According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 10,000 full-time school librarian positions have been lost nationwide over the past two decades. This loss is especially felt by students, since research suggests that reading, writing, and graduation rates improve where schools employ certified school librarians. Thanks to a new program cosponsored by the iSchool and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), five school libraries that had been shuttered for five or more years now have a school librarian in place, with more to come.
Teachers in the iSchool/CPS cohort pursue a school librarian endorsement while working in their current positions at CPS. The program provides funding for the teachers' continuing education coursework, with half coming from the CPS and half from the iSchool through scholarships made possible by a generous gift from Lionelle (BA LAS '66, MSLIS '67) and James (BS Business '66, MS Business '67) Elsesser.
In addition to developing a standing pipeline of potential librarians, the program's benefits for CPS include providing professional development for current staff, ensuring equity of access to libraries, and building a library and information science program that reflects the diversity and needs of the CPS community. Likewise, the iSchool aims to increase the number of school librarians, especially from diverse populations, to meet the needs of students.
"The iSchool is committed to making sure there are certified librarians in schools throughout the state," said Ruth Shasteen, program coordinator for the School Librarian Licensure program. "We received over one hundred applications last year when we launched our program with CPS and welcomed twenty students into our first cohort."
Since the classes are live, synchronous, and online, they don't conflict with the workday for CPS staff. Among the program's strengths are the course offerings, which one participant described as "rigorous yet rewarding." For the Library Information Specialist endorsement, teachers in the cohort must take 18 credit hours of iSchool coursework and pass the LIS Content Area Test administered by the Illinois Licensure Testing System. In addition to general library best practices, the program emphasizes collection development, cultural relevance, research and inquiry, and information and media literacy.
Andrew Nelson applied to be part of the cohort because of his previous experience as an English teacher at a school that lacked a librarian and library.
"I experienced firsthand the feeling of not being able to provide students with enough resources and skills to experience the best education possible that they deserved," he said. "Despite my best efforts, I knew that some of the work around research, media literacy, and ethical use of resources was not being delivered as often or as well as it should have been."
Nelson is now employed as a school librarian and looks forward to passing on the skills and things he has learned to the staff and students at his school.
CPS staff accepted into the cohort must complete their coursework within eighteen months and, upon completion, transfer to a currently vacant school librarian role within their school or at a vacant school for the upcoming academic year.
"As I transition to a school librarian, I see many opportunities to plan with my administrators and partner with teachers to fill literacy gaps and reinforce what is being taught in the classroom," said Joyner Bonds, who entered the iSchool/CPS program after thirteen years as a classroom teacher. "Students meet me at the door in the morning or catch me at the end of the day to discuss books. They are excited to read at home with their parents and share what they've learned with their peers."
"I most likely would not have been able to get my endorsement without this program, since I have a three-year-old child and paying for more school would have been difficult," said Nelson. "I felt incredibly well-prepared and supported when I moved into a librarian role last fall."