CIRI blog

California School Libraries: Audits and Information Literacy

Published: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 by Mary Ann Harlan

On November 17, 2016 the State of California released a report on their findings of an audit of school library services in California. The findings were not particularly surprising to teacher librarians in California, but they will be a surprise to many California residents.

When the State of California adopted the Model School Library Standards in 2010, they recommended a staffing ratio of one full-time teacher librarian for every 782 students. The report found that the ratio was one teacher librarian for every 7,414 students in 2014-2015.  Schools are tremendously understaffed. Given the staffing levels, the major findings that schools provide a wide variety of levels of service and that unauthorized personnel are performing these duties are not unexpected. This presents an equity problem for the students of California. 

What do we mean by services? 

The report identifies services that should be provided by a certificated Teacher Librarian. This includes the following:

  • Instruct students in accessing, evaluating, using and integrating information and resources in the library program.
  • Plan and coordinate school library programs with the instructional programs of a school district through collaboration with teachers.
  • Select materials for school and district libraries.
  • Develop programs for and deliver staff development for school library services.
  • Coordinate or supervise library programs at the school, district, or county level.
  • Plan and conduct a course of instruction for those pupils who assist in the operation of school libraries.
  • Supervise classified personnel assigned school library duties.
  • Develop procedures for and management of the school and district libraries.

Sources: California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 80053 (b); the Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s (Teacher Credentialing) Administrator’s Assignment Manual, and Teacher Credentialing’s guidance on Emergency Teacher Librarian Services Permits

Since a vast majority of schools in California do not have teacher librarians, these services are not addressed, performed by classified personnel, or on occasion, addressed through contracts with other library entities. California students are experiencing a wide range of instruction and access to quality materials. 

Why does this matter?

For the purposes of this post I want to focus on instruct students in accessing, evaluating, using, and integrating information and resources in library programs as reflected within the Model School Library Standards. The standards include teaching students how to access information in a variety of formats, evaluating the information for quality, using that information, and integrating new information into what they know. In other words, the skills necessary to become an information literate person. This is at the core of why having teacher librarians matters. Inherent in the idea of an information literate person is the idea that we are contributing to a well-informed citizenry necessary for a democratic society.  

The necessity of being information literate, to have the ability to seek quality information from a variety of sources, to evaluate that information for basic facts of truth and provenance of the source, and to apply that information has been on clear display during the 2016 election. Fact checking sites were overtaxed during the election cycle. The emergence of the spread of fake news has caught our attention. In the days following the election the idea that 44% of Americans (Pew Research Center) received their news from Facebook, a site that often had fake news as a trending topic, and where people regularly share articles with clickbait headlines from partisan sites reminded us that access to information is not enough. We must evaluate information. 

A recent study from Stanford History Education Group highlights the problem. The summary assessment was stark: “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak” (2016, p. 4). The Stanford study found that students did not go deep in sourcing information, or identifying verified sites. They had difficulty determining sponsored content versus search results, or recognizing organizations that are considered expert in the field. They were quick to believe images without verifying the source, or whether or not the image had been manipulated. Without the skills to evaluate information for sourcing, we will continue to find fake news, partisan sites with clickbait headlines, and baseless claims passed off as facts via social media to be a concern.

One way to address the concerns highlighted by the researchers in the Stanford History Education Group is to teach information literacy more explicitly in schools. The Model School Library Standards encourage teacher librarians to teach students to Identify basic facts and ideas in what was read, heard, seen, or voiced in increasingly complex ways. Additionally teacher librarians provide staff development. An argument can be made that teachers need instruction and support in developing information literacy practices as well. However, none of this happens without teacher librarians in schools having the time to provide the services entrusted to them. 

In an interview in The Verge with Professor Nicole A. Cooke of the University of Illinois highlighted the role teacher librarians might take in addressing the phenomenon of fake news. Professor Cooke states:

For school librarians the question is how do we get students to go a step further? We have to meet them where they are. We know students use Wikipedia and other sources that were frowned upon at one point — how do we meet them where they are and challenge them and really teach them how to take that a step further?

The question school librarians should be asking ourselves: How do we raise a generation of citizens who understand how information is created, the bias inherent in information, and how to extend beyond one's information bubble to seek out diverse opinions, to fact check (or use fact checking sites), and to truly invest the time in being informed? And they are asking themselves these questions. 

However, it was clear from the audit of school library services that California will have a long way to go to address the concerns of fake news, and evaluating information. If California were to address its school library services, even by determining a minimal level of service, as recommend by the auditor, it would be a small step toward a more information literate culture. There are wonderful teacher librarians in California, but as the audit confirms, they are few and far between.  

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