Student Learning through Ohio School Libraries, Introduction: Partner-Leaders in Action

Article excerpt

Student Learning Through Ohio School Libraries: The Ohio Research Study, published in 2004, represents one of the largest studies to date that has sought to identify how school libraries affect student learning. Reflecting on the nature and scale of this study, the reader may wonder why Ohio, a state in the central United States with 3,913 public elementary, middle, and high schools, would consider conducting a statewide survey to establish how school libraries benefit learning. This question has several answers. Until 2000, schools across Ohio were required to have a licensed school librarian. However, in 2000, changes in the operating standards for school libraries introduced by the Ohio Department of Education meant that the requirement to have a licensed school librarian became subject to the interpretation of the local school superintendent, possibly allowing for school librarians to be eliminated. This change placed greater emphasis on the need for school librarians to be able to articulate their role in relation to student learning and to demonstrate more concretely the outcomes of their school library program through the provision of evidence. School library leaders in Ohio also saw benefit in a statewide study not just to be part of the growing list of states doing research in the area of school libraries, but to provide a statewide basis for continual improvement of the learning opportunities to be afforded to students through the provision of quality libraries.

In the light of important statewide studies undertaken by Lance and colleagues, including Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Alaska, and Pennsylvania, many professional voices in Ohio had been recommending a study for a number of years. As the professional organization for school librarians, the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OELMA) had been exploring the need for an Ohio study since 1998. In addition, the Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) Advisory Council of the State Library of Ohio had determined that an Ohio study was a high-priority goal for the use of LSTA funding. School librarians across the state continued to ask when an Ohio study would be conducted. During these conversations, a new organization was formed called Leadership 4 School Libraries. This group consisted of the Ohio Educational Library Media Association, INFOhio (the K-12 information network for Ohio), the Ohio Department of Education, and the State Library of Ohio. Leadership 4 School Libraries was a unique collaboration between all four school library stakeholders. Given the changes in the Ohio educational landscape, this group felt the time was right in the school community to begin the research for an Ohio study of school libraries and the benefits that result for student academic achievement and the effect on learning.

Ohio had joined states such as Texas, Virginia, and Oregon that had moved to standards-based education and accountability through demonstrated evidence of learning. At this same time, the Ohio Department of Education had begun to release the Academic Content Standards for English and Mathematics, which embraced alignments to information literacy. So with the advent of the new academic standards documents, Ohio school library personnel found themselves better positioned than ever to have a direct effect on curriculum decision-making processes, the improvement of literacy skills, and the integration of information literacy into the curriculum. Once the decision was made to apply for an LSTA grant from the State Library of Ohio, Leadership 4 School Libraries began to discuss the approach to take for the study that would best serve Ohio and who would undertake the research. The opening of the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, with its specific scholarly focus on understanding the relationship between school libraries and student learning, took place at this time. CISSL was seen to be able to provide the research infrastructure necessary to undertake a project of the scale envisaged by Ohio. …