October 23, 2016

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School Librarians Want More Tech—and Bandwidth | SLJ 2015 Tech Survey

Photo by Bob Gathany.

Photo by Bob Gathany

IPads, maker spaces, 3-D printers, and coding skills top the tech wish lists for 1,259 school librarians across the country, according to School Library Journal’s (SLJ) 2015 Technology Survey. Educators are hungry to bring their students even more—whether that’s robotics classes or Arduino kits.

“New computers, tablets, video equipment, all digital tools, instruction on usage, [and] enough bandwidth” count among the must-haves for Andrea Oshima, a school librarian at Aviara Oaks Elementary School in Carlsbad, CA. Currently, 64 percent of school librarians consider themselves tech leaders in their schools—and 28 percent feel that their tech skills afford them increased job security.

While school librarians are eager to expand their tech tools, they have concerns about adequate infrastructure and connectivity, budgets, and administrative support. However, they know what their students need: “Without question, iPads,” says an elementary school librarian from Washington State, noting that iPad apps can offer “outstanding platforms for creating and showcasing student work.”

Supporting project creation

From coding to application development, adopting GoPro cameras and Raspberry Pis, librarians are determined to support “project creation,” as one respondent said. Thirteen percent will add a maker space next year, compared to nine percent in 2013. Thirty-eight percent already have library maker activities and tech. Video making and editing are the most popular, followed by computer programming and coding, LEGO sets, and robotics.

While enthusiastic about coding, many school librarians say they need more time and support to gain fluency. Asked about their knowledge of computer coding, 44 percent say they have at least basic knowledge, 48 percent have none, and eight percent are learning now or plan to.

“Any technology would be wonderful,” says Robin Brannan, a library media specialist at Enterprise (MS) Elementary School. However, “being a K–8 library, and myself being the only media specialist, my time is very limited.” Cathy Mayer, the learning resource center director at Lemont (IL) High School, is also a solo librarian for more than 100 faculty members and 1,400-plus students. She is “envious of schools that have technology coaches that are part of the IT or library staff and help head up these efforts.”

Chart Design and Illustration by Jean Tuttle. Click to enlarge

Chart Design and Illustration by Jean Tuttle
Click to enlarge


School librarians’ use of applications for instructional purposes has risen, with 71 percent of school librarians using these tools, including EasyBib and Evernote, compared to 57 percent in 2013. More than half instruct students and teachers on integrating these applications in their curricula, and 17 percent plan to add them to their 2015–16 tech tool kits. Elementary schools saw the highest adoption and an increase of 16 percent since 2013. Among those wanting to understand how to create tech, Beth Marshall at La Center (WA) High School says she is eager to learn programming “because I have had students talk about learning to do this as well.”

Social media use has also increased, with 76 percent posting library information across platforms (compared to 59 percent in 2013) and 42 percent using it to communicate with parents, up from 32 percent. The most popular? Pinterest (38 percent), followed by Google+, Goodreads, Twitter, and Edmodo.

However, social media access is still not allowed at some schools. “I wish our district would allow us to use apps and social media to communicate and share information with students, parents, and the community,” says Emily Moore, librarian at Lake Youngs Elementary in Kent, WA. Despite “a lot of internal hardware…we are still very cautious.”

Need for bandwidth

Access is an ongoing concern. While some librarians lack the budget to buy tech they want, such as 3-D printers or maker space items, others say they need more bandwidth to support computing and online needs, including those required in 1:1 environments.

Most schools have comparable Internet connections, in terms of speed, as do private homes, according to the nonprofit Education SuperHighway. But schools have 100 times more users seeking web access.

Bandwidth is the big issue. “As we move more resources, ebooks, collections, and adaptive reading programs to the cloud, that will increase the need for bandwidth,” says Doug Johnson, director of technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) School District. “That pipe has to be bigger and more redundant, too. So if someone with a backhoe cuts one piece of fiber, there’s a second piece that keeps the connection alive.”

Some schools “risk network days becoming the new snow days,” according to the CDW-G K–12 Connected Heat Map, a 2015 study of more than 400 school IT professionals by the tech firm CDW.

Basic connectivity is fine: Ninety-seven percent say their schools have WiFi, though 18 percent note that only staff can access the network, and only 63 percent say they have adequate bandwidth, compared to 82 percent in 2013. Education SuperHighway’s larger report shows that only 37 percent of schools have enough bandwidth to meet current needs for digital learning, according to its site. As more instruction moves online, from testing to curriculum materials, bandwidth needs rise. “The demand for bandwidth is growing at approximately 50 percent” annually, the site says.

Lag time to upload or download can also be a major distraction in a classroom and takes away from teaching time. Only 63 percent of schools have the necessary average wired speeds of one gigabit per second, according to CDW-G.

Supporting online access for schools is crucial, says Scott S. Floyd, IT director at White Oak (TX) Independent School District. “It has to be a priority of the tech department,” he says. “But instead, schools are too busy trying to control [the use of] bandwidth instead of looking at how to provide the bandwidth they want.”


For 2014–15, median funding overall was $4,800, compared to $5,300 in 2012–13. Elementary schools reported the lowest median budget of $4,200, compared to $4,300. Nine percent of school librarians reported having no budget at all.

Theresa Anderson, a school librarian at Justin F. Kimball High School in Dallas, TX, notes that her $400 budget must accommodate “laminating film, poster paper, and office supplies.” Others are eager for ideas on implementing maker spaces inexpensively. Google and its app suite topped the list of those school librarians used for productivity, research, and collaboration.

Librarians surveyed did spend a median of $1,000 on tech in 2014–15. Thirty percent were responsible for purchasing hardware and equipment, such as desktops and mobile devices, and 64 percent were charged with purchasing ebooks. Three-fourths of school libraries now have ebooks, up from 68 percent in 2013, and e-textbook use, now 12 percent, has doubled.

Device use

Sixteen percent of schools have launched 1:1 initiatives, with another 20 percent planning to add a program, most in the next two years, respondents say. For schools supplying these tools, iPads were the top choice, especially at elementary schools, where 58 percent use them. Chromebooks are next (40 percent); then laptops (34 percent).

Teachers usually have discretion about whether personal devices can be used in class. Most schools have a related policy on their use, according to respondents. For example, some schools allow personal devices only to support learning, while others allow them to be used during lunch. Elementary librarians, in particular, said that students are discouraged from using their devices altogether.

“We are a small K–6 school with dynamic, interactive, face-to-face instruction,” says Megan Sutton, school librarian at Weybridge (VT) Elementary School. “Only a small percentage of our students have personal devices….[their use] would greatly disrupt an active, creative learning environment.”

Librarians, tech champions

School librarians are firm in their belief that students will benefit from more tech, despite challenges. These lamplighters are convinced that with some shifts—more staff and funding, bandwidth, or time—they could bring more access, skills, and interactivity to learning.

“I want a maker space, the latest technology for discovery and learning, BrushBots, and so much more,” says Angela L. Green, a school librarian at Illini Bluffs Community Unified School District 327 in Glasford, IL. “This is my dream for the students, and I will work to make it happen.”

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. Here here! I ran a session last week at a conference run by School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV) -Australia. The conference was titled “It’s a digital world” and my particular session was about augmented reality and virtual reality as library resources. The interest in this stuff is real. I think, however, librarians need to really push the idea that tech and hack sessions and other tech maker initiatives belong in the library. There are many ways to achieve this. I really hope that the tech and maker culture succeeds in revolutionising the status and public perception of librarians. At the end of the day, we are knowledge facilitators… the medium is secondary. We all need to get on board with this and help each other out! Great article.