Mary Keeling: AASL Surveys Find School Librarians Essential During Closures

Mary Keeling Bio

Originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of AC&E/Equity & Access

From March to May 2020 AASL conducted three surveys of school librarians to gather progressive data during weekly, sometimes daily, changes to school closures. What was evident in each survey was the school librarian’s determination to meet the needs of every learner, educator, administrator, and member of their community during this unprecedented time in history.

At the onset of school closures, school librarians focused their efforts on curating and expanding access to online resources and offering virtual assistance (90 percent and 82 percent respectively). Approximately half of respondents reported that they continued instruction on research methods, digital citizenship, and access to electronic resources through a variety of distance learning methods. Forty percent engaged in reading promotion through virtual book clubs and other promotional strategies. A small number (fewer than 15 percent) offered access to print materials through various delivery systems such as curbside pick-up.

While working with students, school librarians also worked with faculty to provide support for the transition to distance learning. Most respondents (85 percent) offered much-needed resource curation or technology tools for remote/virtual classroom instruction. School librarians provided assistance for whatever classroom teachers and educators needed, including co-teaching, professional development, and answering fair use/copyright questions. More than 70 percent of respondents offered resource training and technology set-up/troubleshooting for educators.

Most early learning plans for students were optional because it was anticipated that face-to-face schooling would resume. Although school districts made efforts to continue learning through a combination of distance learning technology and packets, results were mixed. Survey respondents reported that 40 percent of students completed work as expected. However, 20 percent of students did not log in, turn in work, or otherwise participate in distance learning. Expectations of student accountability varied widely. Half of schools maintained expectations that students complete and turn in work. Forty percent of schools reported no formal accountability for student learning, and 20 percent of schools shifted their focus from academic learning to student safety and well-being.

School closures have shined a light on what most educators already realize: the great disparity in learners’ access to technology. The biggest hurdle reported by survey respondents for students was access to technology for completing schoolwork. School librarians reported that fewer than half of students had full access to a device and broadband Internet. At the other end of the spectrum, 10 percent had no access to the Internet, 12 percent had unreliable access, and 20 percent needed to use their phone or a tablet to complete work. While respondents offered parents, caregivers and guardians curated resources for at-home activities (80 percent) and technology support (61 percent), the learning setting created increased hurdles for students to complete assignments. Parent/guardian/caregiver ability to monitor and manage learners was a hurdle reported by 79% of respondents.

One thing school closures made clearly evident: school librarians were recognized by their school community as the go-to person for learners, educators, and parents. AASL knows school librarians have always transformed teaching and learning in the shifting educational landscape, and through these difficult times AASL will continue to highlight the invaluable leadership role school librarians play in their communities.

View the AASL School Library Closure Survey reports

The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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