Student Learning through Ohio School Libraries, Part 1: How Effective School Libraries Help Students

Article excerpt

This article provides an overview of the Student Learning Through Ohio School Libraries research study undertaken from October 2002 through December 2003. The study involved 39 effective school libraries across Ohio; the participants included 13,123 students in grades 3 to 12 and 879 faculty. The focus question of the study was: How do school libraries help students with their learning in and away from school? The findings, both quantitative and qualitative, showed that effective school libraries help students with their learning in many ways across the various grade levels. Effective school libraries play an active rather than passive role in students' learning. The concept of help was understood in two ways: helps-as-inputs, or help that engages students in the process of effective learning through the school library; and helps-as-outcomes/impacts, or demonstrated outcomes of meaningful learning-academic achievement and personal agency. The study shows that an effective school library is not just informational, but transformational and formational, leading to knowledge creation, knowledge production, knowledge dissemination, and knowledge use, as well as the development of information values.

Introduction

Historically, library services worldwide have been based on the assumption that they contribute to the social good, facilitating personal decision-making, societal well-being, the growth of democracy, and the development of a knowledgeable society (Kranich, 2001). Yet understanding how libraries actually help people remains a vexing question. Increasingly, service providers, funding authorities, and publics are calling for clear evidence that expended resources actually produce benefits for people (Durrance & Fisher-Pettigrew, 2002). School libraries are not immune to such calls. In an environment of reduced budgets and staffing, and a prevailing public perception that school libraries are marginal rather than integral to student learning outcomes, there is an urgent need for school librarians to demonstrate and substantiate the vital effect of their school library program on student learning and to take an evidence-based approach to practice (Todd, 2002a, 2002b).

How Do School Libraries Help?

The central concept of this research is help, and it is embedded in the focus question: How do school libraries help students with their learning in and away from school? Help refers to both the institutional involvement through advice and assistance in the information experiences of people (helps-as-inputs) and the effect of this involvement on the people it serves (helps-as-outcomes/impacts). This study has been informed by four streams of literature: the information search process, information intents, outcomes measurement, and information literacy standards. Each is briefly elaborated here to establish the theoretical underpinnings and research base of this study.

The Information Search Process

Kuhlthau's research (1991, 1994, 1999, 2004) provides an understanding of the cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions of the information search process and presents an understanding of the information-to-knowledge experience of people. This work emphasizes how people may be enabled and supported in their quest to seek meaning and develop understanding through information-seeking and use. Mediation and intervention as key help mechanisms are central to this process. Kuhlthau (2004) defines mediation as the "human intervention to assist information seeking and learning from information access and use.... a person who assists, guides, enables, and otherwise intervenes in another person's information search process" (p. 107). Intervention centers on how "mediators become involved in the constructive process of another person ... in information seeking and use" (p. 127). Kuhlthau's research shows that most interventions tend to be based on source and certainty orientations, that is, matching a person's query with the organized collection and often with little attention given to the holistic experience of users in the process of constructing new understandings and meanings. …