Why would a school librarian need a ten-second elevator speech to pitch his or her program to a school administrator? Because that is one effective way of delivering the message that the library media program can be an invaluable tool in improving student achievement. The Washington State Library believes that administrators need to hear this message, and that school librarians need to live it.
School media centers across the 296 school districts in the state of Washington vary widely, depending on local budgets, staffing, and resources. In well-funded districts, media centers can be sophisticated, thriving, and fully staffed. In other areas, media centers are allocated few resources and receive little attention from teachers or school administrators.
Regardless of a community’s economic status, school library programs can have a powerful effect on school performance. Research has shown a strong link between student achievement and school library programs. School librarians need to know how to use that research and act strategically to integrate the role of librarian into their school systems and change the perception of the library’s role in student achievement from "expendable" to "integral."
The K–12 Library Initiative began as a grassroots idea of the Washington Library Media Association to empower school library staff with leadership skills. After two years in development by the association, the project was adopted by Washington State Library and grew into its first program for school librarians. It also has been the farthest reaching training program ever offered to the state’s school librarians.
The typical school media center has weathered many changes in the last several years: budget cuts, job eliminations, positions lost through attrition, and shifts in the use of technology. What Washington’s school library staff need most, whether paraprofessional or teacher-certified, is training to navigate the changing environment and develop the skills to make the school library the hub of the school.
The goal of the initiative is to provide school librarians with the skills, tools, and training needed to make a positive impact on students’ achievement. Training objectives include helping school librarians articulate the vision of the school library media program, demonstrate an understanding of the many roles of the twenty-first-century librarian, and fully integrate the school library media program into the curriculum. With these skills they can advocate for their programs and build support within the school and the district.
In the three years of the K–12 Library Initiative, fifty-three percent of all school library staff in Washington attended at least one of the program’s training sessions. The program reached more than 700 participants, providing two-day summer training sessions simultaneously at ten sites each year in a state where roughly twenty percent of the population resides in sparsely settled areas.
A training curriculum and a collection of tools for school librarians were developed, including three videos and a Web site with a "toolkit," bibliographies, a glossary, reading lists, and worksheets. Dr. Betty Marcoux, a professor at the University of Washington Information School, developed the resources and conducted research to evaluate the effectiveness of the training.
Perhaps the most successful element of the program design was the decision to use school librarians as the trainers. The project hired twenty-four practicing teacher librarians—that is, professionals with both teaching credentials and a library degree—to conduct training at the ten sites.
Camaraderie developed among the library trainers during their train-the-trainer sessions. They learned how to work with adult audiences and to adopt an instructional style based on dialog and peer interaction.
Participants responded very positively to their colleague instructors. They were put at ease and trusted the instructors because they knew they all shared the same work challenges every day.
During the training, participants learned methods of collecting and analyzing data, including student surveys to gain insight into their programs and computer searches of their own school’s state-standardized test scores. They learned to use this data to shape the program their library offers and to work collaboratively with administrators and teachers. And they picked up techniques to communicate persuasively about their programs, such as preparing the ten-second elevator speech, writing a marketing piece that tells the story of a school librarian’s job, and developing a "10-week memo"—a tool to increase communication and accountability.
The response to the training was so positive after the first year that the program decided to add another day of training in the spring. The spring sessions were wholly focused on developing the 10-week memo, through which the school librarian updates the principal on the library’s activities every ten weeks throughout the school year. The memo puts together all elements of the training; it demonstrates the library’s accountability as a partner in helping teachers teach and students learn. By reporting on the library’s goals and activities as they relate to the school’s curriculum, the memo helps to establish the library’s value as an instructional leader and collaborator essential to school success.
Although the project did not meet its goal of training 1,500 school librarians, it did reach at least one person from eighty-nine percent of the districts that reported having a library position. In all, 165 of the 296 school districts sent a representative to one of the thirty-one two-day summer workshops or twenty spring follow-up workshops.
After each of the three summer workshops, Dr. Marcoux gathered feedback from the participants. She also conducted a survey of selected principals to assess their perceptions of the roles of media center staff. She found that while K–12 principals have mixed perceptions of the roles and responsibilities of the professional in the school library, more than half viewed the school librarian as essential to their school's learning goals.
The librarians’ response to the training was quite positive. The trainers were appreciated for their enthusiasm, presentation, and preparation. Many responded that they would recommend the training to other librarians and even their principals. One participant wrote, "In just a few days, principals and librarians will be working together to analyze some assessment data—a first!" Another said, "The K–12 Initiative training has provided solid, clear information to help me articulate the important work accomplished in the school library program."
The program staff at the Washington State Library believes that they may have a model for other states to follow. They hope to work with their counterparts in other states to replicate the training model for even broader impact.
The following PowerPoint Files were created to assist with the training of the school librarians.
Three videos were created as part of the project to assist in the training of the school librarian trainers and the school librarian who attended training:
- "It’s Not Optional," featuring Mike Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus of the University of Washington’s Information School
- "10-Week Memo and Annual Report," for practicing school librarians
- "Collaboration Is the Key," highlighting collaborations between classroom teachers and school librarians