April 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New Report Marks Growing NEA Attention to School Libraries

tnA new report from the National Education Association (NEA) took a deep dive into the role that school libraries and media centers play in K–12 public schools. The examination, which looked at library funding and staffing levels across all public school grades in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, paints a detailed picture of the state of funding and staffing for school libraries across the country in the years following the Great Recession.

That the organization has taken on the research at all reflects a late interest in the role libraries and librarians play in K–12 education by the teachers and education administrators in the group’s membership. NEA members demanded this report at a conference last year, says Kathy Tuck, a senior research analyst at the NEA, who was involved in conducting the study over the past year.

“You can look at research on the impact libraries have on minority student achievement,” Tuck told SLJ. “I suspect our members are frustrated at the lack of awareness around this issue.”

That’s why, in 2015, NEA members voted to explore the staffing circumstances and funding situations of school libraries across the United States. To do so, NEA researchers analyzed available data between 2000 and 2013 from a variety of sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, and the U.S. Census Bureau to paint a picture of the state of school libraries during the past 15 years.

Of special note in the report is which libraries have recovered from the cuts made following the recession of the late aughts, and which have failed to do so. On this front, inner city schools, for instance, seem to be having a hard time getting on their feet. Not only are these schools less likely to have libraries overall, but since 2007, they’ve been opening new facilities at a slower rate than their counterparts in rural and suburban districts.

The NEA study also suggested that it’s not only the levels of wealth or poverty that impact libraries and media centers in public schools—the ethnic background of students attending those schools also seems to make a difference. Poor schools with few minority students, the NEA found, are likely to have more staff and resources in their libraries than poor schools with many minority students.

One reality that the report throws into stark relief is the disparity between spending on school libraries across states. Wisconsin led the country in per-student spending on library staff and services at $37.93, while Hawaii spent just $6.43 per student annually.

The NEA report doesn’t tell most school librarians anything they didn’t already know, or at least suspect, says Craig Seasholes, a school librarian in Seattle, WA. But hearing even old news from a new source indicates that new organizations—and their members—are expressing renewed interest in the role that libraries and media centers play in education. “It’s great that the NEA is responding to pressure from teachers to address inequity through school library programs,” says Seasholes. “That it’s on their radar at all is the most significant part of this report.”

Staffing was brought out as a concern as well. While overall staffing levels have risen slightly since 2007, the number of librarians and media specialists per school is the lowest it has been since 2000; the report estimates that nationally there are 1,129 students for every full-time school librarian.

“Libraries haven’t been a priority as much as overall staffing,” says Seasholes. “Teachers getting this data [can] consider the impact of library staffing in schools, because it is such compelling evidence there are student gains to be had with full-time librarians.”

What surprised Tuck was the finding that inner-city libraries are seeing funding increases that make more resources available, but not a corresponding increase to ensure the staff are on-hand to direct students in how to effectively use those resources.

This likely won’t be the end of the NEA’s look into libraries, says Tuck. Members who’ve seen the report have been impressed with the results, and Tuck anticipates that there will be a growing appetite for data collection on libraries and how they can help educators do their jobs going forward.

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  1. Nancy McFarlin says:

    No link in this article to the actual report. Can you provide please?

  2. Christina Vercelletto Christina Vercelletto says:

    Here it is:
    I’ve also embedded it in the article.
    Thank you, Nancy!