During the 1890’s, our field was established through “a School Library Section as an integral part of the National Education Association” (Cole 90). In the ensuing decades, this role has expanded and changed; it demands a balancing act between the more traditional roles surrounding books and reading, and the newer expectations and understanding of technology use on all levels—from managing retrospective conversions, and designing Web sites, to teaching online search strategies with a variety of search engines, to software programs and their evaluations.
In 2008, the discussion continues about school library media specialists as reading teachers—a core issue for all educators, and one for which teachers are specifically trained. Are we reading teachers, too? The importance of this question for school librarians is demonstrated by its inclusion at the ALA 2007 Pre-Winter Institute for AASL where “Reading and the School Library Media Specialist” warranted a full day of discussion.
Linking Libraries and Reading
There is no disagreement that reading and libraries are inextricably linked, but when we discuss “teaching reading,” what are we really saying? Recent studies document the positive impact on student achievement of a strong school library media program guided by a qualified SLMS. The extensive state-by-state study, School Libraries Work!, lists the contributions of these libraries and the professionals who staff them. Yet, nowhere in the document is the term “reading teacher” applied to our role. Instead, we find phrases such as, “love of reading,” “promote reading,” “supporting reading and literacy initiatives,” along with “supports learning to read and reading to learn with informational and imaginative text and literature” (School Libraries Work 9). Current articles continue to repeat these directives. David Loertscher asks, “What is the school library’s role in reading?” while listing ways school libraries build strong programs. Once again we see, “build a love of reading,” along with other standard practices (Loertscher 36). We host annual book fairs, invite book authors and illustrators, and create reading events in all our roles as reading advocates. The love of reading and passion for reading are mirrored over and over, as ways of engaging students in reading, but does this really answer the question—are we reading teachers? Toni Buzzeo asks straightforwardly when looking at the role of the elementary library media specialist and the issue of literacy, “Should we join the reading teams at our school?” Her arguments make good sense, as they support Information Power where the SLMS is an instructional partner, and they uphold the findings of the Scholastic study highlighting effective programs in school libraries. “I believe we should look to them [reading specialists] for ways to naturally support reading as we simultaneously impart information literacy skills through collaborative work with our teachers” (Buzzeo 19).
Along this line, other professionals feel that we need to be literacy leaders in our role as teacher-librarian, rather than “supporters of literacy programs” (Rosenfeld 6). Once again, bringing good books into the collection, sponsoring fun promotional programs, collaborating with teachers, and modeling good reading habits does not make a reading teacher.
The Fundamental Question
Yes, we are teacher-librarians. We teach our students how to find information with online catalogs, use databases, evaluate reliable Web sites; how to search the stacks for books of interest by the same author or similar themes; how to search inside a book for the tables of contents, indices, correct titles, headings, pages; how to find primary sources vs. secondary sources, and much more. And, we are good at it. Yet, supporting reading, teaching reading, and teaching information literacy skills are not the same thing. We advocate, manage, collaborate, and teach, but do we teach reading? Do we teach our students how to comprehend the information that we have taught them to find? Are we expected to do this by our profession and our administrators?
In the OELMA study by Ross Todd and Carol Kuhlthau, students responded to the following statement: “The school library has helped me get better at reading.” The responses were: 18.2% most helpful; 15.2%, quite helpful; 15.8 %, some help; 25.2%, a little help, and 25.6%, does not apply (Todd and Kuhlthau 7). Continuing with this survey, when responding to: “The school library has helped me get better at taking notes,” and “The school library has helped me put ideas in my own words,” responses were even lower in these categories. Can we assume then that the SLMS, while teaching students how to find information, fail to effectively teach students how to read and comprehend the information they find?
A 2005 School Library Journal article highlighted a meeting between reading teachers and librarians. While nothing definitive was reached on the issue of librarians as reading teachers, it did open a dialogue between the two professions and offer an action plan to define roles. Barbara Stripling stated, “we don't necessarily have a consensus, even within [communities] of what the roles are...” (Glick 5). How far have we progressed in these subsequent years?
Maybe a Specialized Reading Teacher?
Perhaps one of the most compelling journal articles on this topic is by Marilyn Z. Joyce. Her involvement directly as a team member with a national education committee presented her with the opportunity to collaborate outside the SLMS arena on the issue of “how to read.” While she recognizes that Language Arts teachers teach students to understand the meaning of fiction, she cogently presents an argument for the teacher-librarian as a reading teacher for informational texts. She notes that as we are the information specialists to begin with, it makes sense to build on this by teaching our students how to read and find meaning from the information. She continues to outline major strategies to assess if our students understand what they are reading. Working with the content area teachers, she stresses the importance of “consistency and reinforcement across the disciplines” (Joyce 38).
The ALA 2007 publication, Collaborative Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension: Maximizing Your Impact, provides seven specifically outlined reading comprehension strategies that are aligned with information literacy standards. This is to help teacher-librarians consider where information literacy overlaps with classroom teachers' reading standards. A plethora of strategies, from using sensory images to making predictions and inferences, which are familiar to most classroom teachers, can facilitate collaborative teaching and use a common language between teachers and media specialists relating to teaching reading.
For lower elementary SLMS, Teaching Reading Strategies in the School Library (Walker) provides detailed visual examples with literary groupings that work with reading strategies.
Teacher-librarians use many familiar tools readily: KWL charts, graphic organizers, question generators, double-entry journals, and more. We have used many of these with the Big6™ approach, or with incorporating our technology resources, but more is out there in the area of general education. Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, a standard education textbook for teaching, gives a variety of strategies both textual and nonlinear to help students understand readings in all areas and for all media, including text-based readings. Before we begin to accept or reject our roles as “reading teachers,” there needs to be a common understanding of this role’s definition. For a good look at collaborative work in conjunction with reading programs at both elementary and secondary levels, along with succinct summaries of main points fostering this style of teaching, Every Student Reads: Collaboration and Reading to Learn (Bush) offers us hands-on guidance. Reading skills are attainable if we are able to communicate effectively. In other words, “We need to know the language with whom we are collaborating” (Bush 2007). Currently, answers vary from those at the university level who teach future SLMS, to those practicing in the school libraries.
Contrasting Views within the Profession
A 20-year-veteran classroom teacher, teacher-librarian, literacy coach, and teacher-educator, Judi Moreillon, adjunct assistant professor for the School of Information Resources and Library Science at the University of Arizona, states:
“Reading is meaning-making. Decoding is a foundation for reading. Decoding is best taught in the classroom by an educator who monitors individual progress. Reading comprehension, however, is taught in all content areas, at all grade levels, and teacher-librarians are perfectly positioned to be teachers of reading comprehension.” (Moreillon) Conversely, the opposite viewpoint holds true for an outstanding school librarian with 24 years of experience: “I do not teach reading. My role in teaching reading is that of a consultant to the reading teachers. I like to think I complement what they do” (Bentley). Others argue that, in fact, we do teach reading specifically, but are not conscious of the skills we possess, and it is our awareness that needs to be raised. How often do site-based school librarians, during a book talk, ask students to make predictions, or access their students' background knowledge and experience relating to a passage? Is this at the heart of the conundrum? Are we already teaching reading, and unaware that we do it? Do we use those strategies and skills, which are part of a formal curriculum in some library graduate programs and education programs? Sara Kelly Johns, President of AASL, notes, “Yes, we are doing it, but we can be more deliberate about it. We do it wherever we can, and we do it deliberately, obviously and loudly,” and we promote that we “are doing reading strategies as part of the library experience” (Johns). Some school librarians are aware, such as Gail Roddy, a 33-year veteran in a private school. Roddy acknowledges her role as “reading teacher,” and uses specific reading strategies: “asking questions, comparing/contrasting, making predictions, summarizing, visualizing, drawing conclusions, relating speech to the printed word.” She says it is a matter of being more obvious to administrators (Roddy). Her background is rooted in the education field, and she has “extensive experience as a reading teacher in the primary grades”—experience that she currently brings to her school librarian role.
The wiki for the AASL Institute “Reading Instruction and the School Library Media Specialist” posts comments with specific links detailing “reading comprehension” to assist teachers, and it appears on a site for school librarians (Connecticut Technical High School System). Where, then, is the disconnect between what is never explicitly stated in Information Power and what is becoming an implicit role in practice for some in our profession? Could this reflect the lack of consistency in requirements in the field of school library media, across the country? In a discussion on qualifications for teaching reading, Gail Bush states that there exist “different standards in states and their required reading courses.” Does this leave our profession open to the confusion that ensues, when we are asked to even consider teaching reading?
“No where in my Master’s program were courses includ[ing] the instruction of reading. It did prepare me to manage the library, select and purchase materials, share those materials with patrons, teach information skills and research strategies” (Bentley).
Or, is it reflective of the changing education culture directed by NCLB? In July 2007, a report by the Center on Education Policy examined how the time spent in school for students on various curricular areas has changed since NCLB was enacted.
The report finds that approximately 62% of school districts increased the amount of time spent in elementary schools on English language arts and/or math, while 44% of districts cut time on science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch or recess (McMurrer 6).
Nowhere in this report is the school librarian, SLMS, or teacher-librarian mentioned, but the covert and profound implications for the school media specialist are noted in one sentence within this 20-page report: “students who are struggling may spend an additional 20 minutes per day on this subject, working one-on-one with a teacher during their free time or library time” [my emphasis] (McMurrer 8).
The Big Picture
In 2002, Mike Eisenberg encouraged school librarians to take a systems approach to our programs and plan strategies in order to become a vital player for student achievement. “The three main outputs of a library program are instruction, reading advocacy and information management” (Eisenberg 3). If the mission of the school is to “teach reading,” is it not incumbent upon us to articulate our role supporting this mission specifically and clearly with our school administrators? Eisenberg continues this thought by emphasizing that school librarians must “communicate continuously with administrators” and “get the word out” about what we are doing in our schools. Yet, how can we fulfill this goal if such a wide spectrum of library programs, graduate school requirements, and policies exist within our own profession?
So, are we reading teachers?
What do we know from the literature? We know that teaching reading is vital for student achievement, hence vital for the school administrators; we know strong school library programs positively impact student achievement; and we know our graduate programs, diverse as they are, prepare us well for the roles delineated in Information Power. What do we need to know? Although each library program responds to the mission statement, the teaching staff, and administrative styles of principals within individual schools, it seems that we need to know from our profession where we stand regarding the issue of “teaching reading.” Looking at the literature and talking with academics and school librarians in the field, our stance is undefined. Can we remain strong as a profession while functioning with such diverse responses to this question? In order to remain current and relevant within our profession, and meet our students' needs, we must practice what we preach to our students: ask the essential questions, define our vocabulary, research, analyze, revise, and synthesize. We are part of the dynamic process of educating children, and we too must be dynamic—open to discussion with all educators, analyze our findings with a critical eye, and change when necessity demands it of us.
Bentley, Lorraine. Personal interview. 21 July 2007.
Bush, Gail. Personal interview. 25 July 2007.
Bush, Gail. Every Student Reads: Collaboration and Reading To Learn. Chicago: American Association of School Librarians, 2005.
Buzzeo, Toni. “Literacy and the Changing Role of the Elementary Library Media Specialist.” Library Media Connection April/May (Spring 2007): 18-19.
Cole, Tom J. “The Origin and Development of School Libraries.” Peabody Journal of Education 37.2 (Sept. 1959): 87-92. JSTOR. 16 Aug. 2007 http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0161-956X(195909)37%3A2%3C87%3ATOADOS%3E2.0.CO%3B2-W .
Connecticut Technical High School System. “Framing Literacy: A Reading/English Language Arts Instructional Curriculum.” Weblog entry. 10 Feb. 2007. AASL: Regional Institute Reading and the School Librarian. American Association of School Librarians. 31 July 2007. wikispaces.com/.
Eisenberg, Michael. “This Man Wants to Change Your Job.” Story Tools 1 Sept. 2002. School Library Journal. 16 Aug. 2007 http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA240047.html?q=This+Man+Wants+to+change+your+job .
Glick, Andrea. “Reading Teacher, Meet the Librarian.” School Library Journal June 2005: 5-6.
Johns, Sara Kelly. Personal interview. 24 July 2007.
Joyce, Marilyn Z. “Niche for Library Media Specialists: Teaching Students How to Read Informational Texts.” Library Media Connection April/May (Spring 2006): 36-38.
Loertscher, David. “What Is the School Library’s Role in Reading?” Teacher Librarian Fall 2007: 36. Education Full Text. H.W Wilson. 16 Aug. 2007 http://hwwilsonweb.com/ .
Marzano, Robert J., Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock. Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria: ASCD, 2001.
McMurrer, Jennifer. “Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era.” Center on Education Policy. July 2007. 1 Aug. 2007 http://www.ecs.org/html/Document.asp?chouseid=7511.Path:Document Library .
Moreillon, Judi. Collaborative Strategies For Reading Comprehension: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: American Library Association, 2007.
Moreillon, Judi. Personal interview. 31 July 2007.
Roddy, Gail. Personal interview. 23 July 2007.
Rosenfeld, Esther. “From Literacy Support To Literacy Leadership?” Teacher Librarian. Fall 2007: 34 Education Full Text. H.W. Wilson. 17 Jul. 2007 http://hwwilsonweb com/ .
“School Libraries Work (updated 2006 edition).” School Library Activities. 2006. U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. 18 July 2007 http://librarypublishing.scholastic.com/content/stores/LibraryStore/pages/images/slw 06.pdf .
Todd, Ross J., and Carol C. Kuhlthau. “OELMA Research Study.” Findings of the Ohio Research Study. 24 Feb. 2004. Ohio Educational Library Media Association. 21 July 2007 http://www.oelma.org/StudentLearning/SLFindings.asp .
Walker, Christine, and Sarah Shaw. Teaching Reading Strategies in the School Library. Westport: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.