The importance of K-12 libraries

This week the Texas State Library and Archives Commission met at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas. One important item of business before the commission was to adopt revised standards for K-12 public school libraries. This small step for the commission is a giant leap for school libraries and the millions of Texas students who use them, and it was also a long time in the making.

In 1995, the legislature gave TSLAC the authority to set voluntary school library standards “in consultation with the State Board of Education.” The first standards were adopted in 1995 and a revision was completed in 2005. But it has been 13 years since the last revision and much has changed in that time, especially in regard to technology and the way that the state measures education programs.

The new School Library Programs: Standards and Guidelines for Texas are the result of over 18 months of meetings of a committee of library and education professionals led by Donna Kearley of the Denton ISD, and Sonja Schulz of the Nacogdoches ISD, and steered by TSLAC’s School Program Coordinator Liz Philippi. The committee aligned the standards with the T-TESS statewide teacher evaluation process and organized the standards into six broad areas, or strands: information literacy, inquiry, reading, digital learning, safe and nurturing environment, and leadership.

The standards provide a detailed and intentional framework to help districts understand not only where their library programs rank, but also the potential of the school library to address the districts’ learning and organizational goals. This is of utmost importance because in all-too-many districts the school library is an underutilized resource. Over many years and in multiple states, researchers (most notably Keith Lance, formerly of the Library Research Service at the Colorado State Library) have demonstrated that a properly staffed and resourced school library is a leading driver of student achievement. The evidence is unequivocal: strong school libraries will raise test scores and help children succeed in school and life.

We are proud of our Texas K-12 school libraries and librarians and applaud their valiant efforts to serve their students and their districts. We hope that the new standards will support that work and lead to even stronger Texas school libraries.

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