NJLA Launches Campaign to Call for Highly Effective School Library Programs

Story courtesy of the

New Jersey Library Association

The New Jersey Library Association (NJLA) has launched a campaign Unlock Student Potential bolstered by a groundbreaking study and statement, calling on New Jersey to support highly effective school library programs.

The study, which included a census of New Jersey School Library Media Specialists (SLMSs), was developed to coincide with the signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which cites school librarians and school library programs as an essential component in education. SLMSs have completed training and certification requirements in both library science and education established by the N.J. State Board of Education.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015, ESSA updates the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, most recently known as No Child Left Behind. This reform legislation received bipartisan support in Congress and took steps to improve the achievement of Latino and English learner (EL) students by ensuring the following:

•    Students must be held to challenging academic standards at a minimum in reading and math

•    Latino student and EL academic progress must be measured and reported annually

•    Action must be taken when students are not succeeding academically

•    New funds are offered for after-school programs

•    Family-school partnerships are promoted through Statewide Family Engagement Centers

The report details recent research on the positive impact of certified teacher librarians in school settings, including increased graduation and literacy rates, higher standardized test scores, and greater proficiency in subject areas.

“New Jersey has seen a frightening decline in certified school librarians,” said Pat Tumulty, executive director of NJLA, “especially where students need them most.”

According to the study, there are approximately 20 percent fewer SLMSs in New Jersey than there were in 2007/2008, and more than 20 percent of high schools have no certified SLMS available to students. An overwhelming majority (89 percent of respondents) cite flat, decreased or no funding for their school libraries. This divestment directly impacts the potential for students to gain ground in information literacy, technology and critical thinking, the skills touted as necessary for success in college and beyond.

The study also reveals particularly dire situations for school libraries in major urban areas in New Jersey where literacy rates are among the lowest and school reorganizations are common.

Based on survey results, NJLA, the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL) and Virtual Academic Library Environment (VALE)/New Jersey Chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries, as well as the College and University Section for NJLA (ACRLNJ/NJLACUS) believe ESSA presents a critical opportunity to reinvest in school library programs, providing equity of access to information and resources.

“School librarians play a vital role in education to help students develop skills that will serve them throughout school, college and beyond,” said James Keehbler, co-author of the report and chair of the NJLA task force on Highly Effective School Library Programs. “In the Information Age, how can we not make dedicating resources for school library programs and information literacy a priority? Being able to find, evaluate and utilize information is at the very foundation of opportunity; an opportunity all New Jersey students should have regardless of their zip code.”

VALE and ACRLNJ/NJLACUS recently released a statement in support of the campaign, citing experience with incoming students who are unprepared for college level research. The strain on information literacy resources creates a cause and effect that reaches well into adult life.

“All educators comprise a continuum of intervention necessary to help students gain essential career skills,” the statement reads. “School media specialists have a well regarded place on this continuum.”

Recent education reform in New Jersey and changes in performance measures have made collaborative planning between SLMSs and subject teachers on information literacy instruction more difficult, and the impact has been far reaching.

According to NJASL, 49 percent of teachers report that student’s access to technology is one of the “biggest barriers to incorporating technology into their teaching” because the students are “often not digitally literate enough.”

A 2015 NJASL study found that 75 percent of students “have no idea how to locate articles and resources they need for their research,” 60 percent “don’t verify the accuracy or reliability of the information they find,” and 44 percent “do not know how to integrate knowledge from different sources.”

The full report can be viewed online at https://njla.org/sites/default/files/2016ESSAandNJSchoolLibraryPrograms.pdf