Ross Todd, Transformative Figure in School Libraries, Has Died at Age 70

The longtime scholar was committed to evidence-based practices and research in school librarianship.

Ross Todd, a longtime scholar who had a transformative impact on school libraries, has died at age 70.

"It is impossible to overestimate Ross Todd’s influence on the school library profession," said Joyce Valenza, who worked with Todd at Rutgers University's School of Communication and Information since 2014 but knew him for more than a decade before that. "For so many of us, his research in the areas of inquiry-based learning and evidence-based practice was career-changing."

An associate professor of library and information science at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Todd was committed to using evidence-based practice in school librarianship and research in the school library field that focused on three thingsunderstanding how children learn and build new knowledge from information, evidence-based practice for school libraries, and information utilization for learning.

"He did emphasize research-based knowledge," said Marc Aronson, associate professor of public and professional practice at Rutgers' School of Communication and Information and a colleague of Todd's since 2010. "This is a field where there’s a lot of on-the-ground, practical, ‘This is how we do it’ [learning], but that’s different from analyzing what has worked and what hasn’t worked and why in different contexts. He did place a lot of emphasis on that. As administrators came to more and more ask for data to defend having a school librarian, having a certified school librarian, his work was exactly the kind of work you could marshall to make that case."

Aronson says that Todd's caring and commitment to the department will be missed as much as his research and work.

"The phrase 'duty of care' was something he would use at times," said Aronson. "You really felt that was organic to him."

Todd was born in Australia, and his interests and research were a global effort. He would travel the world not only to give talks and educate others, but also to learn from them, Aronson said.

"His commitment and his research were not just to school librarianship, but to international school librarianship—that sense of learning the best from what’s done everywhere, sharing the research knowledge gleaned from everywhere," he said. "That internationalism, which was so fundamental to him as a person, is something I deeply share. He was so encouraging."

Todd appeared on the April 2006 SLJ cover, and the related article, “Ross to the Rescue,” featured an interview where he spoke about the groundbreaking 2004 study he conducted with Carol Kuhlthau, “Student Learning through Ohio School Libraries.” In that interview, he said, “We can’t wait for somebody outside of ourselves to rescue us, because nobody is coming to the rescue. That might sound pessimistic, and I’m not intending to be pessimistic, but that’s why I’ve focused on this broader area of evidence-based practice. We have wonderful evidence emerging in all of these studies that show that the practice of school libraries can improve student learning outcomes. I would very strongly argue that simply providing a technology infrastructure, simply providing high-quality information resources and reading enrichment materials, providing a certified school librarian, providing administrative support, do not necessarily generate improved practice."

So what does? he was asked.

"I really believe that it is the transformational actions of the school librarian," he said. "This certainly emerged out of the Ohio study—the action of the school librarian in terms of instructional intervention, that instructional role. You can provide all of the information resources, but if students don’t have the intellectual scaffolds to connect with, interact with, and utilize these resources, then it’s as if they don’t exist. It’s about taking action and looking at my instructional intervention. How can I develop in kids the intellectual scaffolds for engaging with information and really building my understanding and new knowledge of those curriculum standards?”

Todd also wrote for the magazine, including April 2008’s “ The Evidence-Based Manifesto for School Librarians,” which was a breakdown of the 2007 SLJ Summit’s closing session, led by Todd. Much of what is discussed about evidence-based practices remains relevant today, especially as school librarians are often asked to show their impact on students in a measurable way when districts are looking at budgets and funding. Todd will be remembered for his work, as well as his professional and personal impact on the people he met along the way.

"As one of his countless friends and colleagues, I will remember Ross’s infectious smile and that ever-present twinkle in his eye appearing every time we schemed a new project. It also appeared every time we explored a new city," said Valenza. "Ross not only enjoyed his research and his travel, he invited us to journey with him. Ross Todd appreciated and deeply touched the people he met. And he shared the beauty of the world he discovered through the photographs and the goodwill he shared globally. We will forever miss this fine man and his brilliant spirit."



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