Rewriting the Standards

AASL’s revision aims to engage librarians and learners in personal and professional growth

November 1, 2017

Mary Keeling

A sea change is afoot among school librarians. At the national conference of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL)—November 9–11 in Phoenix—the association will launch its revised National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries.

Revisions have advanced the profession and addressed educational and technological innovations of the day. Standards have moved from a concern for the library facility (1920s) to a focus on defining effective access services (mid-20th century) to describing the roles of school librarians as teachers, instructional partners, information specialists, program administrators, and school leaders (since the late 1990s). The 2017 National School Library Standards (NSLS) again respond to changes in school librarianship to guide our members’ work.

In 2015 AASL assembled an editorial board of expert practitioners and researchers to examine its existing standards, assess them for relevance and validity, and compare them with those of comparable groups. More than 1,100 school librarians were surveyed and another 200 participated in focus groups. Users liked the standards but thought they should be streamlined. They wanted an easy-to-follow presentation and materials for different audiences, including the solo librarian who lacks access to professional development opportunities.

The refreshed standards consist of six shared foundations that are expressed by learners and school librarians alike. Then there are “domains,” which reflect the development of aptitude as the learner or practitioner conceptualizes an idea, constructs understanding, communicates new learning or creates a product, and integrates the learning into his or her knowledge base. What were previously called “outcomes” are now framed as “competencies” for the learner and school librarian and as “alignments” for the school library to emphasize the development of effective practice over time. This material is organized within “frameworks” that illustrate how learners, school librarians, and school libraries support one another—a shift from earlier models.

The new National School Library Standards recognize that everyone is a learner.

While the new NSLS upholds concepts familiar to school librarians—such as commitments to inquiry learning, collaborative practice, and ethical use of information and technology—the standards strive to embrace a growth mindset for librarians as well as students. For example, school librarians have traditionally selected materials to represent diverse points of view in their collections, but new standards promote inclusivity with regard to understanding, appreciating, and valuing the differences members bring to the community as a means to further empathy and equity. The revised NSLS also reflects the trend toward increasing personalization in education, calling for learners to extend their knowledge by curating and sharing resources and pursuing topics of interest.

As the editorial board conducted its research, AASL convened a task force to develop a three-year implementation plan as well as printed materials, face-to-face professional development, a web portal to organize resources and facilitate peer-to-peer networking, and social media channels connecting librarians to one another. The implementation plan continues the focus on adults as learners and recognizes their concerns when faced with change.

Thus, support materials were designed to help librarians find themselves in the standards, take steps to develop new competencies, and communicate changes with stakeholders. The task force has crafted messages for specific user types, including librarians at different career stages, administrators, teachers, and parents. Standards are presented via mobile application and a 328-page book supported through a web portal, providing many entry points for multiple audiences.

How will we know if we have succeeded? Metrics such as survey responses, conference evaluations, and web analytics will gauge each implementation action and inform future work.

NSLS recognizes that everyone is a learner. Its implementation will enable school librarians to commit to continual reflection and professional growth, better serve their information communities, and advocate for all students to have opportunities for personalized learning.