February 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Rally the Cause: Thriving libraries Equal Student Success | Feedback

For years I have been saying that the American Library Association (ALA) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) have been preaching to the choir; the group that needs to hear about the value of teacher librarians is administrators who hold the personnel and budget reins. In my large, multicultural, economically diverse, urban district of 19 schools, there are two professional teacher librarians—me at one high school and my colleague at the other. No one at the Central Office level takes responsibility for the libraries; we have no advocate at the top. We’re going into our second year with no budget for books, magazines, or databases (though there’s just a bit for tech).

This year, on the first day of school, I discovered that my principal had decided that the best use of the library was to house large study halls every period of the day, nominally “supervised” by disinterested faculty members. Last year, I lost part of the library as an in-school suspension space for several months; next year, I’m losing the library computer lab one period every day.

When the school formed a committee to design research at each grade level, my colleague (now former colleague) and I were not invited—though the first meeting took place in the library. When we finally complained enough, we became members of the committee, but were pointedly ignored as we spoke in favor of teaching a scaffolded research process rather than concentrating on product rubrics. Still, I inundate my principal with quality articles about the value of school libraries and ask for proof of “best practices” when decisions like those described above come along. But since there’s no one at the administrative level supporting the library program, the two of us at the high school level are lone voices and considered argumentative.

ALA and AASL leaders, movers, and shakers—take the message to annual conferences for administrators. Make them hear. Some will still make their decisions based on whatever voodoo data they claim to be using, but they can’t say they didn’t know otherwise.

Catherine M. Andronik
Teacher Librarian
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk, CT

Bravo on Rebecca T. Miller’s editorial (“It’s Time to Step Up,” June 2013, p. 11). I have never understood why the American Library Association hasn’t done more to help keep full-time certified librarians in school libraries. I hope your prediction of tapping Barbara Stripling as a leader for this charge comes true. SLJ is exciting under your editorship. Thank you!

Diane K. Zentz
Library Media Specialist
Warren Central High School
Indianapolis, IN

Pull QuoteI am writing in response to SLJ’s article, “ALA Promises Expanded School Library Advocacy in 2013-14,” Extra Helping, June 18, 2013). A group of concerned citizens has been working on revitalizing the school libraries in our community in Michigan, and this past year we were able to partner with our district library to bring a certified librarian back to the middle school. We have watched the students respond with enthusiasm. Teachers bring students to the library during class. We also open the library during lunch, and we had to cap how many students could come in because the response was overwhelming. Our librarian is very popular with students, staff, and parents, and he has become an invaluable team member at our school.

Our Title I school is a now a priority school in Michigan, so a thriving library is of utmost importance. Students need to be guided in their research efforts and they need to be exposed to a variety of resources, but even more importantly, they need a place with a large collection of titles where they can read for pleasure. We are on our way to providing these things for our students. Now, with ALA’s advocacy we can find more support.

Heather Albee-Scott
Parent Volunteer
Parkside Media Center Project
Jackson, MI

 Vocabulary development

Paige Jaeger (“On Common Core: Vulcanizing Vocabulary,” June 2013, p. 18) acknowledges the contribution of reading to vocabulary growth, but suggests that we need more; we need to require “challenging (and engaging) nonfiction,” “integrate academic vocabulary into our classes,” and add word games. We don’t need more. School librarians know how to help students develop a large vocabulary: provide a collection of engaging, understandable books, and help readers find the right books for them.

Studies show that when interesting and comprehensible books are available, young people read them, and that self-selected reading results in profound development of literacy, including vocabulary. Dedicated pleasure readers acquire thousands of words each year through reading, far more than they could from direct instruction programs or word games.

It is sometimes argued that voluntary reading may not include “the right stuff.” We know, however, that dedicated pleasure readers typically choose different kinds of reading and more complex reading as they mature (L. LaBrant, 1958, “An Evaluation of Free Reading.” Hunnicutt and Iverson Eds., Research in the Three R’s. Harper & Bros.). Students involved in reading eventually choose what experts have decided were “good books” (R. Schoonover, 1938, “The Case for Voluminous Reading.” English Journal 27, 114-118).

Also, even though different types of books are written in different styles, there is substantial overlap; anyone who reads deeply in any area will acquire a great deal of the academic style, enough to make a considerable amount of academic reading comprehensible. Students who have read extensively from series such as “Fear Street,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and “The Hunger Games” will have a much easier time with a New York Times editorial than those who have not done so. Self-selected reading is the bridge between conversational and academic language.

Jaeger notes that “Within the CCSS framework, everyone is in the vocabulary business.” Librarians were in the vocabulary business long before the Common Core [Common Core State Standards], and have been the most important part of it. Young people get a lot of their reading material from libraries, and for those living in poverty the library is often their only source of books.

Stephen Krashen Professor Emeritus
Rossier School of Education University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA



  1. What Exactly is Your Point Mr. Krashen?
    I would like to respond to Stephen Krashen’s editorial, “Vocabulary Development” in the August 2013 issue of SLJ when he states that students do not need more opportunities for challenging and engaging nonfiction, that they can get all they need from school librarians. Yes they do need more opportunities for engaging nonfiction and yes they can get these materials through their school librarian. What academia is woefully in the dark about is the emphasis the Common Core is making in school districts across the country on specifically this issue of vocabulary and the need for rigor in nonfiction reading material for students. We are doing all we can to ensure that school librarians are on the vanguard to assist teachers and students to address this goal. Have you taken a peak at our standing in the world for K-12 education? We can do better. No one knows better than system directors like Paige and my library colleagues across the country the importance of having school librarians be front and center toward this worthy goal. It may also mean saving school librarians their jobs which have been dealt a harsh blow with school budget cuts across the nation.
    I would advise Mr. Krashen to read up on the Common Core and help us save a few school librarians their jobs by getting Schools of Education such as yours at UCLA to understand that school librarians are the key to unlocking the door to investigation and inquiry. That is what the Common Core is all about. Teachers come through Schools of Education with no mention of what the school librarian can provide to instruction. Administrators come through administrative certification with no mention of the school library and its place in the instructional program. How can they support what they never hear about or understand?
    Academia can do the school library profession a huge service by informing future teachers and administrators about these hard working professionals who are doing somersaults out there trying to get the word out on how they can assist teachers, administrators, and most importantly, our students to embrace inquiry and investigation in reading, in assignments, and throughout life. The Common Core just upped the ante, it is time to get on board. –Gail Barraco, Administrative Coordinator, Eastern Suffolk BOCES School Library System Bellport, NY