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School libraries as oases

From the e-mail inbox, reprinted here with permission:

Dear Doug,
My name is Christianne, and I am in my first semester of the MLIS program. I came across your web site while doing some preliminary research for a paper. I hope you don't mind me bugging you with a question.
I am interested in writing about the importance of school libraries in the era of NCLB. I am not interested in how school libraries can boost achievement or why school libraries should be included in NCLB legislation. There is a lot of literature out about that already. I want to write about how NCLB has changed schools in negative ways, such as loss of electives and a renewed emphasis on drill and kill to raise test scores. It seems to me that school libraries are oases for students who are stifled in the classroom. [bold is mine-Doug] School libraries seem to be the place in schools where students can have some choice about what they learn. In many elementary and middle schools in [my state], school libraries are increasingly the only place students can learn anything about history and science, as those subjects take a backseat to English and math instruction in the classroom. In some middle schools English teachers are not even teaching novels anymore, but only working out of readers. I was a teacher for seven years and I am very concerned about this topic. My question for you is, have you come across articles, research papers, etc. that address these issues? I don't want to be too duplicative of other writers' efforts.
Thanks for your time,


Hi Christianne,

Good luck on your studies. I tend to agree with your observations, but haven’t seen much written on this topic, I’m afraid. I have two things marginally related, but not research-based: (This is the text of a brochure I wrote for AASL – excerpt below)

Helping ensure schools remain committed to good educational practices that go beyond the minimal requirements of NCLB.
One controversial aspect of NCLB is its over-reliance on standardized tests as a measurement of both student and school performance. Such tests often measure only a few basic skills and penalize students who are poor test-takers. Teaching strategies and assessment tools that assess higher level thinking skills and the application of skills are also necessary.

The librarian is an advocate for and creator of assessments that give parents and communities far more meaningful measures of abilities and efficacies. Library programs lead in the development of methods of measuring and reporting the mastery of many different kinds of learning assessments including critiqued portfolios of work that show growth, reports of abilities to work collaboratively, evidence of the skill of self-assessment of work, and use of skills to make a thoughtful difference in society. Donald Norman reminds us that “The danger is that things that cannot be measured play no role in scientific work and are judged to be of little importance.”

The library program can also contribute to an improved school climate. By providing a safe, nurturing, and productive space, the school experience for all students improves. A good school library is a quality many parents look for when choosing a school for their children9.

Work with your librarians to determine if they:

  •  Share their expertise in project-based learning and authentic assessment.
  •  Serve on building leadership teams, curriculum committees, and in other leadership functions.
  •  Communicate regularly with parents and the community about the library program and participates in the public relations efforts of the district.

It seems to me that Kappan magazine has had several articles about NCLBs negative impact in the ways you suggest. You might look there and I apologize for not being more specific.

I am not a research expert, but it seems like you may be attempting to find evidence for a preconceived notion as opposed to openly investigating whether the hypothesis you have is accurate. Just something to think about.

Oh, may I use your letter in my blog? I think it is a great topic for exploration.

All the very best!



Blue Skunk readers, any ideas of sources for Christianne?


Happy blogging day and whew!


As I understand it, August 31st is now blogging day and bloggers are supposed to recommend 5 blogs to others. I am going to forgo recommending professional blogs and instead list those I read just for fun. Maybe these aren't blogs, but RSS feeds:

  1. Netflix New Releases: A movie buff like me likes to know what's available. Even titles like Care Bears: Fitness Fun and Tebana Sankichi: Snot Rocket and Super Detective.
  2. MacRumors: This one is 99% disappointing, especially for those of us waiting for an ultra-light or tablet Mac. But it still feeds the geek fantasies.
  3. Cool Tools: This week alone: Easy Cutter Ultimate, Rite in the Rain Notebooks and the Go-Ped. Need I say more?
  4. Presentation Zen: PowerPoint tips that go beyond the 5 by 5 rule.
  5. Techno Search Doug Johnson: OK, I am the only person in the world who subscribes to this - a feed letting me know when my name surfaces in the blogosphere. The ultimate in vanity searching, I suppose.

 I am sort of relieved that August is over. This month:

  • I did 4.5 days of workshops in 3 different states - the workshops were fun, but flying to get to them wasn't always
  • Wrote two columns
  • Helped inservice 120+ teachers getting new computers in our district and about 40 new teachers
  • Helped with my stepdaughter's wedding
  • Attended all the normal back-to-school meetings of librarians, techs, administrators, teachers, etc.
  • Answered close to a billion questions from returning teachers - most regarding passwords they'd forgotten over the summer
  • Worked in about 5 days of vacation - enjoyed them but the elves didn't come into my office while I was gone, dammit
  • Wound up mowing the LWW's acre-sized tribute to botanical mono cultures (our lawn) about 4 times after not mowing it all through June and July

The pity party starts at noon. I need this three day weekend up at "our" resort up north. Until next week...


Conforming to nonconformity

"Nonconformists are significantly heavier users of social networking sites than other students, participating in every single type of social networking activity surveyed (28 in all) significantly more frequently than other students both at home and at school -- which likely means that they break school rules to do so. ...
These students seem to have an extraordinary set of traditional and 21st century skills, including communication, creativity, collaboration and leadership skills and technology proficiency. Yet they are significantly more likely than other students to have lower grades, which they report as 'a mix of Bs and Cs,' or lower, than other students. However, previous research with both parents and children has shown that enhanced Internet access is associated with improvements in grades and school attitudes, including a 2003 survey by Grunwald Associates LLC. In any event, these findings suggest that schools need to find ways to engage nonconformists in more creative activities for academic learning." -- From a new report by the National School Boards Association <> as reported on “Good Morning Silicon Valley” for 8/08/07. Thanks to Nancy Walton at the Minnesota Department of Education for passing this one along. 

Creating and Connecting, the report from which the above was taken, has been riding around in my computer case for a week or more. The interestinggoth4.jpg quote above got me to finally read it. I'd suggest you do the same. And share it with your administration.

One of the things about the report that caught my eyes is the disconnect between how schools (or school officials anyway) perceive the value of social networking  vs. how parents view it. While 80+% of schools prohibit chat and IM; 60+% prohibit bulletin boards, blogs and e-mail; and over 50% "specifically prohibit any use of social networking sites;" (p 4) 76% of parents "expect social networking to help their children improve their reading and writing skills or express themselves more clearly." (p. 7)

Should those of us who are excited about using social networking tools to improve education be looking for allies among our parents?

Oh, and are the adults who are social networks more nonconformist and more likely to break rules than their peers?