This month's 1-Question Survey asked school librarians to consider what data they would most want to collect if they were to engage in action research. When asked what impact or need(s) they would like to measure, respondents listed their top priority to be student learning (48%). The next area identified was general usage (33%) and then collection development (31%). Teacher support (27%), research needs (24%), and use of space within the library (22%) followed, with technology needs (17%) being of least concern.
Action research can be used as a tool within education by employing "continuing cycles of investigation designed to reveal effective solutions to issues and problems experienced in specific situations and localized settings" (Stringer, 2013). This allows whomever is doing the research a chance to build their own set of data that can then inform professional practices and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the library program.
School librarians are in a special spot in most schools. They have a direct instructional impact on every student in the school as well as being an instructional support person to every regular classroom teacher. However, most of us get little time with full groups of students which makes collection of data quite complicated.
One of my (Jen's) first action research projects involved a prescribed and leveled reading program. This was so long ago that I cannot even find my data, but I remember the impact. With one class of second graders, we quit using the leveled book/quiz program and I gave them regular book talks and utilized the screensaver on their classroom computers to promote the newest books in the library. Their high-stakes reading scores were as good or better than their other classmates who continued with the prescribed and leveled reading program. Checkouts for my screensaver class were also much higher than the control groups. This example of data collection supported a theory I had in regards to student learning and the school library. It was not difficult to collect, but it did require reflection, collaboration with teachers and administrators, and time, but it was well worth the effort.
Sometimes collecting data is even easier. In my high school library I transitioned from using a decades-old clipboard sign-in process to a Google Form. This method gave us easy-to-access and actionable information with very little impact on time or effort. We could measure which classes students were visiting from, their reason for visiting the library, and, with a quick exit form, we could gather qualitative information regarding how well the library met user needs. All this required was one dedicated computer to serve as a sign-in kiosk and a little bit of space on the desk. Where no one ever referred to the clipboard, this data we collected helped us with student safety, technology use, and influenced our yearly needs assessment documentation. This example of action research for the purpose of collecting general library use data would be simple to tailor to any school library.
Action research doesn't have to focus only on users. As survey respondents demonstrated, one area of intense interest to school librarians is collection development. There are certainly many methods for evaluating your collection, but one many of us find ourselves thinking about right now is how to ensure we are providing inclusivity and diversity with our selections. In a recent Twitter chat, Nancy Jo Lambert, librarian at Reedy High School, shared the work she has undertaken to conduct a diversity audit of her collection. "Conducting a diversity audit has made me honestly evaluate my collection…. Now my collection development practices are driven by data." The real beauty is that almost all of the work is being done by her high school aides, and she has shared her resources for anyone to use. You can access her work and templates online (Lambert 2020).
If you're avoiding action research because it sounds scary and serious, we hope the above examples demonstrate just how accessible this process can be. Consider what you're currently doing in your library and how you can use data to make your work more meaningful, measurable, effective, and efficient.
Lambert, Nancy Jo. "Reedy HS Diversity Audit." https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1nqpDCq5nj2-PbDNcvCHjgfdquyuzKvh8kx4FfMP2mrU/present
Stringer, Ernest T. Action Research. Sage, 2013.