November 17, 2017

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Rebuilding Libraries at DC Public Schools| Take the Lead

boudrye_2In February 2014, I joined the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) as director of library programs. As in too many districts across the country, DCPS libraries had been marginalized for years. The majority of school libraries were not staffed, since principals were allowed to petition away the librarian positions. Principals were able to hire candidates of their choosing, regardless of certification; as a result, non-certified people staffed several libraries. In addition, lack of central funding for library materials and a scarcity mentality contributed to aged, poor, and inequitable collections across the city. Library media specialists (LMS) felt unsupported and undervalued. Many principals did not see the value an LMS could bring to their school.

We had to raise the floor and the ceiling at the same time.

My team and I set three goals to move DCPS library programs forward:

  1. Staff every library with a certified LMS
  2. Update and achieve equity in collections
  3. Change the perception of what the LMS can and should be doing

Our first step was to change the hiring process for LMS. Working with HR and instructional superintendents who supervise principals, we established my team as the gatekeepers. HR staffers were happy for the help, because they did not have subject expertise or manpower to effectively screen candidates. We now interview every LMS candidate and are somewhat flexible regarding certification. We have to be—there simply are not enough certified LMS to fill all school library positions in the DC area. Non-certified candidates must demonstrate acuity and are allowed up to three years to obtain certification. Principals may only hire LMS from our approved pool, and petitions to eliminate the position are denied all the way up the chain. Over the last three hiring seasons, we have interviewed more than 200 candidates and have filled 100 percent of LMS positions, close to a 70 percent increase. I’m proud to say that we have an 86.5 percent retention rate for new hires.

In short, we secured the first-ever district-funded per-pupil allotment for library materials—$20 per pupil! While we have a ways to go to achieve equity in collections throughout the district, my team proved the value of the work, and were able to hire two central office collections coordinators to support the LMS. I have confidence we will continue steady progress.

To change the perception of what an LMS can and should be doing, we had to make clear that in addition to quality program administration, we expect LMS to be:

  • Instructional partners for all content, all grades, with a focus on information literacy
  • Leaders in instructional technology integration
  • Passionate advocates for reading

In DCPS, principals have 100 percent evaluative purview over their LMS. Previously, inconsistencies in LMS evaluation scoring were extensive—due, in part, to lack of clarity in identifying an effective library program. We collaborated with LMS on a guidance, or “look-for,” document featuring clear examples aligned to each evaluation standard. The document is the roadmap to “Establishing Excellence” and the examples are “Actions of Excellence.” Our LMS use this document to develop professional growth plans connected to school goals, which gives principals clarity on what to expect. My team provides ongoing clarification, guidance, and support to LMS and administration to ensure effective programs and fair evaluations.

We worked with central office professional development teams to include LMS in district-wide PD days. LMS are at the table with teachers, where opportunities for instructional collaboration become clear. Additionally, we provide monthly PD for LMS and use our learning management system (Canvas) to highlight exemplary practices and provide ongoing communication and resources for effective library programs.

Developing clear goals and expectations is the first step to changing the tide. Providing training and support with clarity is vital. Consistently communicating (strident messaging perhaps?) the value of library programs and celebrating great work is essential to raise the value of the role and to motivate all to achieve excellence.


Lilead Fellow Jennifer Boudrye is the director of library programs for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Prior to joining DCPS, Boudrye was a school library media specialist and administrator in Montgomery County, MD public schools. She is committed to ensuring that all students have access to the best information resources and opportunities to develop expert information literacy skills for school and life.

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Comments

  1. Pam Spencer Holley says:

    This is fabulous news! Thanks so much for sharing some of your
    techniques for returning librarians to the libraries of DC Public Schools.
    Gold star!

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