Feb 22, 2010

A Letter In Support of Student Achievement

Fellow Parents, Educators and School Leaders,

I have the pleasure of serving on the board of my professional association as the school library representative in Indiana District 4. As part of my appointed responsibilities, I am contacting you regarding a very important issue. The students in your district are at risk of losing one of their most valuable assets in the journey to becoming well educated adults: a strong school library program, and a certified school librarian.

This winter you have been asked to undertake a very difficult and perhaps unprecedented task. You must construct an operational budget for your school district in a time of economic crisis. Though you have been given limited financial and professional resources from our state policy makers, you are expected to finalize a budget without negatively impacting the academic achievement of the children in your schools.

Often, in a time of budget downsizing, leaders decide it is necessary to cut professional and support staff positions. While considering staff cuts, you always try to protect positions that directly interact with students and support their learning. Because many of you are currently in this decision making position or have previously made these decisions, it is vital that you more fully understand the fundamental instructional activities that are the responsibility of your school librarians (media specialists). In an effort to help inform your decision, included in this message is research-based information illustrating how school library programs increase student learning and achievement.

Studies in over 19 states (including Indiana) have found that students tend to perform better on standardized tests in schools with better-staffed, better-stocked, and better-funded school library programs (see - http://bit.ly/yablog1
). I am sure you agree that while standardized testing is only one of many ways we should assess student learning, it is the method most valued by state and national policy makers in education. Test results are most often how lawmakers, the media, and the community evaluate the effectiveness of your school. If the quality of your school library program is reduced by cuts, more than likely student tests scores will drop.

Passing tests based on memorized facts is not an adequate predictor of how successful our students will be after leaving high school. Professional educators must look beyond testing and create programs for authentic learning. Because information and ideas are now produced and published at rates never before experienced, it is impossible for any student to understand and remember enough content in core subject areas. In the modern digital age, there is just too much to know! Now that an abundance of facts, figures, and opinions are literally at our fingertips we no longer require rote memorization for efficient problem solving. Instead, our schools must provide effective instruction and meaningful assessment to strengthen students’ critical thinking abilities. To ensure a future of opportunity for our students, we need to teach the skills necessary to find, evaluate, use, and create information using a variety of tools and resources. We are developing minds to deal with a future we cannot predict.

No other staff member in today’s school is more poised to lead and provide this instruction than well supported, certified school librarians. In fact, your school librarians may be the only educators in your district that actively plan curriculum for student and teacher development based on two sets of academic standards: The academic learning standards issued by the state, and the Standards for the 21st Century Learner (see -
http://bit.ly/yablog3 ) developed by our professional organization, the American Association for School Librarians.

If you review the framework of the
Partnership for the 21st Century Skills you will note that our students require the development of information, media, and technology skills as the foundation for authentic learning (see - http://bit.ly/yablog3). School librarians are trained to simultaneously deliver instruction in information literacy skills along with core content through collaborative planning and teaching with classroom teachers. When a content area teacher and a school librarian collaborate, the student-teacher ratio is cut in half, response to intervention is more timely and personalized to the needs of each student, and the assessment of understanding is more reflective.

While considering cuts of school librarians, library support staff, or library materials funding, you may wonder what children regularly do in the school library under the instruction of a school librarian. Among many other activities, the students:

  • Learn and develop a love of reading
  • Find stories and information that allow their imagination and creativity to soar
  • Discover how to successfully and confidently utilize resources of higher learning
  • Understand what it means to be a critical consumer and producer of information in a digital age
  • Internalize the importance of ethical and safe behavior in online environments
  • Experience how to actively and intelligently participate in a democracy
It is important that your school library programs are well funded and contain an exceptional collection of up-to-date, accurate, and age appropriate print and digital resources that directly support the curriculum. It is more important that a certified school librarian is available to teach learners how to appropriately utilize these resources. The library support staff is vital in helping with the day-to-day business of a library. Without their assistance, a school librarian cannot fully respond to the informational and instructional needs of students or teachers. However, because they have not been professionally trained, educated, and licensed in teaching and library science, these individuals cannot replace a school librarian in providing instruction, selecting materials, and preparing students for the 21st century.

In a recent blog article, Doug Johnson, author and Director of Media and Technology for the Mankato (MN) Public Schools, tells us that “…in times of budget cuts… a school's true values come starkly into focus” (see - http://bit.ly/yablog4 )
. As you make final decisions about staffing, I ask you to consider the essential role school librarians play in educating students. In the words of our former First Lady, and fellow librarian, Laura Bush, “School libraries help teachers teach and children learn… Books, information technology, and school librarians who are part of the schools' professional team are basic ingredients for student achievement."

Thank you for taking time to read this message. Please do not hesitate to contact me for additional information.

Maureen Sanders-Brunner
School Librarian
District 4 Representative
Association for Indiana Media Educators
Indiana Library Federation

The above letter was sent via email to over 60 school leaders in Central Indiana. The school districts they represent are considering, or have already, cut funding for school library staff and/or library materials.

I want to thank Carl Harvey II, for helping me by creating the foundation for this letter. Please read his excellent blog at
http://www.carl-harvey.com/. As of the date of this blog, Carl is a candidate for President of AASL, our national professional association.

I also want to thank the amazing school librarians who helped to edit this letter and who serve AIME. It is awesome to work with those who are dedicated to helping the most wonderful professionals in the world!

Those who are advocating in support of strong school library and media programs staffed by certified school librarians are encourage to link to or borrow ideas from this post. Also, please visit the AASL Advocacy website for a well stocked advocacy toolbox.


  1. As a student, I spent 23 years in school. I am now a parent of three teens, all good students. I have scaled the heights of several professions because of my ability to research effectively. And now I have founded a company, Dulcinea Media, whose mission is to help librarians and teachers teach students the effective use of the Internet. If you think students today know how to find information on the Internet, evaluate it and put it to use, then clearly you have not spent a lot of time thinking through the issue. And if you think that overburdened teachers alone can provide the instruction students need to learn to use the Internet effectively, then clearly you have not spent a lot of time asking individual teachers where this is the case. In the libraries of old, mastering the Dewey Decimal system was enough to get you started on your research. But there is no card catalogue 2.0. In order to use the Internet as a library, you need 21st-century research skills: the ability to pick out reliable sources from an overwhelming heap of misinformation, to find relevant material amid an infinite array of options, and to navigate the shifting ethics of creative commons and intellectual property rights. As good as kids may be on Facebook, they are not born with a digital M.L.S. These skills are learned, not instinctive, and the only way for students to learn them is for someone else to guide and teach them. Students will create and consume online content, and even social media will find a way into their research. Should a student trust a blog as a source in a paper? If not, then how about a blog on The New York Times website? A blog run by an online magazine? Can they use collaborative technology, like wikis? Even teachers need help answering these questions. There are no official guidelines to using the Web, and even if there were, they would change by the minute. As the information landscape becomes more and more complex, why would we abandon our professional guides to it?

  2. Congratulations. Your blog has been nominated for our Library Blog Awards. In fact, your blog was suggested more than once. We're in the process of assembling information about all those nominated and will be sending a short questionnaire, including the categories of awards and the judges involved. Would you please send me your email address so that I can send you the questionnaire? If your email is on your blog, I couldn't locate it.

    Thanks in advance,
    Peter W Tobey

  3. Wow, nominated for a blog award, but my email address isn't easy to find? I better clean this thing up before anyone else notices! Thanks for the inspiration to write more, and more often (... wondering how the judging panel feels about typos...).



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