Transform 21st Century Libraries, One Step at a Time

By Charla Hollingsworth, Alief ISD
This blog post is adapted from “Ten Ways To Transform 21st Century Libraries” an article written by Lisa Stultz and Charla Hollingsworth which was published in VOYA in August 2015.

Librarians at all levels have seen the need to transform their libraries and library programs over the past few years. Libraries in the 21st century need to be inviting and cater to the needs of the community if they are going to attract children, tweens and/or teens. Here are some ideas to help librarians make this transformation.

Know books backwards and forwards. Even if you don’t like to read the age-level books that are in your library, you need to be able to know books to recommend to your patrons. Follow the book aggregator blogs, follow book readers on Twitter, look at books in bookstores – somehow keep up-to-date currently published books. No one will want to come back to your library if all you have is row after row of Nancy Drew mysteries preserved in see-thorough slip covers. You must stock your library with current, relevant fiction – even if it isn’t your cup of tea. 

Relax. Modern libraries include movement and noise. Students collaborating on homework and projects make noise. An after school gamers club can be loud. In a perfect world my library would be neat and quiet and always stay organized – but my students don’t know that because it is never that way when they are at school. A nice, neat, orderly library is not usually a student friendly (or highly used) library. You’ve got to create a welcoming environment to get students in the door. Once they are in the door, then you can entice them to read. But if you meet students at the door with a list of don’ts then the students are likely to go elsewhere.

Make the library a value added experience. What can students get in your library that they can’t get elsewhere? An author visit? A book the day it is released? A popular manga series? A listening ear? An environment where all are accepted without question? Computer access? Mobile device usage? A place to listen to their music? A makerspace? The use of a 3-D printer? A beverage bar? Free books?

Get everyone interested in the library. Are there groups that don’t come to your library? Go visit them and take the library to them. Take a mobile library to the cafeteria periodically so students who normally don’t come to the library see what you have to offer. Use your display windows to create eye-catching visual displays that will draw people into your library. Promote your library at Open House and/or Back-To-School Night.

Offering quick words of encouragement and showing you are interested in their day means a lot to students and helps to foster a community atmosphere within the library. It takes a lot of dedication, effort and energy to have a dynamic library program for students, but the payoff is immeasurable

Charla Hollingsworth (@HNGCLibrary and has worked in the Alief Independent School District for eighteen years. Earning both a Masters of Education and a Masters of Library Science, she has spent the past ten years as a library information specialist. Hollingsworth has presented at local, regional, and state technology and library conferences. Her library website can be found online at  

Almost Librarian in Title Only - Wrote This Instead!

By Meagan Walters
Librarian - Avondale & Oakdale Elementary School, Amarillo ISD

Recently, I was contacted by a local high school principal who was hiring for a teaching position. He showed interest in me not so much because of my Librarian certification, but because I was qualified for the teaching position he needed to fill. His plan was to hire me to teach two levels of English as well as being the “Librarian” on campus. Mind you, I would be Librarian in title only, as he’d have a paraprofessional actually running the library.  I was taken aback, to say the least...and my reply was that it would be impossible to do both. But my curiosity, and maybe my ego, had been roused so I had to know where this crazy idea of “pseudo-librarian position” had originated. As expected, it had been an administrative decision due to budget constraints. After my encounter with him ended, I started thinking, What would happen if these “professional replacements” began to become the norm when money gets too tight? I imagine it would go something like this...
It’s mid-October; Sarah trudges through her front door hoping Mom isn’t home yet. She knows the conversation will turn bleak as soon as she’s asked to show her report card. It won’t matter that she got all A’s and B’s in most of her classes; the failing grade in Language Arts will overshadow any other victory. Her head’s been swimming with trepidation ever since she saw the foreign “F”. How did this happen? Sarah has never before struggled in reading class like she does now, nor does she understand Ms. Jones who half the time confuses her more than she explains. Sarah had no idea she was doing so poorly because she never gets her work back, and she tried three different times to get after school help, but Ms. Jones was never there. It’s only the first six weeks, and Sarah already feels like a failure and wants to give up…
What Sarah doesn’t know is that the failure is not hers - this failure belongs on the shoulders of administrators who consciously chose to give Sarah an under-qualified teacher in the name of budget constraints. Rather than filling the English position with a highly-qualified and experienced teacher, they hired a substitute teacher for the job. Ms. Jones, who has only completed two-years of post-secondary education, has neither the intellectual expertise nor the classroom experience to provide her students with the level of instruction they need to be prepared for success.
Surely this would never happen, right? Or only in “desperate situations?” On the contrary, this happens regularly in schools throughout the country who choose to staff their school libraries with paraprofessionals. There is a prevailing - and INVALID - mindset in many school districts that the role of Librarian is so unimportant that essentially anyone can do the job. In actuality, Librarians are the main factor to unlocking and discovering students’ achievement potential.

[The TASLTalks Editor wants to ensure that the last two sentences cannot be easily quoted out of context by administrators- so added the INVALID.]
Literacy is the single biggest indicator of student success; students’ ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate texts is vital. Its importance is no more evident than on the array of benchmark assessments used to promote students onto the next grade. In Colorado, professors from the University of Denver performed three different studies to determine the difference of standardized test performance between schools who had highly-qualified Librarians on staff vs. those that didn’t. Among the findings were the following discoveries:
  • Schools with Librarians showed a 6% increase of students performing at satisfactory levels
  • Schools without Librarians averaged 12-13% unsatisfactory
  • A 17-27% proportional difference was seen when the library employed both a Certified Media Specialist and at least one support staff  (Francis, Lance & Lietzau, 2010, p. 5)

These results are a direct impact of a highly-qualified Librarian who knows how to effectively manage all the components necessary for a strong library program including:
  1. Flexible scheduling which allows the Librarian to meet user needs when they occur
  2. Collaboration with other teachers in designing lessons and methods of delivery
  3. Professional Development to keep up with collection trends in literature, technology, and media (Francis, Lance & Lietzau, 2010, p.11)

I penned this article and sent it to the administrator of said high school. Will it change their decision regarding employing a certified Librarian? Maybe not. Will it even be read? Who knows. But I know that I didn’t sell my profession short. I know that the Librarians who’ve gone before me are smiling down on my efforts to proudly proclaim the power of our profession. Since this incident, I’ve been blessed with an Elementary Librarian job. This learning experience will go before me as a reminder of how URGENT it is that I show the administrators, staff, students and parents how important the Library is. It is not enough that I know it. I must make others believe it as well.

Francis, B, Lance, K, and Lietzau, Z.2010. School Librarians Continue to Help Students Achieve Standards: The Third Colorado Study. Retrieved from

Trilling, B. 2010. “From Libraries to Learning Libratories: The New ABC’s of 21st-Century School

Libraries.” School Library Monthly, 29(1), 43. Retrieved from

Midsummer Thoughts on Passion in School Libraries

by Dorcas Hand, Editor TASL Talks

It may be summer, which generally means school librarians are not at school – but few of us stop thinking about how to make our library program stronger for the next year, how to better include teachers and campus leadership in the excitement. So, I’ll continue to post a bit through the summer.

My friend and school library leader Sara Kelly Johns posted a link to the Librarian in Black blog by Sarah Houghton who is the Director for the San Rafael Public Library (California). Sarah wrote this post to reflect on her experiences at the ALA Annual conference in Orlando June 23-28, where I was also in attendance. She has indeed put her finger on the pulse of librarians of all types: passionate about their work even in the face of difficult circumstances. Of course, we are talking about those librarians who took themselves to Orlando last week, those who are involved in their librarianship beyond just a job. However, I’m pretty sure that passion bleeds over to more of the librarian community that we all realize and I’d like to further celebrate that passion here, in midsummer, to remind everyone who reads TASLTalks how important that passion is to improving school (and all) libraries.

Sarah admits that she attended in part to see if [she] could recapture the excitement and belief in libraries that got [her] into this profession in the first place. [She’s] had a hard few years professionally. [She] was looking for this conference to make [her] believe again–in what [she does] every day and in what [she’s] dedicated [her] life to. Spoiler alert: It worked.”
My first suggestion for those readers who are feeling tired: find ways to attend conferences, locally or further afield. Put yourself with others who feel strongly that school libraries matter and let the group speak work its magic on your fatigue. Take that group energy home; feed it with continued reading or chats with fellow librarians; use it to try new ideas to enthuse your students and faculty. It’s like smiling even when you feel grumpy – it begins to turn your mood.
You can all read the post for yourselves – the link is there. I want to jump to the last two points:
Lesson 9: Our stories are more powerful than our statistics.
You can count your books, your program attendance, and your web visits. Or you can tell stories, you can impact lives, and share those stories with the people making budgetary and political decisions about your library. Everything I heard at this conference supports the latter.
Yes, stories are powerful – and memorable. I will add to her point: stories supported by statistics are the most powerful Tell the story about the kids who finally began to read – then mention the circ statistics that you can tie to their improvement in some academic area or literacy score.
Lesson 10: Helping people still brings me more joy than anything else.
This last point may seem self-evident, but going into this conference it wasn’t–at least not to me. The moments at this conference that made me smile, that energized and excited me, all had to do with either observing someone helping someone else or me helping someone. I am so jazzed by seeing a positive impact from the exchange of knowledge, a helping hand, a simple tip, or a shared experience.
I’m pretty sure this is how most of us ended up as librarians. We are experts at connecting our patrons – students, teachers, administrators – with the information or pleasure reading they need. And we gain satisfaction from doing that well, every day. Don’t let the challenges get you too down. Remember that you are making a difference, one student at a time. And it does matter.
So, thank you for indulging my July pep talk. Be passionate about your day job - it makes it more fun! And check out past and future posts on this blog, on Sarah’s and on others for further ideas and inspiration to help you keep moving ahead to improve school libraries.