Information Power: Building Standards That Are Useful
Teacher Librarian, Dec 2000
(an earlier version of this article was published in the Minnesota Educational Media Organization’s journal Minnesota Media, Spring 2000)
- How big should my media center be in the new school we’re building?
- What resources and in what quantities are necessary for a media program to make available if it is to have an impact on student learning?
- How many staff members should I have in my school media center?
- How should a school media program be helping support classroom learning activities?
- How do I know when a school library media program is fully integrated into the curriculum?
These are all common questions that teacher-librarians, teachers, administrators, board members and increasingly parents are asking. Without a common set of state standards that are both specific and understandable, the answers can be difficult to obtain.
Why are state standards important?
Effectively written and widely endorsed standards can be used by educators in a number of ways.
- As a tool for evaluation and guide for improvement of local library media programs.
- As a guide to media center staff new to their schools and positions.
- As a tool to help guide communications with local school decision-makers.
- As a potential assessment tool for the status of school library media programs across the state by providing a single scale.
- As a means for implementing the national Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning standards.
The Development Process
Recognizing the need for a realistic, comprehensive, authoritative set of standards, a small Minnesota Educational Media Organization (MEMO) task force has been working with representatives from our state’s Department of Children Families and Learning on a new set of state benchmarks. This committee has representatives from large and small, urban and rural schools. Library multitype organizations, university library schools and the state department all have representatives on the committee.
The committee has been meeting since August 1999 and an early draft of the standards were distributed to the MEMO membership at their fall 1999 conference, posted on the Internet, and discussed at the organization’s midwinter conference in February 2000. Input from the general MEMO membership has been actively sought throughout the year.
The committee recognized early on that it is unlikely that our state will ever create or enforce a rule that mandates quality library school media programs or adequate resources or quality personnel. Therefore, we see our Minnesota standards as unique since we will be using them with local decision-makers to build grassroots’ support for programs that adhere to the standards. We are being careful that while keeping the principles behind IP2 intact in the standards, that they are also:
- Simple to understand and clearly written.
- Organized in an easily accessed format.
- Quantitative as well as qualitative in nature.
- Sensitive and applicable to media centers in schools with a variety of funding capacities.
To help make the standards meaningful for all schools, each has been written in three graduated levels:
Minimum: These are the attributes necessary for the library media program to make any difference in the total educational process.
Standard: These are the attributes necessary for the library media program to have a significant impact on student learning and school climate.
Exemplary: These are the attributes necessary for the library media program if it is to help a school insure that all its students are life-long learners with excellent problem-solving skills.
It’s interesting to note that a committee of AASL folks were working, unbeknownst to us, on a parallel effort at the same time! Available as a part of the ALA publication A Planning Guide for Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning, AASL’s rubrics use the categories Basic, Proficient and Exemplary.
How do individual teacher-librarians contribute to the development of standards?
The MEMO standards committee has asked each individual organization member to do the following things:
If you have not already reviewed the standards and thought about how they apply to your program, please do so as soon as possible. Ask yourself these questions:
Comments can be sent to any member of the committee.
- Is the standard clear? Will your administrators, board members and parents understand what the standards are asking for?
- Are the indicators specific enough to tell if your program meets one of the suggested levels and what would need to be done to get your program to a higher level?
- Are the indicators too high or too low to be realistic? We hope that the minimum standards are achievable by any school regardless of size or location (remembering that criteria must be met before a program can have any effect on the educational process.)
Where are going from here?
The new standards are far from complete. During the first half of 2000 MEMO continued with the development of the standards by:
- Gathering responses from media center professionals through regional meetings and direct responses to any committee member.
- Contracting with a consultant to compile the research that supports each standard and compares our standards to those recently developed by other states and the national standards.
- Soliciting endorsements of support from other educational institutions and organizations in Minnesota (School board associations, curriculum associations, reading associations, teacher organizations, administrative associations etc..)
- Developing a quick checklist for use by parents to help them determine the status of their own children’s media programs.
There is a range of hills in Kenya called the Ngong that in the local language means knuckles. If you look closely, you see that the hills do indeed look like a buried clenched fist. The story that accompanies the name is worth knowing. It seems that once a giant terrorized the land. First the elephant tried to subdue him, but was defeated. Then the rhino was sent in. He too was unsuccessful. Neither lion nor water buffalo nor other big, powerful animal could overpower this mighty ogre. But one night all the ants organized and while the giant was asleep, they buried him so deeply that only the knuckles of one of his hands were recognizable and he could not escape. What the mighty could not accomplish, the coordinated efforts of many individuals could.
Neither our library-media organization nor our state department of education nor our legislature will single handedly defeat the ogre of poor learning opportunities. The standards by themselves won’t do much to improve our media programs or schools. But if each of us, as proactive teacher-librarians, uses this authoritative, credible, useful tool, we together can be very powerful.
Share the standards and parent checklist based on the standards with your region’s schools and communities. Let me know your successes.
The MEMO Standards can be found here. http://www.memoweb.org/htmlfiles/linkseffectiveslmp.html
Adcock, D. (1999) A Planning Guide for Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: American Association of School Librarians.