librarians are Teachers. School library media specialist (SLMS) seems to be a popular term, but not only is it rather a mouthful, it leaves out that critical word – teacher. Instead, let’s shift our language and call ourselves teacher librarians. Think about it – that places the two defining words for our jobs right there in one place. Some may say we could go with “library teachers” but I don’t like the connotation there. That title straps the librarian into a room and says she/he cannot be a teacher outside of the library or the library subject. Not the case for a school librarian who makes use of the school library as a foundation. I also like the suggestion that teacher librarians can be interpreted as both “librarian as teacher” and “librarian for teachers.” We are both a model and a support. So rise up with me and proudly proclaim yourself to be a teacher librarian whose classroom just happens to be the entire world of information!

2) Libraries and Books. The newly re-branded (man, must be something in the water recently) OCLC Newsletter, NextSpace, released it’s first issue with a cover story on re-branding libraries. Note re-branding LIBRARIES, not, as the other guy Walt talks about calls for, elimination of the term library. Remember, People Like Libraries. Still, I worry about the same thing OCLC talks about in their article: is it healthy that libraries are mainly seen as places with books?

“As one 41-year-old Canadian responder put it, “Books, books, books, rows and rows of books, stacks of books, tables filled with books, people holding books, people checking out books. Libraries are all about books. That is what I think and that is what I will always think (OCLC).”

I suggest that we need to re-mix this statement a little to better represent the “digital re-shift” I talked about with School Library 2.0.

>”As one 29-year-old Western New Yorker put it, “Stories, non-fiction stories, fiction stories, rows and rows of stories, stacks of stories in books, computers filled with stories, people holding physical stories, people downloading digital stories. Libraries are all about stories. That is what I think and that is what I will always think (OCLC).”

Thanks goes to Walt for helping me see that even though it works better with the title of this blog, it is still too confining to think about libraries as places for information. Walt uses the word narrative, but I think I like to think about libraries being story places. Or, as a marketing type person in the OCLC article put it “A library is where information and community converge; it’s the ultimate marriage of Google and Starbucks. Think bigger than books and information; think in terms of the experiences your patrons value (OCLC).”

4 Responses to “The 100% School Library”

  1. walt Says:

    I think of “story” and “narrative” as essentially synonymous, and I used to use “story” where I recently use “narrative.” So you won’t hear any dissent from me about “Libraries are all about stories.” It’s probably a better word, and I should go back to using it!

  2. Christopher Harris Says:

    Blogging newcomer, Sara Kelly Johns, has a great review of more 65% issues from Georgia. The AASL is trying to tackle this as well, she shares, but it can’t hurt to spread the word however possible!

  3. Infomancy » AASL/ALA Position on 65% Says:

    [...] nday 6 February 2006 I have been talking about the potential negative impact of the 65% solution in a number of posts. As noted in a comment, Sara Kelly Johns had nice coverage [...]

  4. Infomancy » Teacher-Librarians Says:

    [...] librarian. I guess we still have a ways to go to educate everyone as to what we do! As I have said before, I am becoming quite convinced that exchanging the “school library media specialist& [...]