Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Study of Arkansas' School Library Budgets

Back in 2015, I decided to pursue an ALA-accredited MS in Library Science from the University of North Texas. I already have an MS in school librarianship, but I wanted to expand my opportunities and knowledge beyond my public school career. After working on the second degree in librarianship part-time at UNT for five years, it finally came to completion this spring. 

I decided to do a study of Arkansas' school library budgets as a major research project for a two-semester seminar class. Since 2009, I've read articles about how numerous library budgets and staff have experienced major cuts in all types of libraries. For the blog this month, I want to share highlights from my final paper and a link to the full document for those that want to read it. I also want to thank the 109 participants in my survey instrument from the membership of the Arkansas Association of Instructional Media (AAIM) for making this study possible!

Below are the highlights from the research paper. You can read the full paper here.


Results and Data Analysis
              There were 109 survey participants covering four categories of public schools: elementary, middle school, junior high, and high school. 43 (39.4%) of the respondents were from elementary schools, 31 (28.4%) from middle schools, 22 (20.2%) from junior high schools, and 41 (37.6%) from high schools (Figure 1). The largest categories represented by participants were from elementary and high schools.
Figure 1
Survey Participant Categories

Figure 2
Library Budget Reductions

Figure 3
Budget Increases




The responses for library budgets indicated that 54 (49.5%) respondents had experienced cuts while 55 (50.5%) had not (Figure 2). 64 participants indicated their budget either stayed the same or increased. 54 (84.4%) responded that their budget had not increased and 10 (15.6%) revealed their budget increased (Figure 3). According to this sample, it appeared that more schools did not experience budget cuts.
Figure 4
Budget Reduction Impact


57 participants indicated one of five common impacts to their program as a result of budget reductions (Figure 4). 50 (45.9%) reported a reduced amount of book purchases, 33 (30.3%) shared they had to cut the amount of library supplies they buy, 16 (14.7%) indicated they have reduced the amount of library professional development they attend, 7 (6.4%) reported other reductions in their library program, and 13 (11.9%) reported the reduction of a library aide. According to this portion of the survey, the highest number of participants in the sample population that experienced budget reductions indicated they had to purchase fewer books.
The optional open response question that asked participants to report any reasons they were given for budget cuts had a variety of responses. Most reasons given by respondents for library budget cuts were due to a drop in student enrollment or a district being in financial distress. Others stated that they were given no reason for budget cuts by their administrators. An additional open response question asked participants to share any specific challenges they have experienced by budget cuts. The top responses provided by participants were that they must do fundraisers or write grants to have additional funding. Other challenges included not being able to purchase all current novels and cutting periodical purchasing. A few librarians shared that they use their own money to make purchases. Some librarians indicated that they lost their library aide positions, and the increased workload of not having assistance was a significant challenge. Another optional question asked respondents if they have had a library aide cut or reassigned. 42 of 64 participants (65%) on this question suggested that their library aide was pulled from the library frequently and/ or that the position was lost altogether. 28 respondents shared their email addresses to show interest in participating in an interview to provide additional information.
Figure 5
Interview Participant Categories


  
A five-question interview was sent to all 28 participants on March 1, 2020. 15 participants responded to the interview which consisted of one multiple choice question and 4 open response questions. The participants were from 7 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 1 junior high, and 3 high schools (Figure 5). Librarians described their budgets in one of the responses. The results were from one extreme to another. One librarian indicated that there was no budget provided for the library program. Another participant shared the allocated budget was approximately $20,000. Several other librarians shared their budget allocation breakdowns. $7908 was the mean budget shared by the 13 school librarians who answered the open response question about their current allocated funds for 2019-2020. In another question librarians shared how their budgets had changed over the years. Some experienced decreases while others stayed the same and/ or increased. Most individuals shared that their budget funding was based on the number of students enrolled in the school.

In another question, librarians reported how they have supplemented their budget money. Most participants indicated they either applied for grants or that they hosted school book fairs to supplement their library budgets. Some of the grants included organizations like PledgeCents, Donors Choose, and Wal-Mart community grants. Some librarians suggested they sell other items like candy, candy grams, and other similar items to raise needed funds. One librarian indicated they depended partially on donations from the community for fundraising. One participant shared that they spent their own personal funds when necessary to purchase needed items for the library.
Discussion/ Practical Implications

Research Question 1: How have budget cuts impacted Arkansas’ school libraries?
              Respondents indicated that 49.5% of the schools in the sample had experienced budget reductions (see Figure 2). It was expected that this number would have been higher based on the review of literature presented in this paper. It was assumed that the results of this sample reflected the entire state in that just under 50% of public-school libraries have experienced cuts in their budgets. In terms of how these cuts have impacted the sample of schools that participated, there are many effects that were indicated. The most disturbing consequences indicated by school librarians were that they could not purchase as many books with reduced budget funds. This is a problem that directly impacts students of all ages. A few librarians suggested that they could not purchase the newest novels in a series because of less funding. In addition, school librarians shared that they had to hold book fairs as a means of compensating for reduced budget money. Librarians also shared that they have applied for grants for additional funding. A few respondents indicated that they had to use their own money to make purchases for students. The survey respondents revealed that budget cuts had made it more difficult to make purchases.
Research Question 2: What do school librarians perceive the long-term results of budget reductions will be to their programs?
              The personalized responses to this question came through in the open response spaces of the survey and interview. One participant stated that the current budget was not enough to purchase technology for the library in addition to books. This librarian stated: I feel that there is no way to have both technology and books with our current budget. For a true 21st century library, I need to have both. Another librarian stated: Especially in the elementary, we touch and see EVERY student. We offer so many options beyond check-in/ out. Adequately or inadequately funding the library has reciprocal effects on the children. One librarian discussed how it was necessary to use personal money when library funds are exhausted: I am sure every teacher says the same thing, but a lot of what I use comes out of my pocket. When a kid needs the 3rd book to a series and I am out of money, I just order it myself.
              While the question was not answered specifically for long-term impacts, the struggles of these few examples were evident. Budget reductions impacted school librarians directly since some used personal money to make purchases. Others have made hard decisions about balancing purchases between library books and to make essential technologies available to their learning communities. In addition, other questions in the study revealed that budget cuts were causing some librarians to fall behind in their library professional development.
Research Question 3: Have Arkansas’ school library support staff been reduced?
              42 of 64 participants revealed that their library aides were either pulled from the library more than in the past or they lost their aides altogether. Some of the librarians indicated that the reduction of library aide support had made it more difficult to do their jobs. There were many responses to the reasons other than budget reductions. One librarian indicated that the aide was pulled for dyslexia support in the building. Another shared that the aide position was never filled when the previous aide retired. Several respondents shared that aides were pulled for hall/ facility duty throughout the day while others stated the aide was frequently pulled to cover classes for absent teachers. One librarian wrote: The loss of the library aide has had the largest impact. I spend more time doing secretarial duties and have less time to devote to activities that directly impact students - researching books, developing programming, book-talking, collaboration with teachers. Another participant reported: I no longer have a para so I have cut back on the "extras" I would do (newsletter, free-flow times, reading incentives, etc.). I also have come to rely more on book fair funds. Another librarian shared that it was difficult to collaborate with teachers since the library aide was only part-time. The results of this study indicated that a portion of the sample had experienced various reductions of support staff. It was uncertain if these reductions of support were a direct result of budget cuts since there were different reasons presented by survey participants.
Research Question 4: Are Arkansas school librarians allocated budget funds to allow attendance at relevant professional development opportunities?
              This question was not clearly answered in the study. 16 school librarians indicated that they had to reduce the amount of their library specific professional development. In retrospect, this question should have been directly asked in either the survey or follow-up interview form. At least it was known that of the 54 librarians that indicated they had experienced budget reductions, 14.7% also had to reduce their school library professional learning. In the state of Arkansas, this would likely mean reducing their participation in the Arkansas Association of Instructional Media conference, the Arkansas Library Association conference, or local Arkansas education cooperative library specific trainings throughout the school year.
Conclusion/ Next Steps
This study only answered a few questions after it was completed. It also created many more additional questions to be investigated. One thing is suggested as a result of the study: school librarians must advocate for their programs and report their activities to add value to both their positions and programs. Clear communication with administrators and other stakeholders is key. The responses from participants revealed that many school librarians are innovative and have a “can do” attitude. These educators find ways to do more with less by spending additional time seeking grants, sponsoring book fair events, and even using their own personal funds to provide for those they serve. Perhaps if school library stories are told via social media and other outlets, perceptions can be changed. Such increased communication of library program impact and value may help solve some of the budget issues revealed by the participants of this study. There is much more to learn and to be investigated where school library budgets are concerned. This will be an even more relevant subject for study following the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on school districts, economics, and how libraries will function in an uncertain future.





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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Our First Book Clubs at Bethel Middle School

Since I started working as a school librarian, I've always found a way to have a book club. In this post, I'll talk about my current method for administering a book club. It has evolved a bit over the years. Since coming to Bethel Middle School this year I have adapted it for 6th and 7th grades in my current position. The students seem to really enjoy it.

This year we have read two books in 4 separate clubs. In the fall we read The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn. During the spring semester, we read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. Since we use a Scholastic Book Fair as our main fundraiser for the fall, I use some of the money to purchase book club books (usually from Scholastic). While we are reading a book, I generally have 3-4 book club meetings during lunch in the library. As long as students come to all the meetings and/ or participate in my Google Classroom discussions, they get to keep the book at no cost. I usually have around 10 students in each club. I have a 6th-grade club and a 7th-grade club that meet separately during their lunch periods.

Agreement Form and Scheduling

I create an agreement form for students to sign. It states they understand they are expected to participate in our face to face meetings and/ or Google Classroom discussions in order to keep the book at no cost. If they do not participate as indicated, the form states they must pay for the book or return it to the library. When students signup, I give them a calendar showing the dates we will meet. What has worked best this year is to meet during the last 15-20 minutes of lunch for our discussions. I email a list of the student participants to principals on Fridays when we meet and request them to be sure and release the students to the library halfway through lunch. It has been very successful.

Example of agreement form


Questions

As I read the book I develop questions for our discussions. This year the meetings have mostly been led by me. A few students have submitted questions, but none have stepped in to take the lead. I hope to encourage students next year to take the lead on discussion questions where I can facilitate the meetings. I have done this successfully with high school students in the past, and I believe it will be an excellent way to spark growth in my middle school learners. 


Participation

It has been very encouraging to see how deep some of our discussions go, especially with 6th-grade students. Many times we have never made it past my first few questions. Students have repeatedly taken the discussions in directions I didn't anticipate. To me, this is the thrill of a book club. Everyone has a unique perspective when they read the text and the story line. This usually comes through in a book club meeting.
A student votes for the book club title for spring semester

Something new I tried this year was allowing the students to vote on the book we selected for the spring semester. I created a Google Form that contained four titles with book trailers. They voted for their top choice. I loved giving the students a chance to share their voice by making a selection. I will continue this practice because it generates buy-in and ownership.

If you have had successful book clubs, be sure to share your stories in the comments below.

New Year, New School, New Job





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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Our Library Student Worker Program



Ever since I've been a school librarian, I've tried to include students in the library program as much as possible. This year I took a job as a middle school librarian after working with high school students for many years. One thing I remember from previous experiences with middle level students is that a large percentage of them want to help their teachers. I began thinking about how this could work well in a 6th and 7th grade library setting. I decided to try recruiting some student workers to help me cover the circulation desk.


A student worker helps a student patron
Recruiting

When I started at Bethel Middle School this year, I immediately focused on creating a welcoming environment for students. I made a sincere effort to talk to students as much as possible. I decided to open the library before school so students could come in to use the library resources and technology. This took off with overwhelming success since each day between 40-60 students came in to the library before school. I knew I needed to recruit some student workers to run the circulation desk so that I could be free to interact with library visitors. I started targeting students that frequented the library by asking them if they would like to work at the desk. A few students indicated they were interested.

Training

I usually start students as workers by showing them how to check in books and what to do with them
Student workers help a visiting class checkout books
when they come in. I also show them how to have students enter their ID number and check out books. I explain our rules which include how many items can be checked out and what to do if a student has an overdue or lost item. I explain that what students have checked out is private information. We go over good customer service practices like greeting students when they come to the circulation desk and using phrases like "have a good day" or " thank you". Most students take to this training very well at this age. I watch over their shoulder until I see them making almost no mistakes before I leave them to work independently.

Scheduling

A reward party for student library workers!
After several student workers experienced success, other students were drawn to this program after seeing students working behind the desk. They asked me how they could become student workers, and I was able to recruit additional students. I had the student workers create a Monday through Friday schedule so that everyone got to work an equal amount of periods. In addition, some teachers allowed these students to come to the library to work during their study skills classes if they were caught up on their work. This rewarded the students, and it provided me additional help in the library. Since I work by myself in the library most of the time, any help is appreciated! I have a Google Form that student workers sign in when they work so I can keep track of who is working regularly.

Benefits 

Since using student workers in the library, I've realized there are several benefits. It helps our library program serve more students and teachers since student workers free me up to get out from behind the circulation desk to meet visitors that need assistance. Student workers benefit because they are learning valuable customer service skills. They learn to greet patrons and help them. They also have a place to belong in the library and are viewed as student leaders by other students and teachers. It has been good for everyone involved.

Rewards

It has been so good to see students workers grow individually in these roles over the course of the school year. Many have become very proficient as library workers. In addition, our school culture encourages affirmations. Some students have written me some very nice affirmation notes over the year.




This student wrote: 
"Mr. Evans, I am so glad you like me enough to let me work here everyday. 
I love it and I am thankful for someone like you to let me work here. Thank you so much."



We never know what impact empowering students in this way will have on them personally. These notes indicate that it does make a difference. Everyone wants to feel they are needed and important to others. We all want to feel appreciated and vital. For these students, being a library worker does just that. I look forward to developing this program even more in the future. If you have had successful student workers in the library, be sure to share your stories in the comments below!


New Year, New School, New Job





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Thursday, January 23, 2020

Our First Mystery Skype at Bethel Middle School

I started working as the teacher-librarian at Bethel Middle School in August of 2019. In my previous job, I really enjoyed helping teachers connect to distant schools and other places using Skype and Google Hangouts. It is a thrill to see students learn about destinations they may never get to physically visit through such connections. It is also refreshing to see teachers step out of their comfort zones by connecting their classrooms. Since coming to Bethel, I've been looking forward to introducing Mystery Skype to students and teachers. Luckily, I had a teacher in another state contact me about scheduling a session via Twitter in September. I pitched it to a few teachers at school, and we were able to set up a time that worked!

Mystery Skype is a global guessing game that uses Microsoft Skype to connect the participating schools. The students do not know the location of the other school, and they must guess where they are by using “yes” or “no” questions only. Prior to the session, I shared how we would set up the library for the Mystery Skype. We had the following jobs available to students:

Inquirers/ Responders - these students are stationed at the webcam
Atlas Checkers - these students use printed maps and atlases to narrow down possible locations
Logic Reasoners - these students help decide what the responses and questions will be
Photographers - these students used our library iPads to take photos of the event
Video Camera Operators - these students used our library iPads to take videos of the event
Question Keepers - these students recorded the questions and responses
Runners - go back and forth among team members to relay information

On October 11, 2019, the geography class connected with Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in Summit, New Jersey for their first Mystery Skype session. 


(The class at Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child)


One of our Atlas Checkers in action!


Our students discovered that the other school was in NJ after only 9 questions!


At the end of the session, our students came to the webcam and shared about where we live. The students in NJ also shared about their school and town. It was a very engaging class period for everyone! This activity generated a lot of excitement. We are already working with a school outside of the United States to plan another Mystery Skype session in 2020! I can't wait to see what our students learn!



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Thursday, December 19, 2019

First Semester Reflections

Since starting a new job as the teacher librarian at Bethel Middle School in Bryant, Arkansas as of August 2019, I have a lot to celebrate. When starting a new job, one never knows what to expect. There are new people to meet and learn about. There are new administrators, different students, new processes, and so much more to consider in a transition.

This semester I focused on continuing what the previous librarian had started. She had done an excellent job of creating a welcoming environment, establishing a makerspace, and developing the library collection.  I also had a goal of meeting the learning community and getting to know as many of them as possible. Whenever I have switched schools or jobs during my career, I never try to change much the first year. I use the initial transition period to learn about the community I'm serving. After I've learned how things work, I gradually introduce a few new programs. This year I had the goal of introducing book clubs, library collaboration activities, Mystery Skype, and Skype a Scientist. I thought these four things might be attainable by the end of the school year. It turns out, they happened in one semester due to the forward-thinking educators that I work with! I'll write reflections about these events as time permits! Stay tuned...

I have always kept up with library statistics so I can give an accurate account of various uses and activities in the library. Our statistics from 8/1/2019 to 12/13/2019 revealed a great deal of activity:


  • Total book circulations 12206
  • Class reservations 488
  • Library collaborations 4
  • Classes participating in collaborations 46
  • Book clubs 1
  • Students participating in book clubs 18
  • Posters printed 248


I am greatly encouraged that our library circulations are this high. It requires a lot of work re-shelving books and doing continuous repair maintenance on them. This work is worth it if students are growing their interest in literacy whether it is chapter books, graphic novels, etc. I'm also proud of our library collaborations. These consisted of our library orientations, our collaboration based on Out of the Dust, a lesson about the characteristics of the science fiction genre I team-taught with an ELA teacher, one Mystery Skype, and one Skype with a Scientist.

I'm already talking to ELA teachers about trying a book tasting for our 6th and 7th-grade students when we return from the district's two-week winter vacation in January 2020. In addition, two of the science teachers have indicated they want to connect with another scientist during the spring semester. I'm excited to see what a new semester will bring!

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

New Year, New School, New Job

It is nearly August, and I'm wondering where the summer has gone! You may have noticed that I've been struggling to get out blog articles and newsletters in 2019. I decided to re-enlist into the Arkansas Army National Guard back in February. From 2002 to 2014 I served as a saxophonist in the 106th Army Band. My 12-month high school library job had become so time-consuming by 2014, I decided to not stay in the military unit when my enlistment ended that year. After investing that much time in the Army, I wanted to return to the unit to complete my career. In addition, one of my parents has become very ill this past school year. In the spring, I had an opportunity to take a new library job at Bethel Middle School in Bryant, Arkansas. This new position gives me my summers off so I can focus on my Army career and assist my parents as needed during the summer months. I am excited to have a new challenge at this job. With this change brings opportunities to serve new students and teachers in different ways. I haven't taught 6th and 7th grades for several years. I look forward to re-connecting to this age group with literacy and technology.

Change

Change is intimidating. When we transition to something new, there is so much to learn that it can be overwhelming. Change takes us away from what is comfortable and helps us grow. Every time I have experienced a change in my career, it has helped me be a stronger leader and educator. When we improve, those we serve get a better experience. Everyone wins when we keep that mindset, especially students. In this blog article, I want to describe my process of transitioning as I prepare for a new school year at Bethel Middle School!

Survey of the Facility

The first thing I've done this summer is to survey the facility. It is a beautiful and modern library space that is located in the heart of the building. The library is right across from the main entrance to the building. There are comfortable spaces for students, multiple instructional areas, a makerspace, and endless potential for the future. I took my teacher-librarian wife, Cindy, each time I visited this summer. We are already brainstorming a theme to get the students excited about the library (more on this later).

There is a projector and screen on this wall. Perfect for instruction!
The circulation desk area and entrances.

I love the high ceilings in this facility.

To-Do List

I'm notorious for making to-do lists so I can keep up with things that need to happen. Since I'm new to the school, there is so much I don't know about the learning community. I plan to proceed carefully during this first year. I want to learn more about what great practices and programs the last teacher-librarian had. The students and teachers will want to keep many of these activities and services, so I need to find out what they are and continue them! I've already started a list of questions to ask administrators, teachers, and students. Some of these are:

  • How did teachers reserve the library?
  • What did students love to do in the library? (Makerspace, book club, book fair, browsing, etc.)
  • Who are the teachers that will be most likely to try a new collaboration in the library?
  • Which teachers would want to Skype to a distant place with their students if I support them?
  • Which students might lead a book club discussion with me?
  • What books have been popular? (The previous teacher-librarian left me a report from Follett Destiny!)

Goals for the Year

My short term goals are to get things in order after the summer cleaning in the building. Everything smells so clean after this happened during the recent weeks. Open house will be my first chance to make connections with students and parents. In addition, this will be my chance to make a good first impression to the learning community! I'm working on a theme that will make students both interested and welcome in the space. After getting things ready for open house and the beginning of school, the next goals will be to find and keep those programs that are loved by the learning community. Finally, I would like to introduce a few things I love to do in the library to students and teachers:


  • Student book clubs
  • Immersive collaborations to bring books to life (starting with ELA classes that read class novels)
  • Skype in the Classroom (Mystery Skype and Virtual Field Trips)

I'm super excited to see what happens when school starts. I have a lot of work to do and much to learn about the new people I serve. It's going to be a good year, and I look forward to sharing the stories from the library media center of Bethel Middle School in the coming months! If you have a new job, be sure to share how you are starting off in the comments below.


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