ERIC Identifier: ED456861
Publication Date: 2001-00-00
Author: Lance, Keith Curry
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information and Technology Syracuse NY.
Proof of the Power: Recent Research on the Impact of School
Library Media Programs on the Academic Achievement of U.S. Public School
Students. ERIC Digest.
By mid 2001, researchers affiliated with the Library Research Service of the
Colorado State Library and the University of Denver had completed four statewide
studies on the impact of school library media programs on the academic
achievement of U.S. public school students:
Information Empowered: The School Librarian as an Agent of Academic Achievement
* Measuring Up to Standards: The Impact of School Library Programs and Information
Literacy in Pennsylvania Schools,
How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards, The Second Colorado Study,
Good Schools Have School Librarians: Oregon School Librarians Collaborate to
Improve Academic Achievement.
Philosophically, these studies are rooted in the
Information Power model espoused by the American Association of School
Librarians and the findings from six decades of research related to the impact
of school library media programs on academic achievement.
The latest edition of the American Association of School Librarians'
Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning (1998) identifies three
roles for school library media specialists (LMS). In a learning and teaching
role, the LMS advances the instructional goals of the school. As a provider of
information access and delivery, the LMS develops collections and services and
facilitates their use. And, as a program administrator, the LMS serves as the
library media center (LMC) manager as well as a school-wide advocate and trainer
for information literacy.
Over the past half-century, there have been about 75 studies on the impact of
school library media programs on academic achievement. Each of the study reports
summarized herein contains an exhaustive review of this literature to that date.
For that reason, only a thumbnail summary of that review is provided here.
Many early studies of this topic demonstrate the value of the mere presence
of a professionally trained and credentialed library media specialist. Such
correlations, however, beg the question of what the LMS is doing that makes a
difference. In more recent studies, the LMS's contributions as a creator of and
a collaborator in a learning community have been the focus. These studies
indicate that students perform better academically where the LMS:
part of a planning and teaching team with the classroom teacher,
teaches information literacy, and
provides one-to-one tutoring for students in need.
Access & Delivery
One of the most consistent strands of research on this topic is comprised of
studies that demonstrate the value of:
quality collections of books and other materials selected to support the
state-of-the-art technology that is integrated into the learning/teaching
cooperation between school and other types of libraries, especially public
A key role of the library media specialist, but one that has only been the
subject of research for a decade, is program administration. In today's schools,
the LMS is not only the manager of the LMC, but also an advocate for information
literacy with the principal, at faculty meetings, and in standards and
curriculum committee meetings. In addition to being an advocate, the LMS is a
trainer who provides in-service programs for teachers on resource-based
learning, integrating information literacy into the curriculum, and getting the
most out of technology, as well as teaching students.
To be a successful advocate for information literacy, research shows, the LMS
have support staff who free him or her from the LMC to participate in important
win and keep the support of the principal,
manage networked technology, and
raise funds successfully.
for Further Research
Given the substantial body of research already available on the impact of
School libraries, it might be asked why yet another study, let alone multiple
studies, needed to be done. There were two major motivations behind these
studies: confirming the findings of the original Colorado Study and expanding on
that study in several ways.
Time, place and educational politics were the key issues related to
confirming the original Colorado findings.
Do those results hold up over time?
Are they consistent from one state to another?
And, perhaps most importantly, do the claimed relationships between library
media programs and student performance exist when a state's standards-based
tests are substituted for a norm-referenced test (i.e., the Iowa Tests of Basic
Skills or ITBS)?
The original Colorado Study identified the importance of the library media
Specialist playing an instructional role in the school, but it did not define
what that meant or what it involved doing. Further, while the study's findings
implied the value of principal and teacher support, they did not exactly address
those issues, and it failed in an attempt to demonstrate the important
relationship of information technology-particularly school networks-to the LM
In the four most recent studies, all of these motivations for further
research were addressed successfully.
Among the four states, different grades were tested at different levels but,
generally, each state tested at elementary, middle and high school levels. Table
1 identifies the tested grades and number of schools participating in the
studies by state.
In each state, school library media programs were surveyed at the building
level on a variety of topics. The topics common to all four state studies were:
staffing levels, staff activities, collection size, usage statistics, and
Respondents for participating libraries were asked to report LM staffing
levels, including numbers of individuals and numbers of hours worked per typical
week for different types of staff. Ultimately, the distinction between
professionally trained and credentialed library media specialists and all other
types of staff became the critical one.
To respond to the concern that the original Colorado study did not define
what was meant by "an instructional role," the recent surveys asked for a
distribution of staff hours per typical week among various activities related to
exercising leadership in the school, collaborating with classroom teachers, and
creating and maintaining a strong relationship between the LM program and school
Like most surveys of LM programs, these asked for counts of the number of
items in the LMC's collection by format (e.g., books, periodicals, audio, video)
and usage statistics (e.g., numbers of individual and group visits to the LMC).
To assess the level of integration between the school's LM and technology
programs, the surveys also requested counts of computers both in the LMC and
elsewhere in the school-provided the computers were networked to library
resources. In addition to a general count, numbers of computers capable of
particular functions were requested (e.g., providing access to the library
catalog, licensed databases, and the World Wide Web).
In addition to survey data on school libraries, the studies required
substantial amounts of available data: test scores for schools; other school
data, including the teacher-pupil ratio, per pupil expenditures, and teacher
characteristics, such as the percentage with advanced degrees, average years of
experience, and average salary; and community data, including the racial/ethnic
distribution of students, the percentage of students eligible for the National
School Lunch Program (i.e., poverty), and the percentage of the community's
adults who graduated from high school.
The test of academic achievement varied by state. Alaska utilized the
California Achievement Tests (CAT), but Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon
utilized their own state-designed, standards-based tests. On the basis of an
analysis done as part of the original Colorado Study, reading scores were
utilized in all four states. The earlier study found that reading scores are
extremely highly correlated with other types of test scores--so much so that the
other types of scores are statistically redundant.
State departments of education were the sources of most of the remaining
data. The only data item they could not provide was the percentage of adult high
school graduates in the community. This data was obtained for each school's
community from either the U.S. Census American Factfinder or the Federal
Financial Institutions Examination Council web site.
Successful Types of Library Media Predictors
While the results of the four studies varied somewhat, on the whole the
Findings concerning what aspects of school library media programs are important
were remarkably consistent.
In all four states, the level of development of the LM program was a
predictor of student performance. In all four states, data on staffing levels
correlated with test scores. In Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon, additional
data on collections and expenditures were predictive of reading scores. Where LM
programs are better staffed, better stocked, and better funded, academic
achievement tends to be higher.
Levels of student performance were also related, in all four states, to the
extent to which LM staff engaged in particular activities related to the
teaching of information literacy and to the exercise of leadership,
collaboration, and technology.
In Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon, individual student visits to the library
media center correlated with test scores. Notably, group LMC visits did not
demonstrate such a correlation in Alaska or Colorado, but did in Oregon. This
last state had mounted a statewide initiative to encourage teacher-librarian
cooperation in connection with class visits to LMCs.
In Alaska, the availability of Internet-capable computers in the LMC was tied
to test scores. In Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon, where similar questions
were asked about technology, achievement levels increased with the availability
of networked computers both in the LMC and elsewhere in the school that provided
access to catalogs, licensed databases, and the Internet.
In Alaska, the percentage of students scoring proficient or above on reading
tests was higher for schools with
more hours per typical week of professional librarian staffing;
more staff time spent weekly delivering information literacy instruction to
students, planning cooperatively with teachers, and providing in-service
training to teachers;
collection development policies that address the issue of reconsideration
requests or challenges to library materials
computers with modem capability (to access the Internet); and
a relationship-formal or informal-with the public library.
In addition to these direct predictors of test scores, the Alaska study
identified one series of relationships worthy of note: Schools with more
librarian staffing spend more time teaching information literacy, resulting in
more student visits to library media centers and, in turn, higher reading
In Pennsylvania, higher average reading scores for schools were associated
the presence of school librarians with more hours per week of support staff
higher expenditures on the library media program;
larger collections of information resources (e.g., books, periodical
subscriptions, Access Pennsylvania and other databases);
more computers, both in the library media center and throughout the school, that
provide access to information resources (e.g., licensed databases, the
spending more library media staff time integrating the teaching of information
literacy into the school's curriculum and approach to addressing academic
A cluster of library media staff activities was identified with this
integration of information literacy into the school:
teaching cooperatively with teachers as well as independently,
providing in-service training to teachers,
serving on curriculum and standards committees, and
The latest Colorado study identified four direct library media predictors of
academic achievement-and one indirect one. The four direct predictors are LM
program development, collaboration activities of LM staff, technology, and
flexible scheduling. The indirect predictor is leadership activities of LM
The original Colorado Study identified an LMC Size factor comprised of total
weekly LM staff hours per 100 students, volumes per student, and periodical
subscriptions per 100 students. The latest study in that state identified a
similar, but more elaborate LM Program Development factor comprised of:
total weekly librarian staff hours per 100 students,
total LM staff hours per 100 students,
volumes per student,
periodical subscriptions per 100 students,
electronic subscriptions per 100 students, and
LM expenditures per student.
Where the Pennsylvania study found a single cluster of staff activities
related to integrating information literacy into the school, the latest Colorado
study found two clusters of staff activities, one associated with leadership and
another associated with collaboration.
This leadership factor consisted of typical weekly LM staff hours spent:
meeting with the principal,
participating in faculty and curriculum and standards committee meetings, and
meeting with other LM staff at local and district levels. Notably, the
leadership factor was an indirect rather than a direct predictor of reading
scores. Leadership creates an environment for collaboration which, in turn,
leads to higher test scores.
The collaboration factor embraced LM staff hours spent:
planning cooperatively with teachers,
teaching information literacy,
providing in-service training to teachers,
identifying materials for teachers, and
supporting local networking to link the LMC and classrooms.
As in Pennsylvania, Colorado schools tended to have higher test scores if
they had local networks of computers, both in the LMC and in classrooms, that
provided access to information resources, particularly licensed databases and
At the secondary level only, the Colorado results also provide some
Preliminary evidence for flexible scheduling. In that state, at that school
level, reading scores correlated with individual visits to LMCs, but not group
visits. While evidence about the differences between these two types of visits
is anecdotal, it indicates that group visits are more often for traditionally
assigned library periods, when little or no information literacy instruction may
be taking place. By contrast, when students are visiting the LMC individually,
they are believed to be more likely to be pursuing somewhat self-directed
learning in which they are exercising information literacy skills.
The most recent of the four studies conducted by Lance, Rodney and Hamilton
Pennell is for Oregon. It identifies one direct library media predictor of
Academic achievement, a library media program development factor similar to the
one yielded by the latest Colorado study, as well as a host of indirect
In Oregon, the LM Program Development factor is comprised of:
total LM staff hours per 100 students,
print volumes per student,
periodical subscriptions per 100 students, and
LM expenditures per student.
The analysis of indirect predictors of student test performance identified an
elaborate web of relationships consistent with the findings in Alaska,
Pennsylvania, and Colorado. A strong and successful library media program is
That is adequately staffed, stocked and funded. Test scores rise with the size
of the LM staff, collection, and budget.
Whose staff is actively involved leaders in their school's teaching and learning
enterprise. As in other states, meeting with the principal, serving on key
school committees, and holding LM staff meetings help to create a collaborative
environment. Where LM staff spends more time in these activities, students
Whose staff provides access to and deliver materials and information that
support that enterprise. When LM staff spends more time developing local
collections and when LM programs exploit the collections of other libraries via
interlibrary loan, test scores improve.
Whose staff has collegial, collaborative relationships with classroom teachers.
The more time library media specialists spend identifying useful materials and
information for teachers, planning and delivering instruction with them, and
providing in service training to teachers, the higher the level of academic
achievement by students.
That embraces networked information technology. Where networked computers are
more widely available and where library media specialists are more involved in
managing school networks, test scores are higher.
After the latest Colorado study indicated a correlation with test scores for
individual, but not group, visits to library media centers, it was somewhat
surprising that the Oregon study yielded such correlations for both individual
and group visits. The group visits correlation is a likely consequence of an
intensive campaign in that state to encourage classroom teachers to bring their
classes to the LMC for team-teaching involving both the LMS and the teacher.
All of the recent studies of the impact of school library media programs on
Academic achievement provide evidence to support several common findings:
Professionally-trained and credentialed school library media specialists do make
a difference that affects student performance on achievement tests.
In order for library media specialists to make this difference, the support of
principals and teachers is essential.
Library media specialists cannot do their jobs effectively unless they have
support staff who free them from routine tasks and enable them to participate in
a variety of one-to-one and group meetings outside the library media center.
Library media specialists have a two-fold teaching role. They are teachers of
students, facilitating the development of information literacy skills necessary
for success in all content areas, and they are in-service trainers of teachers,
keeping abreast of the latest information resources and technology.
media specialists also must embrace technology to be effective. They must ensure
that school networks extend the availability of information resources
beyond the walls of the LMC, throughout the building, and, in thebest
cases, into students' homes.
Though the four recent studies consistently yielded the foregoing common
findings, each study also produced some distinguishing results.
The Alaska study was the first to identify the importance of library media
specialists as teachers of information literacy. It was also the first to
demonstrate the impact on achievement of the library media specialist as an
in-service trainer of teachers.
The Pennsylvania study was the first to delineate the specific activities of
library media specialists involved in an integrated, collaborative approach to
teaching information literacy
second Colorado study was the first to distinguish between the leadership and
collaboration activities of library media specialists and to demonstrate the
critical pro-active contribution of leadership activities to setting the stage
for collaboration and, in turn, higher achievement levels for students.
The Oregon study demonstrated that group visits to LMCs, particularly those for
information literacy instruction, as well as individual visits can be a
predictor of test performance. This study was also the only one of the recent
group to indicate the value of time library media specialists spend developing
collections and of interlibrary loan activities.
for School & Community Differences
The distinguishing feature of the research model employed in the original
Colorado study as well as its recent successors in Alaska, Pennsylvania,
Colorado, and Oregon is controlling for school and community differences. Claims
by earlier studies to have established cause-and-effect relationships between
characteristics of library media programs and academic achievement did not do
this. Consequently, their results were called into question readily. For
example, when it was found that higher library media expenditures correlated
with higher test scores, it was easy to explain away this relationship by
attributing the test scores to higher school expenditures generally. The cause
of higher achievement was not spending on the library media program in
particular, but rather being a prosperous school that could afford to spend more
on everything. To preclude this and similar criticisms and to establish a
stronger claim that reported correlations reflect cause-and-effect, these
studies encompassed data on schools (i.e., per pupil spending, teacher-pupil
ratio, various teacher characteristics) and their communities (i.e., poverty
levels, racial/ethnic demography, adult educational attainment). These
additional variables address most, if not all, of the stronger arguments that
could otherwise be made to discount the consistent findings of this line of
In all four states, analyses were conducted to measure the impact on test
scores of each library media, school, and community characteristic while
controlling for the others. The following table summarizes the percentages of
variation in test scores that were explained by library media programs at each
grade level in the Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon studies. (Such analyses
could not be conducted successfully in Alaska due to data and other
After accounting for the considerable impact on academic achievement of
Community socio-economic conditions-from one-third to three-quarters depending
on the state and the school level-library media predictors almost always
outperformed other school characteristics, such as teacher-pupil ratio and per
Recommended Actions by School Officials
The practical implications of these research findings are a clear and
Straightforward call to action.
School library media programs should be funded sufficiently to employ both
professional and support staff and to have both information resources in a
variety of formats and the technology necessary to extend the LM program beyond
the walls of the library media center.
Library media specialists should be recognized and utilized by principals and
teachers as professional colleagues in the teaching and learning enterprise.
Where such recognition and the collaboration to which it leads do not exist, the
LMS must exercise some leadership in changing the environment.
Technology is an essential part of a successful LM program. Information
resources, including licensed databases, should be available throughout the
school via networked computers in classrooms, labs, and offices.
Library media specialists who wish to make effective presentations of the
findings of these studies may find helpful another recent publication, Powering
Achievement: School Library Media Programs Make a Difference: The Evidence
(Lance and Loertscher, 2001). It provides handouts and presentation slides for
presentations of varying length and focusing on different issues.
Like all research, these studies raised almost as many questions as they
answered. They call for further research, both qualitative and quantitative.
How can library media specialists be taught the leadership skills they need
succeed? While such training is fairly widely available, there is little extant
research identifying best practices in this area.
How should LM specialists, teachers and students interact to improve academic
achievement? While studies such as these establish relationships between test
performance and certain types of staff activities--cooperative teaching, for
example--these findings do not offer much in the way of practical advice to LM
specialists about how they can successfully engage teachers and students.
How does the availability of and involvement with information technology affect
the interactions of LM specialists, teachers and students? These studies
indicate that the presence of technology and LM staff involvement with it are
important, but they do not explain how electronic access to information
facilitates effective relationships between LM specialists and others.
Lance, Keith Curry, Christine
Hamilton-Pennell, and Marcia J. Rodney. (2000). "Information empowered: The
school librarian as an agent of academic achievement in Alaska schools." Revised
edition. Juneau: Alaska State Library. (ED 443 445)
Lance, Keith Curry and David V. Loertscher. (2001). "Powering achievement:
School library media programs make a difference: the evidence." San Jose,
California: Hi Willow Research & Publishing.
Lance, Keith Curry, Marcia J.Rodney, and Christine Hamilton-Pennell. (2000).
How school librarians help kids achieve standards: The second Colorado study.
San Jose, California: Hi Willow Research and Publishing. (ED 445 698)
-----(2000). Measuring up to standards: The impact of school library programs
and information literacy in Pennsylvania schools. Greensburg, Penn.:
Pennsylvania Citizens for Better Libraries. (ED 446 771)
-----(2001). Good schools have school librarians: Oregon school librarians
collaborate to improve academic achievement. Portland: Oregon Educational Media
Lance, Keith Curry, Lynda Welborn, and Christine Hamilton-Pennell. (1993).
The impact of school library media centers on academic achievement. Castle Rock,
Colo.: Hi Willow Research and Publishing. (ED 353 989) ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keith Curry Lance, Ph.D., is the director of the Library Research Service, a
unit of the Colorado State Library and the Colorado Department of Education
operated in partnership with the Library and Information Science Program of the
College of Education of the University of Denver. A frequent speaker and writer
on the social impact of school and public libraries, he currently serves on the
research and statistics committees of the American Association of School
Librarians and the Public Library Association, the Standing Committee on
Statistics of the International Federation of Library Associations and
Institutions, and the Steering Committee of the Federal-State Cooperative System
for Public Library Data.