Playing in the Sandbox
Used with permission under Creative Common License from

A little over a month ago, I read a fascinating blog post by the inimitable Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet. In his post, he argued that we as librarians should be advocating for a significant change or end to the testing tidal wave generated by a little piece of federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind. Why? Read his post and you will see how he outlines the impact of the pressures of standardized testing on classroom instruction and how the testing movement is marginalizing the role of school libraries and librarians in contemporary public schools.

In his post, this fearless librarian asserts:

“Under the present educational paradigm, which worships at the altar of testing with all the zeal of a new convert, school librarians aren’t needed because few teachers have time to come to the library and still “cover” all the standards needed for the almighty AYP garnering or losing TEST (cue ominous music).

Now I know that people out there can bury me in copies of Information Power and the vaunted Colorado Study by Keith Curry Lance and I’m not going to argue. I’m not going to change my point of view, but I’m not going to argue either. See, we all want to believe that libraries are essential to the school. We all want to believe that we librarians can help improve test scores. We want to believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. Unfortunately, belief counts for nothing in education.

Fire will burn you whether you believe it or not. Water will drown you whether you believe it or not. Stand in front of a train and shout “I don’t believe in you” and they will bury what they can find of you in a Ziploc baggie. The hard fact is that, once again, under the present educational regime, testing is king. Specifically, testing in ELA is king and testing in Math is the co-regent. Libraries don’t contribute MEASURABLY to either discipline. Sure, we can teach phenomenal lessons in research skills, information literacy, and comparing information sources. Unfortunately, none of that is on THE TEST (cue the Vader music.)”

This provocative post, which hits a little closer to home than most of us might like to admit, has resonated with me for many weeks. Like BBAGS and other librarians, I have a bird’s eye view of how the emphasis on testing is impacting my library program.

Core area teachers in my school frequently lament in private conversations that they just don’t have time for research or project based learning because of pressures to produce exceptional test scores and to follow curriculum maps and timelines.   That is no news flash to most of you—the ominous cloud of testing that always seems to be on the horizon is everpresent in most public school settings.

I pretty much try anything within my means to lure teachers to the library and lose a lot of sleep over the ones I can’t seem to win over.   I won’t really be content until I see teachers across every subject area, not just English, using the media center on a regular basis.   While we have what I would call “acceptable” usage of the library and collaboration with our teachers, I know more is needed in order for us to be integrated into schoolwide learning.

While I celebrate the many successes of the program and the joys of helping our teachers and students, I often beat myself up and feel like an absolute failure when I look at how many teachers are not taking advantage of the resources I have to offer and feel it is too low, or when teachers don’t respond or even acknowledge my efforts to personally invite them to the library or to show them the cool resources I have to offer them and their students. I wonder, “Why don’t they use the library?” or “Why don’t they use the library more?”

After reading the blog post from Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet, I once again began trying to unravel the mystery of the library world called “collaboration” and wanted to explore barriers to library use and collaboration.   I decided to actually pose this question to our faculty a few weeks ago via an anonymous PollDaddy poll.

What did the surveys say? The first question posed asked, “What is the most significant obstacle to your using the media center more for research projects?” 46 teachers out of 100 faculty members responded to this survey, and here is how they voted:


Just as I hypothesized, a large number of teachers indicated testing pressure and time constraints were major reasons for not coming to the media center more often.  There were eleven responses marked as “other”; of those eleven, three actually typed comments. One teacher stated there were no obstacles; another stated, “My students do not behave in a manner which lends itself to using the media center”; a third responded, “Just get stuck in habitual lessons in the classroom.”  As I anticipated, the majority indicated that testing and challenges related to testing were barriers to using the media center. It does bother me that three people indicated they did not see research as meaningful to their course; I am also concerned that two teachers do not feel comfortable using the resources in the library. I will  redouble my efforts to help our faculty see the relevance of information fluency in all subject areas, to try and energize them with the excitement I feel to encourage them to step outside of their teaching comfort zone,  and to continue to help our faculty members feel at ease using the technology and materials in our library.

The second poll question asked, “If the pressures of No Child Left Behind and improving test scores were removed, would you use our library more for research and project based learning?” 36 out of 100 teachers responded to this second question; here are the results of that vote.


The results of this poll were a bit unnerving to me—a total of 16 teachers voted that they either were not sure or were definitely sure that they would not use the media center more if the pressures of testing were removed. I am now wondering why these teachers feel this way—why might they feel reluctant to use the media center if testing pressure is no longer a barrier?   Is this a blip on the radar, or does the feeling that library usage isn’t particularly important a growing trend?

The answers I received in this poll have provided some insightful data that can inform my practice and efforts to cultivate collaborative relationships/partnerships with faculty members. While it would be helpful to know the subject area and degree of experience for the teachers who voted, the polls have provided me enough information to see that testing does impact teacher usage of the library and that many teachers may not see the library as a relevant resource to their curriculum and instruction.    That data alone is enough to let me and my staff know we will need to continue to find creative and nonthreatening ways to reach out to our faculty and help them see that we all have a role in cultivating information fluent learners.

The silence echoing from this poll also speaks volumes—why did nearly half the faculty not vote in either poll? Too busy? Indifferent? Unsure? I have no answers to my questions at this time, but the silence does bothers me since the polls were short and simple—they were not the kind of polls that taken 30 minutes to complete.

What I do know is that Ruth Fleet, my fellow media specialist, and I go all out to promote our media center and our resources. We extend the offer of help; we have a presence all over the web, including multiple blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, a SharePoint page, and a wiki that houses our pathfinders at ; we provide print copies of our promotional materials to teachers who may not be as “techie” as others. We send personal invitations to teachers with whom we have not collaborated, showing them examples of what we can do for their classes and offering to do as much as we can to support their classroom instruction.  Our Instructional Technology Specialist, Phil Dodge, offers trainings for our faculty in both small group and one on one settings.

My next plan of action is to work with our administration and department heads on action steps for helping our faculty members feel more comfortable using the library and to provide concrete ideas for ways to incorporate research without sacrificing large amounts of time or feeling overwhelmed by research projects.   I will also continue to look to my wonderful personal learning network of colleagues as we all try to figure out more effective ways of collaborating with our teachers and positioning our media center programs right in the heart of all learning in our schools.

As Ruth and I hopefully discover some new and inventive ways of tackling these challenges, we will keep you posted in upcoming blog posts.  In the meantime, please feel free to chime in with any pearls of wisdom you may have to share!