5.4 Strategic Planning & Assessment
Candidates make effective use of data and information to access how the library program addresses the needs of their diverse communities.
As program administrator, an essential element of a school librarian’s job description is the collection of relevant data to inform decisions for the continual improvement the library’s attention to its diverse communities. An analysis of community and school data for suburban Century High School quickly reveals that there is little to no diversity to speak of. Approximately 90% of the Sykesville/Eldersburg population is Caucasian. In terms of student population, 1,182 students affiliate themselves with the Caucasian ethnicity; only forty-one name themselves as African American. Thirty-two students have some type of Latino heritage, and five designate themselves Native American. Fewer than five students are Asian American. Despite the stark lack of ethnic diversity, Century must be prepared for further growth in the area of minority ethnic populations and also that of students qualifying for the FARMs programs. These students are so strongly in the minority that special care must be taken to make them feel accepted in the school community and to educate the student majority on related multicultural topics.
As I began evaluating the collection after conducting my school and community analysis, I expected to observe books addressing the cultures of the emerging Asian and Latino populations, particularly addressing the countries of the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, and Mexico as these are the countries of origin of our ESOL students. I also expected to see plenty of texts that reflect the cultural heritage of the African American students, our largest minority population. Many of the needs of these diverse populations are not currently met. For example, I was disappointed to find that upon searching the catalog for using the keyword “Philippines,” the only text I was met with was Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, which certainly would not aid a Pilipino student in feeling more comfortable in his/her English-speaking school. Similarly, a search of “Vietnam” brings about numerous texts on the Vietnam War but none solely on the people, culture, or language of the country. There are no pertinent fictional texts for either of these ethnic groups.
For the growing population of FARMs students, literature needs to be available that is socio-economically sensitive. These students will appreciate books dealing with characters of lower socioeconomic status. As they are by far the most mobile population, books dealing with adjusting to new environments are also essential. Positively, the fiction section encompasses many, many novels that address difficult life adjustments, lower socioeconomic status, and moving to a new area. There are no specific collection needs in this area at the current time.
In terms of materials suited to courses that frequent the library, the collection seems to be adequately equipped for the time being but will need continued adaptation as course needs change. Trends in primary users of the school library have changed drastically since the founding of Century High School in 2001. In the past, primary users tended to be classes in the main content areas – particularly English and Social Studies. Government classes often conducted elaborate legal research projects. Currently, Social Studies – and yes, even English class, are rarely seen utilizing the library. Among other factors, the school librarian attributes this drastic change to the advent of the Maryland High School Assessment as a graduation requirement. She feels that many of the teachers are so engrossed in test preparations that they feel unable to devote the time to library-centered projects and encouraging reading for pleasure. Many teachers also favor conducting research solely online, with both computer labs typically getting significantly more use than the library itself, and oftentimes teachers expect research to be conducted outside of school. Science classes are another rarity in the school library as their classroom laboratories are now equipped with computers.
According to evaluation of library sign-up data, content areas that now use the school library most frequently include Psychology, Health, Freshman Seminar, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Agricultural Science. Given that one of the subject areas to most frequent the library is Agricultural Science, I would expect to find good resources on topics such at horticulture and veterinary science. I would also expect to see a number of scholarly Psychology texts and materials on the topics of teaching professions, families, childcare, sewing and clothing production, and nutrition for the FACS classes. Many of these areas of the collection are quite sparse. This is an area in which data assessment reveals holes in the library’s ability to meet the needs of the diverse academic community.
Despite this trend of elective courses spending increased time in the school library, the Century High librarian rarely ever sees classes from the fine arts areas. Just this past year, a new drama course was added to the course listings for our school: Technical Theater. The addition of this new course spurred on a curiosity around which I based my Collection Evaluation project. I wanted to collect data to evaluate how well our collection was really serving the Drama Department, which envelops some of the school’s largest student and parent organizations. Century has numerous holdings of plays themselves and analytical texts in our library, and of course, the school also has textbook holdings in both the English and Drama Departments addressing this need. Consequently, I was not particularly concerned about these areas. Based on my study of the Drama curriculum, however, I know that there is a heavy emphasis placed on Theater History and Production in the four drama courses offered: Drama I, Drama II, Drama III, and Technical Theater. Because of this specific curricular need, I opted to zero in on 792 holdings, a collection area covering the topic of theater performance.
In evaluating the relevance of this area of the collection, I knew that I wanted to look into the number and age of the resources available and also their specific curricular tie-ins to the courses we offer at Century. In order to properly evaluate these areas, I collected basic data on the collection as a whole for comparison purposes. I then investigated what percentage of the total 700 Nonfiction holdings was made up of 792 resources. Knowing that a few of our materials in this Dewey Category were shelved in the areas of Reference and DVD, I examined each resource on the topic of Theater Performance, collecting data on their individual ages and finding the average age of 792 materials in general so that I could compare it to the average age of 700 holdings and the average age of the collection as a whole.
I uncovered a glaring dearth of 792 materials. Just four of 587 print book holdings fall into the call number 792. Only four additional holdings were found to be present when the reference and audiovisual portions of the collection were taken into account. On average, 792 holdings were 15.75 years old – far exceeding recommended replacement cycles. The DVDs were a whopping 22 years old. In exploring the curricular needs of the drama department, I found that five of the resources corresponding with Drama I’s course objectives, covering such topics as Early Theatrical History, Theatre Terminology, Theatre Games, Mime/Pantomime, while one resource each fell into the coursework of Drama II and Technical Theater. No materials addressed the curricular foci of Drama III.
This assignment really helped me to see the importance of keeping up on new curricular developments. The assessment techniques I utilized were incredibly simple to put into practice by running some basic reports, accessing catalog information, and examining the materials on the shelves in person. The Drama classes have significant untapped potential for using the library. With 4 drama courses offered at our school and 3 dramatic organizations, it is an important need at our school to have a well-developed 792 section, but without maintaining up-to-date curricular records and taking the time to analyze these seemingly insignificant areas of the collection, it is all too easy to fail to meet the needs of the students.
Even in a school virtually void of ethnic, physical, and mental diversity, there are minority populations that it would be morally reprehensible to ignore. Every student deserves to feel that his/her unique qualities and differences are represented in the library collection and that respect and understanding of these elements of multiculturalism is fostered within the majority population. In terms of smaller learning communities within the school, attention must be distributed between academic core classes and the electives and extracurricular activities about which the students are most passionate. These subgroups of the student population change gradually over time. New students move into the area; new curricular offerings replace the old. Because a collection must evolve alongside the school community in order to have the greatest educational impact, it is imperative that a school library annually conduct her own data analysis to assess how the library program (in particular the collection holdings) addresses the needs of her diverse community.