School Libraries

Book Reviews, Research, Issues

The Virtual Learning Commons

For two semesters, my graduate students have been developing the virtual learning commons both collaboratively in small groups and individually for their own school if they were employed. It is now to build upon that expertise in a year-long developmental project. The Virtual Learning Commons replaces the library web page which has always been a one-way form of communication between librarians and their patrons. The Virtual Learning Commons aims to create a giant school-wide conversation where students, classroom teachers, teacher librarians, teacher technologists, administrators, other school specialists, and parents are creating and constructing a giant informaiton space, work space, and museum. My graduate students will be participating in this year-long development project but others around the U.S. and the rest of the English-speaking world are welcome to experiment and create with us. This project will be done at: and readers of this blog can find there the link to the virtual learning commons construction page. Add your name to those interested in participating. We hope to develop a vaiety of templates that folks can pull down or duplicate in their own schools. Already, there is a list of various characteristics we would like to develop.

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Where are we in the education literature?

Over the past three years, I have reviewed hundreds of professional books in the area of school libraries and also in general education. At this point, I can count on one hand the number of times writers in education and technology mention the school library. When particularly disappointed about a particular writer’s lack of recognition, I usually email them and say that I am reviewing their book and ask about linking to the school library or the lack thereof. I get several common excuses. One is that they just presume that the school library is there waiting in the background to support thier ideas for teaching and learning. Another is shock that school librarians would be interested in their ideas for higher-level learning. A third is doubt that school librarians would really have the knowledge or interest in getting involved at a level I describe.. Realizing that we just have not become central in the education literature, I have recently announced a major initiative for the Treasure Mountain Research Retreat to be held during the preconference days of the AASL National Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina in November 2009. Readers can find information about this at: You may need a www on the front. The challenge is to have small teams select a major educational writer like Carol Ann Tomlinson or Jay McTigue and then request and conduct a 30 minute interview brainstorming with that author their ideas for transforming school libraries to  work at the center of their educational ideas. At the retreat, we will put all these interviews together and write some kind of white paper for broad distribution. As I write and work toward the reinvention of this field in the direction of a learning commons, it seems to me that we just have to move into the center of teaching and learning since the old model just doesn’t seem to work any more.  If you  as a reader would like to conduct an interview, please let me know at

February 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Reinventing the School Library

When Robin Williams and I wrote the book In Command little did I know that it would lead my reinvent the school library from the ground up. In that book, we looked at the idea of having every user build their own information space rather than the teacher librarian trying to build a digital school library that may or may not get accessed. Such a turn to client side prompted the notion that the entire school library, now at risk of being totally ignored by users and  cut as an educational frill, should receive new attention. Thus, I called upon my great Canadian colleagues, Koechlin and Zwaan and we are now writing  a major tour of what a reinvented school library transformed into a Learning Commons might look like. It is a wild ride to re-think everything one has written in the past – almost through a mirror to flip it from command and control model to one that is client side. It will debut at the international Association of School Librarians in August of 2998. Recently, I presented the  essence of that thinking at the Texas Library Association to a large audience. It is all about staying in the information game and not being replaced with Google, and it seems we as a profession need to come from behind to stay relevant. It is aan exciting journey and one that must be discussed thoroughly as we continue  to support the kind of teaching and learning that will boost kids and teens into global competitors. Onward!

May 19, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Making Standards Useful

Making standards useful in the classroom by Robert J. Marzano (ASCD, 2008, 294p., ISBN: 9781416606482) Of the hundreds of speakers every year at the ASCD national convention, few draw bigger crowds than Robert Marzano. Known for his What Works series of books that spotlight research-supported practices for teaching, learning, and schooling in general, Marzano’s extended view of education backed by a long career of experiences with top thinkers, makes him a major attraction. This year, he spotlighted his new book and its full first printing was sold out in a matter of hours. Making Standards Useful in the Classroom has some major practical suggestions. As Marzano traces the standards movement in the U.S., he notes the bloated curriculum suggests that it would take at least 22 years to deliver if it were all covered the way that it is laid out in the various standards documents. This is because the mathematicians tend to think that their subject is the most important one in the curriculum and so they want it all covered. This can be said of all curricular areas including the concerns of teacher librarians. His solution? Reduce the number of topics for a school year to a maximum of fifteen so that the current rush to cover would be replaced by more in depth studies. We could not agree more. The knowledge of the world is expanding rapidly and if we continue to try to cover everything, we are all doomed to failure. The second thing Marzano does is to recommend a standardized rubric for measurement across the various content areas – a scale upon which all teachers could agree and learners could expect. His scale goes from zero to four with half-increments such as 2.5 or 3.5. The scale is appealing because at 3.0, a student has mastered the standard and gets the A. If the student scores above 3.5, that student has pushed into the excellence range, or what we would term the expertise to compete globally. Such a notion counters the current mediocrity of NCLB that only concentrates on students achieving the minimum at their particular grade level. These two ideas are exciting indeed, but only as far as they go. Some will argue that the power of letter grades is not covered well in his rubric scoring system because a 2.0 equals a C, a 2.5 is a B, and a 3.0 is an A – meaning that there is a very narrow range between 0-4 where normal grading practices are understood by parents and students. That one can be solved, we think, but there are two major issues missing for teacher librarians and the major ideas being pushed by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. The first idea is “learning how to learn” (information literacy, media literacy, critical thinking, creative thinking, etc.) and the second is the explosion of information and technology. To be fair to Marzano, he does suggest rubrics for what he terms life skills including participation, work completion, behavior, and working in groups. But there is a world of learning to learn strategies that Marzano has never addressed in his interests or in his research. The same goes for the expansion of the world of information and technology. These two areas seem not to have come into Marzano’s radar screen. This lack of understanding becomes quite amusing when he sets up rubrics for research in the language arts rubrics. By fourth grade, students who can use an encyclopedia article to extract information get an A, and excel with a 4 score if they can do detailed Internet searches. These two blind spots are major deficiencies in our opinion. If we cut the number of topics studied, then students need to build and reflect on their learning skills simultaneously so that they begin to understand that they know and can do a great deal about some topics but also have the power to learn and master anything they wish to learn. They are smart and they know how to learn. It is a powerful two-pronged thrust into global excellence. Thus, to teacher librarians, this book is half the story and thus a challenge to its author to expand his vision into the real world of 21st century information and technology systems. It is a challenge that many educators wish to ignore because they feel pressured to cover just what is in the textbook. So, consider carefully the Marzano proposals in this book. Teachers will surely have opinions about his recommendations. And, perhaps that is the sign of an engaging book. Is there such a thing as a half recommendation for a book? We will rate this one on Marzano’s own rubric as being 1.5: “Partial knowledge of the simpler details and processes but major errors or omissions regarding the more complex issues and processes.”

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

School Libraries 2.0

Title: How can librarians get back in the information game?

The learning commons has been defined as a learning laboratory where books don’t get
in the way. In the face of digitalization and the dominance of Google, the question
is, “How can librarians get back in the information game?” The idea of a learning
commons is now being tried in a number of academic libraries and the idea is being
discussed for school libraries. This lecture will go on the offensive to push the
library into the center of teaching and learning K-20 in the areas of competing
directly with Google, collaboratively building high-level learning experiences with
faculty, making the learning commons a one-stop place for expert assistance,
developing a 24/7/365 presence, and experimenting to build in the library models of
the very best teaching and learning. We will join Andrew Keen in his book The Cult
of the Amateur in examining the role of expertise in information but with the
realization that we must aggressively push in different ways if we are going to keep
this profession relevant.

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Tags: school libraries, informatino literacy, technology and learning, reading and libraries

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Concerned about Collaboration?

How to coach teachers who don’t think like you : using literacy strategies to coach across content areas by Bonnie M. Davis (Corwin Press, 2008, 214 pp., ISBN: 9781412949095)
Instructional coaches, specialists within the school, and teacher librarians all have something in common as they attempt to collaborate with classroom teachers – locked doors. Davis is not thinking about teacher librarians, but writes eleven chapters that can be read/used as professional development conversations in any sequence. Her topics overlap teacher librarians concerns: moving from teaching students to coaching teachers; organizing to save stress, time, and mistakes; coaching teachers who don’t think like you; scheduling time for coaching; and, coaching teams of teachers to improve instruction. Davis assumes that a coach does not have a warehouse to tend as teacher librarians do, however, there are enough good ideas here to consider for collaborative strategies not already in the literature of teacher librarians. The idea occurs to us that if there are other specialists in the school who are having the same problem we are, then why not ban together as a professional learning community of specialists with concerned administrators and get a focused program of coaching going throughout the school that has a better chance for real change and impact on achievement. For this reason, we recommend the Davis book for ideas not only for ourselves but for other struggling professionals like ourselves.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Wondering About Collaboration

75 outrageous ideas for librarians to impact student achievement : fun ideas to motivate students and inspire collaboration by Laurie Noble Thelen (Linworth Publishing, 2008, 89 pp., ISBN: 1586832328)
Of the many definitions of the word outrageous, we suppose that our author means: highly unusual or unconventional; extravagant; or remarkable. Thus, sone approaches this thin book with high anticipation. As we read the various activities, we applied the question: “Are two heads better than one?” That is, would the combined efforts of teacher and teacher librarian be better using these activities than if either of the partners tried to do them alone? We also looked at the process of collaboration, asking: Does the information literacy goal for the lesson support the learning of the content objective? Does the assessment actually measure both the content and the information literacy skill to be taught? Does the learning activity actually match the objectives stated? Are the learning activities “outrageous?” Was there a “so what” activity at the end of the learning activity to stimulate higher-level thinking? And, finally, How likely would the activities contribute to achievement as stated? We think such questions should be emblazoned on planning sheets, posters, and into the minds and hearts of every teacher librarian. When given the great gift of collaboration, how do we actually perform? We did find a few activities here that were mildly interesting, but not enough to justify the purchase of this book. However, the purchase might be justified for a professional development session with teacher librarians at a district level. Take a copy of the book, cut it up and distribute pages to teams of teacher librarians. Using the rubric questions above, have the group critique and reinvent the activity they are to critique. Perhaps we could all gain better ideas of actually how we could contribute to teaching and learning. So, in a strange way, buy this book and then be outrageous enough to move beyond it as you test your own creativity and skill.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Book on Differentiation

Differentiated Instructional Strategies in Practice: Training, Implementation, and Supervision, 2nd ed  by Gayle H. Gregory (Corwin Press, 2008, 150 pp., ISBN: 1412936527)

This handbook is a companion volume to Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn’t Fit All written by the same author and published in 2007. The two books together provide a recommended and very practical plan for instituting differentiation in an entire school. The handbook provides many many handoust, planning sheets and flow charts for each stage of planning, developing, teaching, and assessing the work of both the adults and the students involved. A CD contains all the forms in the books so that they are reproducible.  Like many other professionals books in education, there is no reference to the one vast store of information, materials, and knowledgeable  partners who would and could be the key to differentiating for a

March 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Syracuse researchers link higher test scores with certified librarians in schools

Quoted from: February 29, 2008

Preliminary findings of research conducted by iSchool professor Ruth Small and graduate students in the Center for Digital Literacy (CDL) show a statistically significant increase in the ELA test scores—almost a 10 point difference—among fourth-grade students whose schools had certified librarians over students in schools without certified librarians.

“We believe these findings are important to consider, not only because of the higher ELA test scores. These certified librarians are having a larger impact on students’ overall learning as well,” says Small, who directs the school library media program at the iSchool and was recently appointed to the Governor’s New York State Council for Universal Broadband’s Digital Literacy Committee. “Although we’re still analyzing the data, our preliminary results show that certified librarians are also more likely to provide students with materials that present more diverse points of view and that better support the curriculum than non-certified librarians.”

Certified librarians are currently not mandated at the elementary level in New York state, but they are at the secondary level.

“This preliminary report reaffirms what 19 other state studies have shown, that school libraries staffed by certified librarians and equipped with current books and technology can have a positive impact on student academic achievement,” says Michael J. Borges, executive director of the New York Library Association.

The research, which is being funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Studies, included survey responses from 1,612 schools, proportionately representing New York City; large upstate cities such as Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester; other high-needs schools from urban and rural districts; average-need schools; and low-need schools. Even when the need levels of schools were taken into consideration, there was still a 2.2 point difference in average test scores.

“These initial findings support our efforts to require school library media specialists in grades K-6, especially in those school districts that are not meeting state and federal standards,” says Alan Lubin, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers.

The researchers are now currently analyzing more in-depth information gathered from surveys and focus groups involving school library media specialists, students, principals, teachers and parents from 48 elementary, middle and high schools across New York state. They will analyze these various groups’ perceptions of school library specialists and their effect on education.

“The New York State Assembly values libraries and believes they are an important part of our educational system. This preliminary report reinforces the need to continue to invest in our schools, especially those lacking a quality school library program,” says Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, chair of the Assembly Libraries and Educational Technology Committee.

Small hopes to better understand the impact these trained library media specialists have on motivating students to learn, influencing the adoption and use of technology and servicing students with disabilities and special needs.

“Our preliminary results support what school librarians already knew,” says Small. “Best intentions only go so far. We need people educated in school librarianship and dedicated to motivating students to read and learn in our schools.”

The New York Library Association is supporting an increase in library materials aid from $6.25 per pupil to $10 per pupil as recommended by the New York State Board of Regents. Library materials aid is used by schools to purchase books and other reading materials for their libraries. NYLA is also asking the governor and the legislature to amend the Contracts for Excellence initiative to allow the extra funds that high-need school districts receive to be spent on hiring school library media specialists and equipping libraries with up-to-date books and technology.

“This study confirms the direct impact of certified school librarians on the educational success of our children,” says state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Libraries. “That is why I am sponsoring legislation (S.1686) to ensure that every school in the state has a library and a school librarian. In recent years, the Senate has successfully proposed record increases in state aid to public libraries, and I will continue to promote support for school libraries. The New York State Senate has successfully proposed increases for libraries over the past two years, and we will continue to make library funding a priority.”

February 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment



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