On July 23, the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced that Antioch University Seattle had received a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant to fund a three-year research project to study the decline of school librarian positions nationwide.

The project, entitled “SLIDE: School Librarian Investigation: Decline or Evolution?,” will be directed by Debra Kachel, who teaches in Antioch’s Library Media Endorsement program and serves as advocacy committee cochair for the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Keith Curry Lance, consultant for RSL Research Group, will be the principal investigator on the project. Kachel and Lance are highly regarded in the school library community for the body of research work they have produced about the impact school librarians and school libraries have on students’ academic achievement.

The SLIDE project will begin in September, and its goal is “to try and find some trends on exactly what’s happening behind the national data that shows an almost 20% decline in the number of school librarians over the last 10 years,” Kachel says. In year one, “Keith is going to be crunching a lot of national data sets on the employment of school librarians,” she says, noting that they want to “get a handle on what the data looks like by state and by district. We want to show the inequities all the way down to the district level.”

During the second year of the project, Kachel says, they plan to conduct interviews, via Zoom, with school district leaders, including superintendents or heads of curriculum and instruction, in districts that have gained and lost the most school librarians since the Great Recession. Participants’ answers will be kept confidential. “We want to hear about how they make staffing decisions in their district as well as how they make decisions about technology, and other instructional components that comprise the various print and digital resources for their school,” Kachel adds.

With that information compiled, Kachel says, she and Lance plan to answer some key questions. “We know anecdotally, from previous research we’ve done, that the term ‘librarian’ is no longer being used,” Kachel notes. “They’re being called technology integrationist, or innovation specialist, all kinds of things. What we’re wondering is, if districts are no longer reporting that they have librarians, do they have a person who is providing that kind of an instructional role and doing the things that a typical librarian did or does? We think maybe the job is just evolving into something different, somewhere between library and technology. A lot of it is not really gone, but it is changing. What does that look like? And, how is finding that out going to impact the way we train the next generation of school librarians, which is what the IMLS grants are about?”

Though she believes there may be challenges in finding administrators willing to speak on the subject, Kachel is hopeful, saying, “We’re so excited. It’s going to be fascinating work.”

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