76% of Americans rated librarian assistance as very or somewhat important to them

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Image credit: Pew Internet

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently released new research results from its report How Americans Value Public Libraries in Their Communities. This powerful study explores what Americans (16 and older) value about public libraries, how libraries impact them and their families, and how they use and perceive libraries. Here are some highlights from the results:

Just over 3 in 5 (61%) of respondents said they have a public library card, and nearly half (48%) have visited a library or bookmobile in the past year. Thirty percent of those surveyed had recently visited a public library website, up 5% from late 2012. For those who have ever been to a public library or had a household member use a library, library services rated most important included: books and media (81%); librarian assistance (76%); having a quiet, safe place (75%); and research resources (72%). An impressive 95% of respondents say public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of learning and provide free access to materials and resources so everyone has a chance to succeed. And respondents recognize the work libraries are doing with technology: 55% disagreed with the statement that public libraries have not done a good job keeping up with new technologies.

Learn more about how education attainment, age, race/ethnicity, and other demographics break down in the full report.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The Weekly Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st century library.

A national survey of school librarians found that 98% instruct students and teachers in the use of technology tools

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Image credit: School Library Journal

School Library Journal’s 2013 School Library Technology Survey asked more than 750 K-12 school librarians and media specialists at public and private schools about technology topics including technology integration, professional development, filtering, and social media. Results show that almost all respondents (98%) are teaching students and coaching teachers how to use everything from databases to digital textbooks, despite facing challenges with time, budget, bandwidth, and Internet and device policies and restrictions.

Most schools of those responding to the survey are connected, with 92% offering WiFi. About 69% of school librarians use free social applications and similar apps to collaborate and support learning. Top social applications used by respondents were Edmodo, Pinterest, and Goodreads, all noteworthy as free Web-based teaching tools that also offer spaces for learning online etiquette and responsible browsing behaviors.

Nearly three-fourths (72%) of librarians say they’re seen as technology leaders, but only 44% of respondents believe those abilities translate into job security. Anecdotes described frustration with administrative roadblocks to technology implementation and difficulties using resources like YouTube, which is often banned in schools.

Find out how Colorado school libraries compare in our Fast Facts reports, 21st Century Instruction Strategies in Colorado School Libraries and Colorado School Libraries and the Use of Web Technologies, 2011-2012.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The Weekly Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st century library.

What is a school library?

We previously examined the importance of research definitions when considering those who staff school library media centers. To further complicate matters, this time we will look at an even more foundational concept: What is a school library? You might be surprised to learn the answer is incredibly complex, depending on what source you use.

LRS follows the “school library” definition as set by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) for its Report Card of Data Elements and Definitions. Released by CDE annually in March, the Report Card asks districts to indicate if they meet this definition for a school library:

“a dedicated facility located in and administered by the school that provides at least the following: an organized, circulating collection of printed and/or audiovisual and/or computer-based resources, or a combination thereof; paid staff [emphasis added]; an established schedule during which services of the staff are available to students and faculty; instruction on using library materials to support classroom standards and improve student research and literacy skills.”

LRS derives our numbers from CDE’s staffing data and consider a school to have a library if it has a paid staff person (librarian or paraprofessional) responsible for that facility. Through this lens, just over two-thirds (68%) of Colorado public schools have a school library, based on 2012-13 staffing data.

Good so far? Now consider CDE’s 2012-13 March Report Card data collection, which reported 1,641, or 90 percent, of Colorado’s public schools have libraries (library data in SchoolView is available under the Courses tab, under the Programs link):

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However, while CDE bases these figures on the same definition as the one above, they are derived from district responses to a single survey question as opposed to relying on school staffing data.

On the national level, the 2011-12 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Salary and Staffing Survey indicates that 90 percent of all public schools in the nation have a library media center (see Table 1). This report does not indicate a state-by-state percentage. NCES’ library media center definition is similar to Colorado’s, with some notable differences:

“A library media center is an organized collection of printed and/or audiovisual and/or computer resources which is administered as a unit, is located in a designated place or places, and makes resources and services available to students, teachers, and administrators. A library media center may be called a school library, media center, resource center, information center, instructional materials center, learning resource center, or any other similar name.”

There are a couple of glaring omissions to this definition: Who is responsible for running the library media center and how do students, teachers, and administrators learn to use the collection? It is interesting, however, to read the range of synonyms for “library media center.” Such variations indicate the diverse roles played by the school library, some well outside of the traditional collection-focused terminology used in the first sentence of the definition.

Is your head spinning yet? The point of this post is to demonstrate that defining “school library” is as difficult as pinning down how many there are. It’s important to consider the fine print when trying to talk about research in a meaningful way. So read those footnotes, be skeptical, and be careful when attempting to generalize study results. Of course we haven’t mentioned how you can put 5 librarians in a room and get 5 different definitions of a library, too. This has been debated for decades, and the debate will likely continue for many more.