What Gets Measured Gets Done: The Importance of Evaluating Your Library Media Program
Book Report, Sept/Oct 2001
The media program at Lincoln Elementary School prides itself on its impact on the rising reading scores in the building. Paul, the media specialist, works hard with teachers to see that all students have books to read that reflect their ability and interests, runs regular reading promotion programs, and uses the material budget to purchase extra materials he knows reluctant readers will enjoy.
The media center at North Middle School seems to always be full of students working on products that use technology to help deliver a message. When kids and teachers need help with a videotape production, webpage, or brochure full of digital photographs, they know they can turn to Judy their media specialist for help.
Mary is close to accomplishing her goal of working with all her City High School teachers to team teach at least one major research project each year. She and the teachers are excited about how motivating the projects are to most of the students. By stressing higher-level thinking skills, these projects are not just interesting, but are equipping students with skills they will need to know both at school and on the job.
As the examples above suggest, no two school library media program are alike. Each usually has areas that are strong and other areas that need improvement. The assessment of a building’s school library program is a vital task that can lead to improvements not just in the delivery of library and technology services, but in improvements of the effectiveness of the total school.
Library media program assessment is most effective when the media specialist and the building principal share the responsibility for it. By agreeing on goals based on recognized standards and building needs, establishing yearly objectives that help meet those goals, developing a formal method for reporting the attainment of those objectives, and using the assessment of the program as a part of the library media specialist’s professional evaluation, the media specialist/principal team can make sure assessment leads to genuine improvement.
External standards and building goals
Like it or not, school library media programs have changed since most staff, parents and community members were in school themselves. The addition of new technologies, the increased importance of information literacy skills, and the demand that all students show proficiency in basic skills through standardized testing have changed the role of the library from quiet place for study to a dynamic resource that can genuinely improve educational opportunities for all students.
Happily, there are a number of tools based on state and national standards that provide a guide for assessing school library media programs. (see sidebar 1) These guides, checklists, and rubrics offer a description of the services of an effective media center. The rubric-like organization of some of these guides can suggest a growth plan for all media centers regardless of their current status. Check to see if your state has specific guidelines for school library media programs as well.
An important use of such an assessment tool is to study the current state of your building’s library media program. The media specialist can do this, but the baseline established is more meaningful and accurate when others on the building staff participate in the study as well.
Most of these assessment tools have more areas that can be measured or that are practical to deal with in a single year or improvement cycle. Therefore a subset of improvement areas need to identified and long-range goals written to just those areas. It’s extremely important that the media specialists and principal use their own building goals to help them select a those areas for focused improvements. A close correlation to building goals helps make the media program a vital part of the entire school program.
Once general goals are established, the hard work of identifying specific objectives that will help meet those goals must be articulated. What are the specific things that the media specialist should do within a stated time frame that can be measured, can be observed or can be produced? We like to use the old SMART guidelines for objective. They must be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-centered, and Time bound. I like setting yearly objectives, some of which may have an earlier deadline. (See sidebar 2)
Reporting of assessment results
Reports to the public, board, administration and staff that give the results of a good program assessment should highlight the strengths of our current programs. Successes tend to be continued and strengthened in organizations and this is one way to let a wide range of people know about our successes.
Good assessment tools are not used to simply evaluate work at the end of a given time period. They should serve as a guide and reminder for day-to-day activities. Regular conferences with the principal and/or building media committee have always helped force me into working on objectives through out the year rather letting my natural sense of procrastination convince me to set them aside until the very end of the year.
If media goals truly support the building goals, then everyone who has responsibility for achieving building goals should be apprised of if and how well they have been met. As a part of a staff meeting or as a distributed written report, the media specialist needs to say, “Yes, this, this and this were accomplished; this is nearly done; and this did not happen because…” It’s called accountability.
Using program assessment to help in professional evaluations
Asking the media specialist to be accountable for specific objectives creates a natural bridge to the evaluation of the media specialist as well as the assessment of the media program.
An often-heard complaint among media people is that principals use the same forms and methods to evaluate them that they use to evaluate classroom teachers. While such evaluation methods can and should be used to help evaluate the media specialist’s teaching abilities, principals need to recognize that a large part of the media specialist’s job falls outside what such methods evaluate. Media specialists have administrative duties such as budgeting, supervision of paraprofessionals, public relations, collection development, and policy-making. The degree of effectiveness of the individual in these areas is directly reflected in the degree to which the program’s yearly goals have been met.
Unfortunately, even even the most competent practitioner often fears assessment and evaluation. Misunderstandings about the role of the media program, poor communications, lack of collaboration on goals and objectives, unclear expectations of administrators, and just the plain discomfort that comes from feeling “judged” can make all of us hesitant about taking a hard look at our programs.
But if we remember that program evaluations should only exist as tools that will help us increase our budgets, improve our working conditions, and direct our planning, they can genuinely help our programs. An effective program evaluation used as a starting point for long-range planning is really the only thing that can improve a school’s library media program significantly and permanently so that it becomes essential to our students’ learning. Let’s not avoid assessment. Let’s go for it!
Resources for library media program assessment tools.
- Alabama Department of Education. Literacy Partners - A Principal’s Guide to an Effective Library Media Program for the 21st Century. <http://www.alsde.edu> (Search on the term Literacy Partners)
- Donham, Jean. Enhancing Teaching and Learning: A Leadership Guide for School Library Media Specialists. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1998.
- Johnson, Doug. “A 12 Point Library/Media Checklist for Administrators” The Indispensable Librarian: Surviving (and Thriving) in School Library Media Centers in the Information Age. Worthington, OH: Linworth, 1997.
- Johnson, Doug. What Gets Measured Gets Done: a School Library Media and Technology Self-study Workbook. <www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/whatgets.pdf>
- American Association of School Librarians. A Planning Guide for Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning. Chicago: American Library Association, 1999.
- Loertscher, David V. Reinvent Your School’s Library in the Age of Technology: A Guide for Principals and Superintendents. San Jose, CA: Hi Willow Research and Publishing, 1998.
- Minnesota Educational Media Organization Standards for Minnesota School Library Programs <http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/memo/mnstandards.htm>
Sample long-range goals and yearly objectives
An articulated, integrated information literacy curriculum will assure mastery of a basic set of research, evaluation and production skills by all students. This will include technology skills to access, process and communicate information. 80% of all classes will have two information literacy units in their classes. Our school will be regarded as a leader in the successful use of educational technologies.
2001-2002 school year objectives:
- I will prepare checklist of research materials and skills for members of the social studies department by the end of first semester.
- I will give inservices on our on-line resources to 50% of all faculty members in October.
- I will teach all students in journalism class how to use our digital camera by the end of the first quarter.
- I will work with each 7th grade teacher team to revise the second semester interdisciplinary unit so that it will require the use of an electronic presentation program.
- The building media technology committee will review the benchmark information literacy skills for the 7th and 8th grades during the second semester.
- I will establish a procedure for making teacher aware of satellite and cable television offerings during the first quarter.
- All senior projects will have at least one credible Internet source in their bibliography this year.