Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How Does Your School Library Stack Up?

If your school is like many North American schools, it's not up to scratch. As school budgets are relentlessly cut, more and more boards start viewing their schools' media centres as a "frill." Less books get purchased, and teacher-librarians are replaced with less expensive library techs. When the straitened libraries don't "perform," - and how can they once they are gutted? - administrators then use that lack of performance to justify yet another round of cuts.

The irony is, though, that a well-maintained school library, staffed with trained teacher-librarians, is an integral component of a quality school. Information literacy is key in all other learning areas. Yet the only people who are trained to deliver it are frequently splitting their time between 3 or even more schools (I'm now thinking of the lovely TL I met in Long Beach, California last fall, who was responsible for five inner city school's library programs...Five!!!).

To put it bluntly, anyone who spouts platitudes about how important literacy is for their students, but who doesn't demand a top-notch library program, is blowing smoke. 

Many administrators, teachers, and parents may agree with me that a good school library should be a priority. At the same time, however, they may not have the tools to evaluate their own media centre. A contemporary school library is and should be a very different place than the library we remember from our childhoods.

A few years ago, I was on the board of the Ontario Coalition for School Libraries. Sadly, the condition of school libraries has deteriorated even further in the years since I first became involved in this issue (and now I'm thinking about the Canadian public school library I also visited this past fall that had books on the shelves about "Red Indians" - eek! and had two biographies of  "Young John Kennedy.") At that time, I prepared a document that will enable anyone to clearly assess the quality of a school library. It's in the form of a questionaire that describes some of the key features of a quality library, and gives standards to measure a library against in quantifiable form. Anyone can review a library and its collection, given enough basic information about its holdings and set up.

The questionaire follows the standards outlined by the Canadian School Library Association. Those standards are very similar to the ones set out by the American School Library Association.

Download the School Library Assessment Questionaire Here

Please feel free to pass this questionaire on to anyone who has a stake in a school library - a parent, a teacher, a principal, school board member, or the teacher-librarian herself! If you'd like to update this questionaire or use the basic format to create a new form that aligns with the US standards, please feel free to do so.

Support Your School Library! Tomorrow's adults will thank you!

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