By Debbie Hall
We sent the letter below to the HISD Building Dept. today in response to our increasing awareness of problematic library designs in new and renovated HISD campuses. Everyone should speak up when they see these issues, to campus admin, parents and school board representatives.
I am a former HISD librarian and a current advocate for HISD and particularly the district’s library program. I have seen the impact that libraries can have on the lives of our students and presently I am very concerned with the direction HISD is going in regards to designing new library spaces for students.
At a time when we know that literacy rates are declining, HISD should be following best practices in school library design and being more strategic when planning library spaces for its students. From the results, I am seeing in new buildings and even in renovations, I cannot understand what the current HISD library design guidelines are or if there are any guidelines. I see spaces that restrict the types of interactions available between the student, the teacher, and the librarian. I see libraries without walls, libraries in hallways, and libraries with no identifiable space at all. I see some new schools being built without a library. The current designs may look good on paper but I seriously question how these spaces will function serving the needs of students and teachers both now and in the future.
Libraries are for learning and instruction. The most obvious flaw with HISD's current school library design is that large group teaching space has been eliminated in some cases. The effect of this lack of instructional space is that the library becomes a space for only small group or one-on-one interactions. Schools with this type of floor plan cannot support the instructional mission of the library. Too many of the new HISD "libraries" are merely shelves with books in an open unsecured area, often a hallway.
Guidelines for library design address multiple activities. In a school library, there should be a space for large group instruction, comfortable reading areas, viewing areas, study carrels, shelves, computers, tables to write or design, maker spaces, and areas for quiet reflection/thinking. Where would a librarian introduce research skills to a large class or small group in a library without an area dedicated to instruction? If the elementary library is in a hallway, how can a story be read aloud to engage readers? What about security? The library collection is typically one of a school's most valuable assets. If there are no walls and no way to restrict access, how is the inventory of its contents kept safe for all to use? Does the fact that Lamar High School has placed library books and shelves in a hallway - without a librarian even - make that space a library?
The following schools were recently built with two-story open-concept library designs: Condit, Braeburn, Kolter and Scarborough. The open-concept plan was very popular in 1965 and it was largely a failure. The idea is being resurrected. While you can find positive and negative reviews of this model, I think most librarians would find it very challenging to manage students where they can be spread over two floors. The acoustic issues, including student distraction and strain on teacher voices not to mention discipline issues when students are out of sight on a different floor, have been common complaints in many such designs.
I have talked to several librarians who shared their experiences serving on their building committee to plan new HISD schools. All of them expressed frustration about getting their concerns answered. Most recently I have spoken to the former librarians at HSPVA, Bellaire, and HSHP who expressed their dissatisfaction with the process. They were able to get some but not all of the changes that they felt were needed to make the spaces work for their students and staff.
The schools that do not have a librarian on staff have no one speaking up for a functional library design in a new facility. This is especially problematic if the principal has no idea what a good 21st-century library should look like. The district’s office of Library Services should take part in all meetings where important decisions about the library design are made. In any large school district, the Department of Library Services is tasked with providing expertise on what school library programs should offer and how library spaces should look and function. Until recently, all HISD school library designs were a result of a collaboration between the Library Services Department, the school librarian, and the school building committee.
I hope that HISD will reconsider this aspect of the building program and once again return to the idea that the library is an instructional hub for the campus. Having bookshelves in the hallway is not the same as providing a library; books in the hallway without a trained librarian is a waste of money. Don’t waste taxpayer’s money, build libraries that are based on design guidelines that take into account the library's mission of connecting readers to books and information. Use the experts on your staff (certified school librarians and the Department of Library Services) to create world-class library spaces.
Library Advocate/ volunteer
by Debbie Hall
In the late 50’s and 60’s, school libraries staffed with certified librarians were found only in HISD’s secondary schools. The Director of Library Services, Elenora Alexander, proposed that elementary schools also needed library services and consequently a plan was made to add libraries across the district. Staffed libraries providing needed services to staff and students was the norm for over forty years across the district. In the past 10-15 years, this standard has deteriorated, and new schools at all levels are being built without any library. Currently only approximately 63 librarians serve in libraries in the 276 schools within the district. A larger number of schools staff their libraries with teachers or clerks. In the Fall of 2020, we have identified 85 schools that are not providing library services due to vacancies or simply not having a library. That number represents 31% of the district’s schools who offer no library program to their students or support to their staff.
This brings us to these questions about the current state of school libraries:
Here is what the HISD policy manual (https://pol.tasb.org/Policy/Search/592?filter=library ) states regarding libraries:
The Superintendent or designee shall develop rules, regulations, and procedures to ensure the
systematic maintenance of libraries as current resources for teachers and students. Principals shall
ensure the effective use of the libraries within schools and shall establish library hours, staffing,
and procedures that best serve the needs of the students. (EFB Local 2012)
Library media centers for each school shall be equipped with resources for reading, viewing, and
listening to enhance the regular instructional program and shall be staffed with certified
learning resources specialists in accordance with approved staffing guidelines. (EFB Local 2012)
Adequate funding for library media programs shall be made through the annual budget. Funds
for the purchase of library materials shall be allocated on an equitable basis to the various schools.
(EFB Local 2012)
The reading of HISD policy clearly demonstrates that the Superintendent and Principals have failed to provide the leadership in maintaining libraries as outlined by district policy. They need to be held accountable for failing to provide the resources that all students deserve. This is an equity issue: every HISD student deserves access to a fully funded library staffed by a certified librarian.
by Dorcas Hand
HISD administration is working to decide how to spend the ARP/ESSER funds. That’s the federal American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, more than $800 million coming directly to Houston ISD. During the week of May 17-21, a survey was open to the public on how that money should be spent. It is a three-year windfall, which means the district needs to spend it in ways that have staying power.
The survey, linked here in PDF, covered lots of potential topics - including Library Services. Yes, Library Services were directly listed. And SNL Speaks Out readers know that we consistently push the idea that school libraries improve student success at school, and we know that libraries do not exist on every HISD campus. How might libraries help in many areas the survey addresses? What are useful ways to invest this one time funding in HISD libraries?
Besides libraries, the survey includes
Now, let’s consider areas that library services can impact positively.
HISD currently has 62 libraries staffed with certified librarians. It is unclear what budget those librarians have for library materials, but all funding is campus based. Yes, there are another 79 libraries staffed by teachers - again with uncertain budgets. There are 274 HISD schools served by Library Services but only 141 (62+79) have library services staffed by trained personnel; 48 have clerks; 43 are vacant; and 41 have no library at all [All data from the same link]. Given that school libraries could positively impact almost all the categories addressed by the HISD Survey, HISD should invest in its libraries so that more campuses have the advantage of library services.
How might the district leverage this one time funding to phase in libraries for every student?
by Debbie Hall
Currently a Rice group (HERC) is focused on improving outcomes and providing equitable educational opportunities for students in the Houston area and beyond. According to the HISD website:
“The purpose of the Equity Project, conducted in collaboration with partners at the Houston Education
Research Consortium (HERC), is to identify the mechanisms through which HISD and the broader Houston
community can work to improve equity and ultimately eliminate gaps in achievement and attainment.
Information from these studies will help guide district decision-making to improve equity for all HISD
If you would like to know more about this research or would like to comment, please follow this link (https://www.houstonisd.org/equityproject) which describes the Equity Project in more detail. One interesting feature of the website is a searchable Needs Map which reveals specific data about school communities like food insecurity, employment, and safety. We ultimately would like to see school libraries in all schools as a recommendation from this project. We keep asking why would libraries be viewed as necessary in some schools but not others. We do see the problem of a lack of library service as being more prevalent in less affluent areas of the district.
The following content is what we shared in March with the HERC/HISD project leadership regarding equity:
Members of SNL have long been concerned about the growing inequity in Houston schools. There are most
definitely haves and have-nots and areas of poverty where needed resources are lacking. Your[HERC]
wraparound services assessment clearly speaks to those needs. We speak specifically to the need for library
services in all HISD schools and work to broaden awareness of the importance of libraries in schools. Significant
research has proven over the years that libraries impact student achievement. You may wish to refer to these two
articles from 2018 as more recent examples:
We work with other school library advocacy groups in the US and in other countries. Many members of our
group in Houston have worked in HISD schools as volunteers or teachers or librarians. Many of us have had
children in Houston schools and thus have first-hand experience with libraries across the district. We advocate
for school libraries because we believe that all students need access to a library to learn and grow.
We have seen in the last 70 years the rise and fall of school libraries in HISD. In the 1950s, the first district library supervisor, Elenora Alexander, created a plan for providing a school library on all campuses. At that time only
secondary schools offered a library for their students. By the late 1960s, her goal was reached with almost all
campuses offering library services. All libraries were staffed and had a centralized budget to provide needed
library materials for most of these years. This was the norm for over 25 years until the state instituted the site-
based decision-making policy in 1992. HISD had no local policy to protect students' rights to access to a school
library, therefore principals and SBDM committees were freed to use the money that had supported staffing
and library books in other ways. At the same time, schools across the state began to see less financial support
from the state legislatures. The STAAR test instituted in 2007 added to the financial deficits of schools as
schools used limited resources to pay tutors and provide test prep materials for this high-stakes test. All the
above has contributed to the loss of library services across the district.
Every fall, we look at the district library directory to see if we have lost or gained library staffing in HISD
schools. While the decline in school libraries across HISD has been happening for much longer, we have been
monitoring in detail a steady decline in services for the past three years. Our Library Staffing Overview web
page provides the data.
We see disturbing trends in HISD. Less than 50% of high schools provide access to libraries. The number of
libraries listed as vacancies or No Library increases each year. The number of libraries staffed
by certified librarians is shrinking. Teachers and clerks are placed in charge of libraries on many campuses. Small
charter/magnet schools are often created without a library. New schools are being built without a library,
sometimes replacing a school that formerly had a library. We see schools that have closed their libraries and
allowed the books to gather dust while other schools have repurposed the library space and dispersed the
books, moved them to classrooms, or disposed of them. HISD has lost sight of the importance of school
libraries. Neighboring school districts like Alief, Fort Bend, Aldine, and Katy have continued to provide library
services to their students. Why is HISD unable to maintain access to the resources a library provides when other
neighboring school districts continue to ensure access? Doing away with libraries is the antithesis of a college-
bound culture and impacts students in areas without bookstores and access to broad-band networks more
severely than more affluent populations.
We believe in a library open for students' use is essential to their success. This is where students follow their
own learning plan and begin the process of learning to do research and use various technologies. This is where
students can dream, explore, and learn about the world. And, as the Pennsylvania Study and numerous other
studies have illustrated, students with access to school libraries have stronger test scores. The Pennsylvania
study specifically addresses the benefits of school libraries to students who are Economically Disadvantaged,
Black, Hispanic, and have IEPs (i.e., students with disabilities). The study findings demonstrate that these
students benefit proportionally more than students generally when their schools have full-time librarians. We
know that you are collecting data in order to create more opportunities for the children of our city and we
applaud that effort. Perhaps we can help you. We hope you are considering libraries as part of the solution
when looking at equity and opportunity. It is one of the keys to unlock the equity issue.
It remains important that the HISD community speaks out about the need for equitable school libraries across the district, and especially to raise the issue in the superintendent search process and as the new superintendent begins to work with HISD schools. Our HISD principals need to learn that money spent for libraries and librarians is a cost-effective support of literacy efforts for all students and classrooms.
by Dorcas Hand
I updated the SNL website this week with some new resources.
A new page entitled: "Jan. 6 2021 in Washington DC: Protest or Insurrection? Talking to students about politics, civic engagement, and uncertainty." I will update this as I find more excellent resources.
A new page of LatinX resources for students.
I also note some Twitter threads that focus on diverse authorship (#ownvoice(s), #ownvoicesbooks, #hereweeread) and more nuanced explorations of literacy (#disrupttexts). Some work in Instagram as well. #DisruptTexts is also a website.
Two new video resources:
And one curriculum resource for high school:
Teach the Black Freedom Struggle Campaign. Zinn Education Project. “The Teach the Black Freedom Struggle campaign of the Zinn Education Project (coordinated by Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change) supports teachers with free lessons for teaching about racism and anti-racist struggles, distribution to school districts of the book Teaching for Black Lives, teacher study groups, a podcast, online classes for teachers, and more.”
And here are a few books for adults and teachers about recognizing our biases and finding ways to engage with the world with more awareness of the challenges of stereotypes and biases.
by Dorcas Hand
This post completes my effort (5 previous blogs since July 30) to expand your understanding of the AASL School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning Conditions. I began several weeks ago, well before the start of school - and here we are in a school year that relies on Distance Learning. HISD campuses with librarians (only about 25% of schools) are able to take advantage of all the knowledge, training and skills those librarians bring to all five core areas that should be included in a campus librarian’s job description. Campuses that have chosen to reassign their librarians to classrooms are only using their skill as teachers. Teachers are definitely essential, but librarians using all their skills impact more than the 20-30 students in their classroom at one time whether virtually or in person; they impact all the students and teachers on their campus.
Today we focus on Program Administration, the far right column. School librarians plan and administer a broad program that includes review and purchase of specific books (including ebooks and e-audiobooks) and other digital tools appropriate to the needs of students on a specific campus. They consider age, range of abilities, special challenges, special interests and/or focus areas for the individual campus curriculum. Librarians also do their best to ensure that all the teachers on that campus are aware of the resources most useful in their classes, in addition to direct teaching in collaboration with as many of those classroom teachers and curricula as possible. With a goal of encouraging both a love of learning generally and a love of reading specifically, librarians plan displays and events intended to encourage all students to love learning and reading. In distance learning, such events and displays are challenging, but I read of creative efforts to involve students in book selection and reading contests. Librarians also work with campus administration to forward campus goals in literacy and professional development.
Librarians often reach beyond campus boundaries for additional options in support of student enthusiasm and academic success. The public library is one resource, and encouraging students to have a public library card is a great way to expand a campus collection. Libraries are themselves an ecosystem where the school student is also a patron of the public library, and may also reach to the community college or local university for more advanced resources, even a genealogy library in support of a tricky high school history topic.
During Distance Learning, librarians are key to ensuring that students and families are aware of how to access the district and TexQuest subscriptions to digital tools and resources. Librarians are also charged with ensuring that all students are trained in cybersafety and security methods that are appropriate to their age and access needs. With students at home under parental supervision, this cybersafety awareness is even more important than when students are accessing academic assignments and supporting resources under the benefit of campus firewalls and secure protocols. Cybersafety training also addresses cyberbullying and other potential peer threats that everyone must guard against.
Campuses without librarians miss out on so much. And too often, the campuses without librarians include students most in need of the literacy and learning supports that a campus library offers families without books in the home, among other commonly cited home advantages of educational success.
Questions of the Week
Previous SNL Houston Speaks Out posts expanding on the AASL infographic, School Librarian role in Pandemic Learning Conditions:
by Dorcas Hand
In the first four posts, we’ve learned in a little depth that school librarians are Instructional Partners, Teachers and Leaders. To do any of those things they need the best information for each job - and their training beyond their teacher credentials has given them the perfect skill set. We’re still starting from the AASL School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning Conditions.
When school librarians collaborate with teachers or administrators as Instructional Partners, their primary role is to magnify the impact of the regular curriculum. They do this by curating resources - both content and tools - to co-teach with classroom teachers in order to engage students with memorable lessons that build skill in curricular content areas. Librarians often help administrators plan campus professional development in the same ways they work with teachers collaboratively.
When school librarians are teaching independently, they need similar carefully selected resources to bring students a “WOW” factor for a memorable lesson no matter the topic. What do librarians teach independently? Most people think of research skills as well as cybersafety and security. But readers should also realize that in Reader’s Advisory and literacy situations, librarians are teaching a love of learning and a pleasure in finding personally useful information, not to mention the “just-right” book for each reader. Reader’s Advisory requires both an intimate knowledge of the collection and strong skills in identifying and purchasing new resources that will enhance the collection over time - across content, grade levels and pleasure reading.
Information skills are the foundation of everything a school librarian does, though you may seldom see them directly. What the campus and community see is just the perfect resources offered as needed based on the librarians training as a teacher and curriculum specialist. The skilled librarian makes her work look easy. As leaders, librarians use these highly developed information skills to successfully inspire the entire campus community to engage enthusiastically in learning.
But one of the biggest pieces of this information skill set is knowledge of subscription databases: what they are, how to access them and when each is most useful. HISD and the state spend big bucks on these resources (HISD Digital Resources), but students and teachers need the guidance of librarians to get the most out of these tools. Without a librarian, a school community might be unaware of their existence. Students need to be taught to use and search for information in a developmentally appropriate way. Librarians introduce students to using boolean searching, filtering a search to get manageable results, and which databases have special applications for special needs as an example. These district resources are vetted (often by librarians) and purchased with the needs of K-12 learners. Available 24/7 and they are ideally suited to situations like we are presently encountering with Covid-19.
There are many free resources that are useful to students in addition to textbooks and databases, and librarians are the gateway for them - both by teaching search skills and cybersafety, and by offering specific free websites to students and teachers when the classroom assignment needs just that information. OER - Open Educational Resources - is a new aspect of information that requires both understanding of copyright constraints and awareness of OER tools that are not advertised in traditional channels. These are coming into more use at the university level, and are beginning to work their way to K-12.
Librarians work to ensure that all students can access appropriate resources, including students with extra challenges. Adaptive technologies to support vision or hearing can be embedded into databases and websites, and librarians know to deploy those technology aids as needed.
If you the school board member, did not grow up appreciating the skills librarians bring to the table, maybe you should investigate how they can help you in your job on the school board. In addition to campus librarians across your Board districts, you might reach out to HISD Library Services for help understanding how hard they work to support the campus librarians, and how they might help you as well.
Questions of the week:
So far in this series, we have looked at the big picture of school librarians in Distance Learning situations, and at Librarians as Instructional Partners and Teachers. Today, we’ll consider Librarians as Leaders. [School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning is the full document from which these posts stem.]
Think of school librarians as magnifiers: they have the knowledge and skillset to magnify the impact of classroom learning. When the librarian teams with a classroom teacher to build a stronger research component for the classroom topic, the learning is stronger and the academic effect magnified. Building on their skills as Instructional Partners and Teachers as they remain constantly aware of the big picture curricular needs, librarians bring curriculum design skills to the planning table - some include student research projects, but some “just” work behind the scenes to help the classroom teachers shine by offering additional content that spices up a textbook lesson. Especially in these times of distance learning, librarian knowledge of digital tools and resources can dramatically expand every teacher’s toolbox for great lessons. Librarians not only introduce new options to teachers to see if they are the right fit; they complete their leadership role by teaching the teachers AND the students how to use these new resources.
Leadership is stepping out of one’s own enclosed job space to help the broader community. Librarians are leading every day as they offer ideas to teachers, administrators, and students, ideas that contribute to stronger student literacy skills and academic achievement.
School board members are leaders in our community. Strong elected leaders want to be sure the entities they supervise, in this case the schools, are filled with strong leaders to help forward the community (specifically the students) toward their goals of literacy and academic success, even excellence. Campus principals and other administrators should be able to rely on great librarians to help every teacher look great and every student be successful. But no one can rely on a strong librarian if there is none in place.
Your questions of the week today:
Ask your principals: What is an example of leadership as defined here demonstrated by the librarian on their campus?
Ask yourself: Which librarian in an HISD school would I like to meet to learn more about how librarians might benefit HISD more? (No need to limit yourself to one. Set up a Zoom or Facetime conversation with as many as you like!)
By Dorcas Hand
I’m still talking to you, the HISD School Board, about the details of the AASL chart School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning that sorts out various aspects of the job in different modes of learning. Today we’re building from Instructional partner to TEACHER. As school opens, what role is more essential to student success than that of TEACHERS?
I reminded you last week, but it bears repeating today: certified librarians in Texas are also certified Teachers with at least two years of full time classroom experience. They know about lesson plans and curricula, literacy skills and state standards. And they apply this knowledge every day as they work with students, teachers, parents and campus administrators.
In addition to teaching research skills in support of classroom topics planned collaboratively with academic teachers, librarians TEACH every day in overt and subtle ways that advance student achievement.
Whenever a student or teacher asks a question in the library, the teaching begins as the librarian leads the "asker" to the answer rather than just handing it over. That way, skills transfer forward to the next time an information resource is needed when the asker can begin to search independently.
Proactive librarians in the pandemic are finding ways to join teachers in their virtual classrooms so that they know what topics are in focus currently, what are the ability levels of the students, and what are the interests of the students. This helps the librarian know how to focus their teaching as the year goes along, for new topics but the same students. School Librarians are teachers at heart; they just wanted a bigger classroom.
And so, I leave you again with a question:
What are some examples of your librarian’s teaching? Please show me their student-facing digital presence?
And, “What don’t I know about the librarians as teachers in my schools? How can knowing more about them help ME, the School Board member, do MY job better?”
by Dorcas Hand
My last post discussed the Remote Learning impact of school librarians, as explained in the new PDF School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning Conditions from the American Association of School Librarians. That table is comprehensive, addressing 5 aspects of the school librarian’s job in various modes. This week, I want to look at just one block from the full table, the one that considers Librarians as Instructional Partners in Distance Learning.
"Distance Learning Learners are required to learn from home with no face-to-face contact." I've copied the words from the orange box to be sure you can read them. With this in mind, I want you to consider how different online learning is for the teacher and the student; part of the role of the librarian is to help ease the situation for both. Here are some ways to think about what that means.
Please remember that the certified school librarians in Texas have at least 2 years of classroom teaching experience, a Masters degree, and at least 18 hours of specialized graduate-level education in library management. They are some of the most qualified TEACHERS on a campus, and they work with ALL students and ALL teachers and administrators. Any campus without a certified librarian is missing out on a huge opportunity to enjoy better support for teachers and students to connect to the perfect resources for their needs.
As a school board member, here are some questions you might want to ask principals on your campuses to establish that these things are happening:
Looking beyond online instruction, here are are examples of what you should expect to see in all schools staffed by a certified librarian. You should see the librarian doing these things whether digital, hybrid or in person classes are in session.
If the principal can’t show you specific examples, perhaps your request will serve as a prompt that they discover for themselves all the work the librarian is doing - or to consider adding a librarian to the faculty. HISD has some amazing librarians working hard to be sure the students on their campuses are getting great books and other digital resources to read for fun and in support of classroom assignments. They are also working to ensure that all the teachers have the perfect resources and training to plan and deliver outstanding lessons whether remote or in person.
When campuses open again, be sure to visit your libraries to see the evidence first hand, and to understand better what those librarians need to be even more successful. I’ll be back soon to look at other aspects of school librarians’ work, but today I leave you to wonder:
“What don’t I know about school librarians as Instructional Partners in my schools? How can knowing more about them help ME, the School Board member, do MY job better?”
This blog is primarily authored by Debbie Hall and Dorcas Hand, but guest authors are welcome. If you have an idea to share, please contact our email below. Debbie is a retired HISD librarian and Library Services Specialist. Dorcas is a retired school librarian who remains active in AASL/ALA. Both support increased equity in school library access and support for all HISD students and campuses.