Perceptions of School Library Programs and School Librarians: Perspectives of Supportive School Administrators

By Shannon, Donna M. | Teacher Librarian, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Perceptions of School Library Programs and School Librarians: Perspectives of Supportive School Administrators


Shannon, Donna M., Teacher Librarian


School librarians, whether experienced or new to the job, realize how important the principal is to the success of their library program.

Unfortunately, school principals often have a limited understanding or appreciation of the school librarian's role. Hartzell (2002) hypothesizes that this is the result of the "occupational invisibility" of school librarians and the fact that administrators' professional preparation and socialization do not expose them to the positive aspects of school library programs and their potential to impact student achievement. Little attention is given to the role of the school librarian or the school library program in administrator preparation programs and in the journals read by most school administrators (Hartzell, 2002; Kaplan, 2006; Wilson and McNeil, 1998).

A consistent finding across studies of principals' perceptions of school librarians and library programs indicates that they consider activities related to materials provision and reference assistance to be more important than collaboration, planning with teachers, and curriculum development (e.g., Alexander, Smith, and Carey 2003; Kolencik, 2001). One can infer from this finding that administrators' understanding of and expectations for the work of school librarians do not match what is called for in documents such as Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs (AASL, 2009). The relatively low priority principals have for the instructional and curricular leadership role of the school librarian stands in contrast to the findings of several studies which show that collaboration between classroom teacher and librarians can have a positive impact on student achievement (Kachel, 2011; School Libraries Work, 2008). The 2010 Idaho study found that in schools where principals placed high value on the library program and believed it contributed to students' academic success, students scored higher on standardized tests.

Another significant finding is that school principals value the interpersonal skills of the school librarian as much as or more than professional competencies {e.g., Kaplan, 2006; Roys and Brown, 2004; Shannon, 2009). This finding certainly has implications for programs that prepare librarians for their work in schools.

Past studies of principal perceptions of school librarians and school library programs have targeted all or a sample of principals from a particular state or region (e.g, Alexander, Smith, and Carey, 2003; Church, 2010; Kolencik, 2001; Marcoux, 2005; Shannon, 2009). I was interested in discovering the perspectives of administrators who have been identified by school librarians as being supportive of their programs and their role as an important player in the school community. In other words, what can we learn from school administrators who "get it"?

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY

The aims of the study reported here were (1) to identify the source of school administrators' knowledge and understanding of school library programs, (2) to determine what school administrators should learn about the role of the school librarians as part of their preparation program, (3) to learn how they support the library programs in their schools and districts, and (4) to learn what school librarians can do to garner the support of their principals. The study is part of a larger project that also examined (1) how principals evaluate school librarians and what competencies they think are important for school librarians to possess and (2) the perspectives of school library leaders and their insights related to what principals should know about school library programs and the work of school librarians.

This part of the project draws on data from administrators (1) who have received national recognition for their support of school library programs, (2) who have received recognition from one of AASL's state affiliate organizations, or (3) who have been nominated by a school librarian for having shown support for school library programs.

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