One-Question Survey
How Have You Used Student Voice in Your Decision Making?

This month's 1-Question Survey asked you to share an example of when students drove the decision making in your school library. The nature of the question is different from most of the surveys and resulted in truly interesting anecdotal evidence demonstrating how school librarians have encouraged student voice.

Empowering students to influence library purchases was the most often-mentioned way of incorporating student voice. Over 60% of respondents gave students some measure of voice in the selection and purchasing process. Methods varied from simply leaving a spiral notebook at the checkout desk for students to record requests to more elaborate processes. One elementary school librarian shared the steps she takes annually to put students in control in a meaningful way:

Every year (more or less) I have a small group of students serve as Library Advisors. They are a group of students that I work with for about an hour a week. I have each student pick a topic, see what books our library has on the topic, then allow each student to choose one fiction and one nonfiction book to add to the collection (usually give each a budget of $50.00 and show them how to select from a book jobber by age level, reviews, etc.) When the books arrive, I have the students stamp the books and place a label inside each book indicating that the book was chosen by Library Advisor, Laurie J. (Name handwritten by student) and myself. I do approve the selections. Other students seem to enjoy checking out the books. It is always a fun project.

Students invest in the library when they are able to drive decisions like this. Another respondent mentioned how delighted her students are when a new book is added that "I bought just for them!" One respondent pointed out that students can be involved with weeding as well: "I had lunch-bunch with 3rd-5th grade students that would read these [under-circulated] books, discuss, and vote on whether to keep or delete." Entrusting students to make real decisions, and even going so far as to give them a budget, is a powerful way to tell a student you believe in them, that their interests and opinions matter. For more ideas for implementing something like this into your library, check out the Expect the Miraculous blog by Andy Plemmons of Barrow Media Center (https://expectmiraculous.com/). He details his annual process for student book budget purchases. Even better, he is great about tagging his posts, so you can easily see everything he is doing to advocate for student voice.

Library programming can be another natural way to invite and encourage student voice. Many respondents explained how they sponsored clubs based on students' requests. Some provided the structure and then allowed student choice within the program. Others gave pretty free rein to students: "Students named the club Virtual Vikings, created a t-shirt design, and chose the gaming platform we would use. It became a student led organization with me and my co-librarian tagging along to chaperone and make purchases." The programs we develop can also be used to advocate for minority voices. One respondent shared her experience, "Students expressed the need for a Gay-Straight Alliance and as an ally, I advocated for it and became one of the staff leaders. It supported my goal of keeping the library as a welcoming space for all." As we evaluate the programming we offer, consider what voices might not be heard right now, and how you can advocate for them.

Another theme worth noting in this survey was allowing students to make decisions regarding the library's physical space. One respondent discussed how an initial invitation for input evolved into students' stepping up taking the lead in physical changes to their library space: "I asked my middle school library helpers for ideas about bookcase locations and moving genre locations. They were excited to brainstorm ideas which led to 'Hey, can we.... and what about…'. So they did more than just move bookcase and books. We reorganized cases to create a new space which meant we needed new furniture. My students browsed for library furniture online and in catalogs. In the end, my students moved bookcases and books and picked out new tables and chairs to update the look of their library. Involving students directly in this project enabled them to be creative, have a voice in their library, and to work as a team."

Another respondent discussed how they loosened control to allow for students' visions to be prominently displayed in the library: "The students were allowed to paint murals across my library. I set the parameters (a unifying theme and it needed to reflect education), and they ran with it, creating galaxies and characters/pieces that reflect all education. They even gender-bent our mascot, making it female."

While only 15% of respondents mentioned physical space, the ones that did are powerful examples of amplifying student voice. When students are trusted to make decisions in this realm, then the results can't help but be physical reminders of the part students play as stakeholders in the library space.

School libraries are uniquely positioned to offer EVERY student a voice. This can be done in a myriad of ways, and it is the librarian's duty to determine which are most appropriate for their students and situation. The more I consider this topic, the more determined I become to be an advocate for students and help them find their voice, and the more grateful I am to work in a field in which I have that opportunity.

About the Authors

James Allen is Statewide School Library Lead and a digital learning coach for the Kentucky Department of Education. Previously, he was teacher librarian and EDhub Director at Eminence Independent, a K–12 public school in Kentucky. He is an organizer and regular moderator of #KyLChat, which gives librarians across Kentucky a place to share and explore new ideas. He is also a co-founder of the #KyGoPlay movement, which is changing the way people think about libraries, makerspaces, and play in school. James is a Google for Education Certified Innovator. He is also a past president of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians.

Jen Gilbert, MSLIS, is a K-12 teacher librarian at Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, KY and part-time faculty at the University of Kentucky. She earned her bachelor's in English teaching from Brigham Young University and her master's in library and information science from the University of Kentucky.

Jen loves spending her days in her school library, the EDhub, and promises a VIP tour to any fellow school librarians who want to check out the EDhub's impressive makerspace.

MLA Citation Allen, James, and Jennifer Gilbert. "How Have You Used Student Voice in Your Decision Making?" School Library Connection, May 2020, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Survey/2245798.

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Entry ID: 2245798

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