The modern school library media center has a professionally trained school library media specialist who manages a central collection of diverse learning resources to support a school's curriculum, meet individual students' needs and interests, and ensure that young people develop information literacy skills within the school's curriculum. This concept of a learning resource center is both a social development of the twentieth century and an evolution of information exchange.
The ancient library in Alexandra, founded in the fourth century b.c.e., was a treasure trove of written manuscripts. Medieval libraries comprised collections of hand-copied, illuminated manuscripts that were typically created and maintained by monks and used by privileged classes; manuscripts were often as valuable as farms or houses. An early print format put into the hands of children and used for reading instruction from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century was the hornbook, typically a small wooden paddle with printed paper pasted on top and covered with translucent horn. By the seventeenth century the concept of books created specifically for young people was established with such works as the first picture book, Orbis Sensualium Pictus by Johann Amos Comenius in 1657. The invention of the printing press in 1455 promised young people greater access to printed materials, and philosophers like John Locke (1632–1704) and publishers like John Newbery (1713–1767) promoted materials that were both pleasurable and informative to young people. Yet, well into the twentieth century, books and other learning materials remained expensive and rare for most young people in the United States.
Although Benjamin Franklin envisioned a library in his academy (founded in 1740), widespread public recognition and support for school libraries did not develop until the nineteenth century when state legislatures (beginning in 1835 with New York) acknowledged the value of school library resources and began promoting their funding. By 1876, nineteen states appropriated funding for school libraries. Two factors, however, limited the overall success of these early efforts to support school libraries: the lack of library facilities for maintaining the developing collections within the schools and the lack of trained personnel for selecting, organizing, and circulating the collections. The resources were often overseen in small classroom collections by individual teachers, who could not ensure students had access to materials throughout a school; who were not coordinated with other teachers to track library inventories; and who often took materials from one building to another as they changed teaching positions. Meanwhile, the public library movement was developing in the United States, and trained public librarians reached out to address public school needs. Their outreach efforts coincided with the founding in 1876 of the American Library Association (ALA), and at the close of the nineteenth century, the professional voice for school library services to young people often had a public library perspective.
The twentieth century was a tumultuous one in which school librarians continued to address the challenges of the nineteenth century and developed the vision for school library media programs in the twenty-first century. Setting the stage for changes to come was the dialogue in the early 1900s on such educational principles as the importance of intrinsic motivation, the creation of genuine learning experiences in a field setting or a learning laboratory, and the teacher as a guide not a taskmaster. Even in 1900, these were not new ideas, but the educator and philosopher John Dewey, with the 1899 publication of School and Society, envisioned a single concept of Progressive education, comprising these elements, in opposition to rote learning, inflexibility, conformity, and competition. Thus, challenges to nineteenth-century assumptions were an aspect of educational planning as school libraries began their twentieth century transformation that included such milestone events as:
- Mary Kingsbury, librarian at Erasmus Hall High School in New York City, becomes the first professionally trained school librarian.
- The School Libraries Section of ALA holds its first meeting.
- The National Education Association (NEA) adopts Standard Library Organization and Equipment for Secondary Schools of Different Sizes. These first national standards define expectations that a professionally trained librarian should manage a centralized collection that included audiovisual resources.
- ALA adopts the 1918 NEA standards.
- The Department of Elementary Principals of the NEA and the School Librarians' Section of ALA develops the Report of the Joint Committee on Elementary School Library Standards. This first set of national library standards for elementary schools emphasizes the library's support of teaching and learning within a flexible schedule that ensures ready access for students and teachers.
- ALA publishes School Libraries for Today and Tomorrow, Functions and Standards, the first national standards for both elementary and secondary school library programs. These standards link the quality of school library programs to qualitative and quantitative guidelines.
- ALA adopts Standards for Accreditation, which moves the first professional degree in librarianship to the master's level.
- The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) becomes a division within ALA.
- The U.S. Congress passes the National Defense Education Act, which funds major development of school libraries in the 1960s.
- AASL and the Department of Audiovisual Instruction (DAVI) of NEA publishes Standards for School Library Programs, national guidelines that address the integration of library skills into classroom work and provide a descriptive narrative with quantitative recommendations and detailed lists.
- AASL receives the Knapp Demonstration Project, a $1.13 million grant supporting a five-year demonstration project of exemplary school libraries.
- The U.S. Congress passes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which supports funding of library resources.
- ALA and the DAVI of NEA publishs Standards for School Media Programs, national guidelines that unify the roles of librarians and audiovisual personnel under the terminology of library media program and library media specialist.
- The DAVI of NEA becomes the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT).
- AASL begins publishing School Library Media Quarterly, the division's research journal.
- AASL and AECT publish Media Programs: District and School, national guidelines that are the first to focus on district goals and responsibilities in the support of building-level library media programs.
- AASL and AECT publish Information Power: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs, national guidelines that define the mission of the library media program to "ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information" (1988, 1).
- ALA becomes a specialty organization within the National Council on Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
- The DeWitt Wallace–Reader's Digest Fund initiates Library Power, a 10-year, $40-million-grant project for the revitalization of school library media programs across the United States.
- AASL and AECT publish Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning, national guidelines that set forth AASL's information literacy standards for student learning.
Milestone markers for progress across the twentieth century are the eight sets of published national standards and guidelines.
Goals and Purposes
Although school library media specialists collaboratively establish library media program goals relevant to the needs of individual schools, they are guided by a mission such as that articulated by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) "to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information" (1998, p. 6). The authors identify seven library media program goals through which the library media specialists support the mission by providing the following:
- Learning activities that foster in students the abilities to select, retrieve, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, create, and communicate "information in all formats and in all content areas of the curriculum"
- "Physical access to information"
- Learning experiences in "communications media and technology"
- Consultation with teachers in designing instruction
- Learning resources and activities that accommodate "differences in teaching and learning styles, methods, interests, and capacities"
- Access to a "full range of information beyond the school building"
- Learning resources "that represent diversity of experiences, opinions, and social and cultural perspectives and to support responsible citizenship in a democracy" (American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology 1998, pp. 6–7).
Materials and Equipment
The materials and equipment in a library media program provide information that supports active, authentic learning, and thus ensures that young people develop the information literacy skills crucial to their success as students and as lifelong learners. Historically the primary source of information for an entire school was an on-site collection of diverse materials and equipment. However, technological changes have altered this traditional view by increasing the quantity of information, accentuating the need for strong literacy and technology skills, creating new formats and packages of information, and interconnecting worldwide information. Such developments have changed the nature of the local collection, now defined in terms of access to and delivery of information and learning resources within and beyond the school. The early-twenty-first century library media collection includes printed materials, realia (the "real thing," i.e., living, synthesized, or preserved animal, vegetable, or mineral objects in their natural state), hardware and software, online databases, production equipment, and adaptive resources for students and others with special needs.
Access to and delivery of information and learning resources has two dimensions: physical and intellectual. Physical access to library media resources is ensured when resources are usable from a central location that oversees circulation, distribution, organization, and classification for effective and efficient use, and managed according to policies that ensure flexible scheduling that supports focused and productive use of learning resources. Intellectual access to information and learning resources requires that they are matched to individual needs and interests; that students and others can find, evaluate, and use them; and that they are supported by comprehensive reference services, including bibliographies and resource lists.
Physical and intellectual access is guided by principles of intellectual freedom, legal standards, and professional ethics. Intellectual freedom is essential for students to become critical thinkers and lifelong learners who can contribute productively and responsibly in a democratic society. Access guided by legal standards and professional ethics ensures confidentiality in the use of information, respect for intellectual property rights, and equity for all students, regardless of ability or cultural considerations.
Qualified school library media personnel are fundamental to successful programs that contribute to student learning, and a program's level of professional and support staffing is based upon a school's instructional program, services, facilities, and the quantity of students and teachers. Basic, building-level staffing for an effective program necessitates at least one certified or licensed school library media specialist per building. The library media specialist should hold a master's degree in librarianship from a program accredited by the American Librarian Association or a master's degree with a specialty in school library media from an educational institution accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. In addition to the minimum of one school library media specialist, each school program requires qualified clerical and technical support staff. The paraprofessional support staff are key to the library media specialist's ability to fulfill the position's professional roles. There is a distinction between a technician, who works with hardware and systems software, and a technologist, who integrates people, learning, and the tools of technology.
According to the American Association of School Librarians and the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, the library media specialist accomplishes the program's primary charge, to "ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information" (1998, p. 6), by fulfilling four roles: teacher, instructional partner, information specialist, and program administrator. The four roles focus on instilling nine student information literacy standards across the school's curriculum. According to those AASL/AECT standards, young people should be able to:
- Access "information efficiently and effectively"
- Evaluate "information critically and competently"
- Use "information accurately and creatively"
- Pursue "information related to personal interests"
- Appreciate "literature and other creative expressions of information"
- Strive "for excellence in information seeking and knowledge generation"
- Contribute "positively to the learning community" and recognize "the importance of information to a democratic society"
- Behave ethically "in regard to information and information technology"
- Participate "effectively in groups to pursue and generate information" (American Association of School Libraries and Association for Educational Communications and Technology 1998, pp. 9–43).
Library media specialists value information literacy as the foundation of lifelong learning, and they emphasize the process of learning rather than the accumulation of information. By collaborating with diverse individuals within and beyond the school, by building awareness of the program's contributions, and by applying and introducing instructional and informational technologies, library media specialists promote a clear vision for successful library media programming.
See also: Elementary Education, subentries on Current Trends, History of; Secondary Education, subentries on Current Trends, History of; Technology and Education, subentry on School.
American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. 1975. Media Programs: District and School. Chicago: American Library Association and Washington, DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. 1988. Information Power: Guidelines for School Library Media Programs. Chicago: American Library Association and Washington, DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology. 1998. Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: American Library Association and Washington, DC: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
American Association of School Librarians and Department of Audiovisual Instruction of the National Education Association. 1960. Standards for School Library Programs. Chicago: American Library Association.
American Association of School Librarians and Department of Audiovisual Instruction of the National Education Association. 1969. Standards for School Media Programs. Chicago: American Library Association.
American Library Association. 1945. School Libraries for Today and Tomorrow. Chicago: American Library Association.
Haycock, Ken, ed. 1999. Foundations for Effective School Library Media Programs. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Latrobe, Kathy Howard, ed. 1998. The Emerging School Library Media Center: Historical Issues and Perspectives. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
National Education Association and North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. 1920. Standard Library Organization and Equipment for Secondary Schools of Different Sizes. Chicago: American Library Association.
National Education Association and North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. 1925. Elementary School Library Standards. Chicago: American Library Association.
Woolls, Blanche. 1998. The School Library Media Manager, 2nd edition. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Kathy Howard Latrobe