February 17, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Innovating on Impact: Good School Libraries Bring Stronger Learning | Editorial

I have a soft spot in my library-loving heart for the teacher-librarians of Washington State, a tenderness inspired by deep respect for their tireless efforts and seemingly endless creativity. They have taken advocacy for school libraries to new levels for years by digging deep, examining what libraries contribute, transforming their own work as schools have been transformed, and finding effective ways to talk about what that work means for students. Consider the results of an impact study released April 2015 by the Washington Library Media Association (WLMA), which expands our understanding of the positive impact of school libraries and offers all libraries a new tool to explore.

The “Washington State School Library Impact Study: Certified Teacher-Librarians, Library Quality and Student Achievement in Washington State Public Schools” [PDF], written by Elizabeth Coker, a senior research scientist for the University of Washington-Tacoma, Center for Strong Schools, reaffirms and builds on the already mounting evidence of the efficacy of school libraries in student learning.

One major finding is something all administrators and parents should jump on and use to improve their schools. “Students who attend schools with certified teacher-librarians and quality library facilities perform better on standardized tests and are more likely to graduate,” reads the report, “even after controlling for school size and student income level.”

I’m particularly impressed with Coker’s development of a Library Quality Scale (LQS), a mechanism to rate what a library offers (from hours open to technology, materials, and resources, to level of student interaction, and more). The LQS measures the resources available beyond the certified professional—it does not claim to capture the intangible quality of teaching excellence on the part of the librarian. While still a work in progress (see SLJ’s coverage of the study), the LQS takes this research in a very interesting direction. It is a tool we can all look to and develop further as we get more strategic about showing the impact of libraries on students’ lives and learning. It also proposes a standard for all libraries to use as they work to level up the field as a whole and build the case for libraries among stakeholders in their own communities.

In the end, however, this study reinforces the great investment that good school libraries are. “You get what you pay for, and Dr. Coker’s report is the first to show what we are getting in a little-known component of education that returns much more than it receives,” write WLMA’s Sharyn Merrigan and Craig Seasholes regarding the study (see “Look in School Libraries for Graduation Rates”). I couldn’t agree more.

It doesn’t surprise me that this innovative approach to understanding impact comes from the talented team in Washington. SLJ covered their story when the Spokane Moms took up the advocacy effort back in 2008 (“Tough Mothers,” Sept. 2008, pp. 36–41), and we returned to help share insights from state library leadership (“Follow the Leaders,” Oct. 2013). That talented cohort continues to lead the way when it comes to role reinvention and advocacy—and that work has inspired us to bring our annual SLJ Leadership Summit to Seattle this September 26–27.

The WLMA impact study offers fresh insight, a new way to dig into the reality at work in our school libraries, and in turn, creates a vision for what quality libraries should look like in every school.


Rebecca T. Miller

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

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.