OUR VOICE SURVEY AND RESPONSES OF School library media specialists

We were able to hear the voices of five local school School Library Media Specialists (SLMSs) and one county-level SLMS representative. These voices are located throughout the state of Georgia in the following counties and/or cities: Bibb County, Cherokee County, Gwinnett County, Houston County, and Pelham City Schools.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

One of the first and most asked questions among SLMSs is whether or not their media center has a clerk. Out of the five local SLMSs surveyed, three stated that they did indeed have a clerk. There is certainly more that can be accomplished when a SLMS has help to run the media center. Those that do not have a clerk tend to spend more time on the day-to-day tasks rather than being the administrator of the local media center program.

The are so many roles that a SLMS plays on a day-to-day basis. We were able to narrow down the responsibilities into five different categories:

TEACHER AND COLLABORATOR

First, and most important, would be the role of teacher and collaborator. All SLMSs surveyed (at the local school level) stated they teach research lessons to their students and/or collaborated with their teachers in order to support instruction at the school.

Our district level representative mentioned that she was in charge of professional development and training for the SLMSs in the county, therefore still filling the capacity of teacher.

ADMINISTRATOR

All SLMSs are the administrators of the their local school media program. This encompasses everything relating to the media center - from purchasing books, digital resources and technology, to maintaining inventory of resources, to promoting reading and literacy throughout the school. Most SLMSs surveyed mentioned budget allocation and determining greatest needs of their program so that funds could be allocated in the the best way.

Our district level representative is part of a group of district representatives and has varying roles to cover at the district level.

ADVOCATE

To advocate for your media center, you must advertise yourself and your media center. As one SLMS said, “You must toot your own horn!” SLMSs surveyed stated they were involved with many other committees/clubs or events in order to make their presence known throughout their school. Other committees/clubs mentioned: News club with a weekly news show run by the students, school improvement committee, Literacy team, Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl team coach, Media Festival committee, Tech Fair committee, AR Celebrations, Readers Rally Coach, Cluster Vertical Technology Team member, Spelling Bee committee member, Superintendent’s Technology Advisor Board member, videographer/photographer for school events, and Readers Rally Book Selection committee.

Our district level representative works with the leadership group to set the direction as a district for the county media programs.

Ways they would like to advocate for their media program in the future:

  • Newsletters highlighting the happenings in the media center;
  • Go to grade level meetings to showcase the data supporting their role in teaching and learning
  • More collaboration with teachers in the learning process
  • Promote lesson ideas with staff at staff meetings
  • Make library time mandatory so that each student receives time in the media center
  • Invite stakeholders to the media center for volunteer opportunities
  • Collaborate with and invite the public library to school events
  • Displays around the school as well as a presence at PTA/school events
  • Author visits

LITERACY ADVOCATE

SLMSs should be the number one literacy advocate. Our SLMSs showed they are promoting literacy by participating and promoting the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl competition, Readers Rally competition, promoting Read Across America week, participating in Family Reading Night or Literacy Night, Book Fairs, and other events throughout the year.

Our district level representative oversees the entire Readers Rally competition as well as coordinates the committees in charge of selecting the books used in competition.

MENTOR

As a SLMS, you job is to not only mentor the students in learning and research, but also to mentor other teachers in finding the correct resources, copyright guidelines, and technology resources and usage. Most SLMSs surveyed stated they are in charge or help with professional development regarding technology training and providing parents with tips and literacy opportunities to use with their students. Let’s not forget about all the students that are mentored through the clubs that were already mentioned.

Our district level representative is in charge of a new media specialist mentoring program for media specialists new to the county.

When asked if there was a district level supervisor the SLMS could contact for support, four out of the five indicated they did have a district level contact. They mentioned this was a great resource for many reasons: (1) It leads to consistency for all SLMSs within the county; (2) They know there is an advocate for them and their media program; (3) They have support for questions they may have or if they needed ideas to boost their program; and (4) District level provides funding for media program.

Our district level representative stated, “It's invaluable to have someone who can advocate for the media specialist position, especially since schools have local school control. Professional Development is more cohesive and organized, questions about a multitude of issues (technical, furniture, book ordering, etc.) can be answered quickly from a single source which saves the media specialist time. Support is the biggest advantage - there's someone to give another perspective, help brainstorm new ways to deal with issues, push the entire district toward new ideas and instructional strategies, and keep the media program as a district cohesive and moving forward.”

SLMSs were asked if they believe that their roles have changed any within the last few years, and if so, how. Three out of the five stated that their roles have not changed. One SLMS stated that she spends more time working with technology, including troubleshooting technical issues. The other SLMS stated that this is the first time in six years that she is not teaching a Specials/Connections class.

MOST PRESSING ISSUES

IMPACT OF THE ECONOMY ON SCHOOL LIBRARY MEDIA PROGRAMS

As the economy declined in the crash of 2008, schools were scrambling to operate off a lower tax base. One area hard hit by this and yet to fully recover is School Library Media Programs. One significant area that cuts were seen across the board is with the loss of traditional library paraprofessionals. Local school funds were tightened significantly and local administrations needed to prioritize spending to areas seen to make the most impact on student learning. Often, a library paraprofessional did not meet this benchmark. For some of the hardest hit areas, School Library Media Specialists themselves have been cut or possibly asked to share their services between multiple schools.

Areas who have seen a recovery in the economy and have an increasing tax base are now faced with reevaluating their spending. One would think the library paraprofessionals would be topping the list to return, but with new curriculum implementation, a shift in instructional delivery methods and the increased demand for technology in classrooms, the recovery of school library media centers are often taking a backseat to newer program needs. Some SLMC’s have rehired part or full time clerks, but have also added additional responsibilities to the media centers, leaving SLMS’s still feeling the impact of the economy.

MOST PRESSING CONCERNS

TIME

The long term effect of the economy has had an impact on what School Library Media Specialists report as their most pressing concern: Time. Not just time, but the actual distribution of their time.

With many SLMC’s operating without a clerk and/or the increased level of responsibility for the technological needs of the school, most SLMS’s report they feel their time is split into too many areas. One SLMS wisely noted “don’t let the daily details interfere with the big picture of supporting student learning.”

BUDGETS AND ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES

Surprisingly, SLMC’s budgets were not listed as one of the most pressing concerns. Even more surprising was the range of budgets within a small survey sample group. The top budget, combining district and locally acquired funds reached upwards of $16,000. The lowest budget came in at $3,600. However, regardless of the amount of the annual budget, schools allocated funds in a similar way across the board.

On average:

  • 64 % of funds were utilized to purchase books- both print and electronic, with the majority of this amount spent in print.
  • 18% of funds were utilized in some fashion of technology support. Two schools report purchasing online subscriptions to Accelerated Reader as part of this category.
  • 8% of funds were utilized on supplies. These could include basic office supplies and book repair supplies.
  • The remaining uncalculated expenses could include AV materials, reading promotion supplies and professional periodicals.

ADVOCACY AND STAKEHOLDERS

One way to increase the funding allotted to SLMC’s is to make an impact of the importance of an effective school library media program to stakeholders. The results of the survey shows there is a lack of clarity on who stakeholders are. With this misconception, it is possible that SLMS’s are losing valuable opportunities to educate the stakeholders, thereby opening the possibility that the stakeholders will in turn advocate for programs at the legislative level.

Several SLMS report feeling hopeful for the coming elections that will host a SPLOST item with designated support for school library programs on the ballot. To help the success of this ballot proposal, SLMS’s need to reach out to stakeholders who can advocate for them. The savvy SLMS will also reach out to their legislative community, seeking endorsement for the SPLOST item and making the need for increased revenue allotment heard with or without a SPLOST possibility on the district’s ballot.

Suggestions for making progress with our legislators included making phone calls, having stakeholders write letters and phone calls to their representative and creating videos demonstrating the need for increased funding. A favorite suggestion was to invite your legislator to spend a day volunteering in your media center. This gives them a real grass roots feel for the impact a healthy SLMC can make towards student achievement.

Circling back to the dilemma of allocation of time the SLMS across the board reported, this might be one of the bigger areas that is often pushed to the side by managing the day to day details. However, creating a solid PR campaign can be critical to the success of a strong media program. Visualize the direct connection between reaching stakeholders and legislative members eyes, ears, hearts and minds with increased student achievement. The connection is real and can find its realization through dedication of time and effort as a standard course of SLMS’s weekly or monthly time.

RETROFITS, RENOVATIONS AND NEW BUILDINGS

Most surveyed reported feeling their school was up to date with the technological needs to serve their specific patrons and schools. Some of this technology was purchased with local funds, but often technology is addressed through the retrofit process. There is little input at the local level regarding retrofitting decisions, however, it can be assumed that the process is working across several districts if SLMSs report being current or close to current with their technology offerings.

Different from a retrofit, which typically occurs on a schedule of review to keep current, a renovation is a physical change to the actual facilities themselves. This often comes by way of increasing the size of the space dedicated to the SLMS. Anytime physical space is involved, be it a renovation or a new building, an architect designs the space itself. Once the actual space has been designed, usually the district level media personnel have the most input as to shelving, furniture, circulation desk design and layout. As a district representative mentioned, when a new school is opened, due to time constraints to meet deadlines the SLMS is often hired after the building decisions have been made, offering him or her little input into the center they will manage.

Only one respondent mentioned having been through a renovation. She and those who have considered it report having more input in shelving design, learning area arrangements, and furniture purchasing.

THANK YOU TO THE FOLLOWING MEDIA SPECIALISTS FOR YOUR PARTICIPATION.

Brandi Malloy, Bibb County School District

Jennifer Rice, Cherokee County School District

Patti Woschitz, Gwinnett County School District

Jennifer Helfrich, Gwinnett County School District, County-level

Stacy Daly, Houston County School District

Teresa Rackley, Pelham City School District

Credits:

Created with images by mrsdkrebs - "2012-240 #6WordMission" • 3dman_eu - "white male 3d model isolated" • 3dman_eu - "white male 3d model isolated" • Albuquerque South Broadway Cultural Center - "Library" • Anher - "read reading book" • kaboompics - "heart love red" • Hans - "glasses read learn" • DariuszSankowski - "knowledge book library" • stevepb - "coins currency investment" • MemoryCatcher - "library formal pattern" • Cea. - "Time" • InspiredImages - "money coins banking" • hartford.strong@sbcglobal.net - "Stakeholders" • jenniferjoan - "Hjorring Library" • Marcia Todd - "Georgia Flag"

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