Do school libraries improve student achievement?

Mountain climbing metaphor – ok, have continued to climb, with copious amounts of tea, wooly socks donned and at more bleak moments a hot water bottle for company (love them, I really do).  I am sure Sir Edmund Hilary had similar provisions on his real trek…although water doesn’t really do boiling hot on the summit of Mt. Everest so perhaps not.  I digress … and will continue to digress…. I have spent lots of time researching and writing the first essay for this course – crampons, pick axe and fighting off fatigue, scaling the lofty heights and generally battling on – sometimes swinging in the air with just a rope for support (oohh dramatic!) but got there in the end – well to the ledge bit of semi-relaxation one hits when you finish a big bit of challenge and then relax a bit!  Well so I thought until  I looked at all the course content (see below for bit  I am catching up on 3 weeks late) I had neglected.  A bit like making it to Base Camp 500 to discover you left your thermos, bobble hat and sleeping bag behind and you had better scramble back and get them chop chop or suffer the consequences – frostbite or panic attacks in this case at not being up to date!  So here is the sensible bit that addresses the the title.  

So do school libraries improve student achievement?

Umm – well yes of course they do!  That is of course the short answer.  Fortunately there are plenty of people out there who have taken the time and the effort to do some serious studies to prove just that.  

Ross Todd in his article “The evidence-based manifesto: if school librarian’s can’t prove they make a difference, they may cease to exist” – a little scary and blunt – discusses how evidence based learning can be used (continually) to improve student achievement through researching what students have completed in the context of the library.  Knowing that what you are doing makes a difference and quantifying that difference to the powers that be is essential to the role of the TL.

Lyn Hay – replicating the study from Todd and Kuhlthau (Student Learning through Ohio School Libraries: A Summary of the Ohio Research Study) establishes that school libraries do make a difference and interestingly enough are perceived by students differently than by teachers and teacher librarians – students seeing help with computing as being the most important form of help they receive from TLs but TLs responding to the survey that providing information for students is in their estimation the top form of help they provide.

The big difference in academic outcomes stem from the variety of support that TLs give students from providing the space, technological resources and information, access to different platforms, guidance with projects and inputing of information.  

The library and qualified TLs are so critical to the learning outcomes of students and therefore their achievements that one only has to imagine what would happen to the assessment scores of students if that resource were removed, downgraded or if the budget was constricted to a trickle.

I have enjoyed reading about how TLs make a difference to the academic lives of students and recall the incredible value I received from the library and its staff when I was a student.  The element of ‘safe and secure environment and a place to study’ comes to mind – it is not the first justification found in the articles I have read for maintaining and advertising the value of libraries and TLs but it can’t be underestimated.  In Hay’s research the students also valued the library as a place to access technology and expertise but also as a place to go to to further their studies – a practical help from a place open before and after school to read, study, discuss and access software/hardware to a place to print their projects when their printer at home had died.  Terrific stuff.  

The library is also a fantastic resource for literature – this seems to be a bit downgraded as a priority in all the fuss over technology, platforms, programs, digital literacy, transliteracy, information fluency etc but finally Judy O’Connell states that literacy is the basis for all we do – yes!  A lecturer once proclaimed that all subjects are taught through literacy – maths, science and all disciplines are primarily a literacy subject (you can of course argue amongst yourselves if this is true) and in my teaching experience the students who have a really fantastic grasp of literacy skills find it easier to grasp other concepts and ideas … although my research is not very robust!  So I see from my perspective (as being a literature fanatic) that libraries as centres for literacy (or literacies of all different types) are incredibly valuable at spurring students on to achieve across the board in all academic disciplines.  

Libraries are also great gathering places – especially in Melbourne in winter, with your posse of friends and the provision of a good few books, lunch (sneaked in) and some gossip, mixed with a smattering of puerile behaviour/ sense of humour – but that isn’t mentioned in the research either but frankly that’s how I used the library at school …. a lot .. and yes in the good old days of quiet libraries, our snorts, guffaws and hysterical hoots of laughter (some of the funniest moments of my life were in libraries behind the stacks, lying on the floor rendered helpless by fits of giggles) this was met with eviction…again and again!  If only the librarian of the 80’s knew what was coming!  Laughter, social interaction and gossip – welcomed!

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About kblaich

I live in Melbourne, Australia, have one lovely husband, one delightful daughter, one bouncy son, lots of pets (2 dogs and 3 cats) and work at a primary school part time. I am currently studying my Masters in Teacher Librarianship through Charles Sturt University.
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