Advocating for School Librarians

The peril and promise of school libraries

January 8, 2014

Barbara Stripling

As president of ALA, I advocate for all types of libraries, librarians, and library workers. We are, after all, a community. Together, we can fulfill the promise that all libraries change lives.

Yet the promise of libraries is in peril because school libraries are in crisis; a threat to one type of library is a threat to all libraries. School libraries across the country are at a critical point. On one hand, budget and testing pressures have led to decisions to eliminate or de-professionalize school libraries. On the other hand, the increased emphasis on college and career readiness and the integration of technology have opened an unprecedented door to school librarian leadership.

ALA is planning a multifaceted advocacy campaign for school libraries. Every librarian in the country must be involved. If you’re a school librarian, you know the messages that must be delivered. If you are in another type of library, you may not realize the ways that school librarians change lives. Build your message around five critical areas and then talk to your local school librarian for stories and data to bring those messages alive.

Culture of literacy. Traditionally, school librarians have built a schoolwide culture of literacy by providing individualized reading guidance, developing high-quality collections that match the students and curriculum of the school, and nurturing a love of reading. Today’s school librarians also teach critical new literacy skills to enable young people to evaluate and make sense of text presented in all formats and to be producers and communicators of ideas, not just consumers of information.

Culture of inquiry. The mission of the school library is to enable all students to be independent and lifelong learners, equipped with essential critical-thinking and information skills. Young people learn through inquiry—asking good questions, investigating, and drawing evidence-based conclusions. School librarians collaborate with classroom teachers to embed inquiry throughout the curriculum of the school.

Social and emotional growth. Because the school library is a safe space for discovery and collaboration, young people develop personal dispositions of self-confidence, perseverance, and grit, as well as social qualities like the ability to be part of a team and show respect for the perspectives of others.

Creativity and imagination. School libraries offer liberating experiences of imagination and creation. Students see characters in their minds as they listen to stories. Young people imagine their own stories or create expressions of their learning to share with others.

Thoughtful use of technology. School librarians teach students and teachers how to use the latest technology tools for personal and academic learning, communication, production, and collaboration. Through the school library, use of technology becomes a natural and schoolwide part of the teaching and learning process.

School librarians have promised to empower young people to pursue a lifetime of reading, discovery, learning, and creating. To fulfill that promise, we must hold the dream that every school across the country will have an effective school library program. As Dee Hock, business author and former CEO of Visa, said, “It is no failure to fall short of realizing all that we might dream. The failure is to fall short of dreaming all that we might realize.”

We must stand together and demand the right of every young person to a dynamic school library staffed by a certified school librarian.

BARBARA K. STRIPLING is assistant professor of practice at Syracuse (N.Y.) University. Email: bstriping[at]


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