What Makes School Library Media Programs Effective?

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Creating an effective library media program is an intricate process. It involves the investment of both financial and human capital, while at the same time promoting literacy in many forms.

Characteristics of Effective Library Media Programs

Building effective library media programs are in some ways just like building any other effective program within a school. Just like effective instruction needs teachers who are knowledgeable, energetic, and creative, so does the school media center. We wouldn't expect a classroom teacher to be effective if they weren't there full time. However, it takes more than a single individual to make a library media program effective.

High-Quality Collections

The foundation of an effective library media program is its collection. Without it, there is little for the human resources in the media center - the media specialist and assistants, to build an effective program on. Think of it this way; we live in a world where information is powerful. The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom as 'rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.' In our school media centers that means that students should have free and easy access to information in multiple formats that are appropriate to their reading level. They also should be able to engage in conversations about that information in multiple formats. That is, after all, the essence of free speech.

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The foundation of being able to have free access to read and email is that there is information there to access at all. In high-quality library media programs, there is a wealth of books and other resources at the disposal of students. A accepted rule of thumb is the media center should have between $12-$15 a year to put into books and other materials for students. That amounts to 15-20 books in the media center for every child in the school. Additionally, creating a high-quality collection means creating access for students to digital media. In a media center, this could look like setting up an area with desktops computers or Chromebooks so that students can easily access the library catalog and research tools such as access to search articles, newspapers, and web-based encyclopedias.

Collaborative Library Media Specialists

An effective school media program has a library media specialist who facilitates multiple avenues of collaboration. The place to begin building those collaborations is by having a media specialist who works closely with the teachers within the school. That collaboration begins by asking teachers about the content they are teaching and what books and resources they need to support that content. Teachers often face the challenge of lacking content specific material appropriate to the reading level of their students, and in this scenario offers an opportunity for the media specialist to foster collaboration. In schools with effective library media programs, this type of collaboration is common.

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Effective library programs use para-professionals to free up the media specialist to collaborate with teachers. Using para-professionals makes the media specialist's schedule more flexible, making it easier for teachers who are often on a rigid schedule to find time to collaborate. Para-professionals can take on the routine tasks such as checking in/out books for students freeing up time for the media specialist.

Teach Information Literacy

An effective library media program is also one where the media specialist develops and implements a curriculum focused on developing information literacy skills in students. Students today are consumers of information, but an effective library program implements curriculum to build students skills in all areas of information literacy. Given the ease with which students can access information via the Internet, building information literacy skills so that students learn how to be responsible consumers of information is critical.

Effective library media programs teach students to identify the types of information they need and how to locate it using a variety of information. This includes training students and teachers in using the media center resources to locate and evaluate sources in terms of relevance and credibility. In effective programs these lessons are not limited to visiting the media center, they are designed in collaboration with teachers to be implemented as part of content area curriculum. A library media program should teach students and faculty different strategies to effectively and efficiently locate information.

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