May 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Saved by I-SAIL: Making the most of a tool that articulates the value of school libraries | On Common Core

In 2007. “ the superintendent came to me when he was cutting the budget and asked me why he should keep me and the library,” said Karen Smith-Cox. “He was not joking.”  Her story is not unfamiliar, but the outcome provides insight for all libraries.

“As I researched support to keep the librarian and the program, I stumbled upon a first draft of I-SAIL,” added Smith-Cox, a K–8 Teacher/Librarian at the Arthur/Lovington (IL) School District. “I read it and knew it was what I needed to document reasons to keep the library program. I-SAIL saved my job and the library program in my school district.”

I-sail logoIllinois librarians have been using I-SAIL (Illinois Standards Aligned Instruction for Libraries) since 2008 to link their lessons to state and national standards. This rigorous focus on learning standards has saved school libraries from budget and staffing cuts. School librarians in Illinois, and now other states, are using it as an advocacy tool to demonstrate how library instruction furthers the academic achievement of students.

I-SAIL was born from a simple request. In 2007, a school librarian took a moment in an annual site visit to ask Alliance Library System’s (ALS) consulting staff (now part of RAILS—Reaching Across Illinois Library System) for a library skills curriculum aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards and the new American Association for School Librarians (AASL) standards.

In January 2008, a focus group researched sample curricula and drafted the format of the tool. That August, ALS staff, with help from member librarians, published the first version. In October 2008, the framework was adopted by the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA) as a statewide model and endorsed by the Illinois State Board of Education. A 2011 revision followed the adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English Language Arts and Math.

ISLMA is committed to updating the I-SAIL document to maintain its currency and usefulness. It is also proud to willingly share it with others. With this one valuable tool, you can easily align your library instruction to CCSS.

I-SAIL is comprised of five library instruction standards with student benchmarks and objectives. The document takes what we do and puts it into words that make sense to administrators and teachers. From its inception, the document was created with the knowledge that it would need to be altered asnd updated to fit the needs of individual libraries. It can be fully customized to align with any district’s curriculum.

“As a grant scorer, I am reading wonderful things about I-SAIL being used by librarians as they create new collaborative units with teachers and departments in their schools,” said Becky Robinson, committee chair of
ISLMA’s latest update to the document. “It is such a rewarding feeling to see school librarians list I-SAIL standards, benchmarks, and objectives in conjunction with Common Core Standards as they plan new units of study to prepare their students for learning in various content areas.”

Smith-Cox, who was once searching for a way to keep her library off the chopping block, is now I-SAIL’s biggest advocate and ISLMA’s Standards chair. Her library’s vitality illustrates the value of aligning the work of the library to the Common Core State Standards. With the help of I-SAIL, she was able to demonstrate the cross-curricular value of her work.

Get your I-SAIL document at

Christy Semande

Christy Semande is the district librarian at Canton USD #66, Canton, IL, an original member of the I-SAIL committee, and a current ISLMA board member. To submit an On Common Core opinion piece, please contact Rebecca T. Miller at