Posted on July 19, 2021
New research has documented continuing losses of school librarians and uncovered gross inequities in access to school librarians across the U.S. Districts with more students living in poverty, more minority students, and more English language learners were less likely to have librarians than districts with fewer such students. These findings come from a study funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and led by project director Debra E. Kachel of Antioch University Seattle and principal investigator Keith Curry Lance of the RSL Research Group.
Between 2010 and 2019, almost 20 percent of school librarian full-time equivalents were eliminated. Data on almost 13,000 local school districts for 2018-19 also revealed that:
- Three out of 10 districts had no librarians in any of their schools.
- More than 4.4 million students in high-poverty (50%+) districts had no librarians.
- Almost 3.1 million students in predominantly Hispanic districts were without school librarians.
- Almost 4.8 million students in predominantly non-white districts were without school librarians.
- Smaller and rural districts were more likely to have no librarians than larger and suburban districts.
- Nine out of 10 charter school districts had no school librarians.
The study also found that losses of school librarians may not be just about school finances. Districts spending the most (over $15,000) and the least per pupil (less than $10,000) had better librarian staffing than districts spending between $10,000 and $15,000 per pupil. And, since 2010, school and district administrators and instructional coordinators have increased by double-digit percentages, while school librarians have declined by almost 20 percent. Clearly, there are other factors involved when districts or schools decide whether to employ librarians for their students.
Interactive data tools have also been created at https://libslide.org/data-tools/. You can create customized searches with charts and tables to compare and sort among states and school districts.
Profile – compare library staffing data for a selected district compared with peer districts
State Survey – provides state-specific information on librarian staffing mandates, number of universities preparing school librarians, and more
Advanced Search – examine district characteristics (enrollment, locale, & per pupil expenditures) and student demographics (race/ethnicity, poverty, and ELLs) in relation to the employment of school librarians and others
Today, the role of school librarian includes teaching students about media literacy, Internet safety, and digital citizenship; assisting teachers in designing and delivering lessons and selecting resources; and integrating technology into the curriculum, in addition to the more traditional roles of managing collections and encouraging reading.
How school librarian losses are impacting those students who likely need their services the most should be of major concern to education policy makers.
In subsequent years of this three-year project, school decision-makers will be interviewed to learn what factors are influencing whether or not they employ school librarians for their students. The complete report, Perspectives on School Librarian Employment in the United States, 2009-10 to 2018-19 is available at https://libslide.org/publications/perspectives.
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.