Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries

(published in School Library Media Activities Monthly, January 2005)

Professors Carol Kuhlthau and Ross Todd of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey have established a research center to promote the study of the impact of school libraries on student learning and the dynamics of effective school library programs. The Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries, called CISSL, is located in the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies and builds on a 50-year tradition of quality education and research for school librarians at Rutgers. In the 1950’s, Rutgers Professor Mary Gaver founded the specialization for school librarians in the M.L.S. program and conducted the watershed research on the effectiveness of centralized library services in elementary schools. The Rutgers school library program is currently the top ranked ALA accredited program in the country. Within this setting, CISSL provides the international community of school librarians an arena to develop and exchange research to enhance learning in school libraries worldwide.

The Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries is where leading researchers and professionals work together to create school libraries that spark learning in information age schools around the world. CISSL, pronounced sizzle, is a global hot spot for school library action where synergies of school libraries, inquiry learning, literacies, and information technology spark ideas, research and innovation. School libraries provide the spark for connection, comprehension, and engagement – the sizzle that kids need in this day and age in order to learn well.

We all inherently believe that school libraries are important. We daily observe that school libraries spark learning in many ways. We have solid evidence that there is a relationship between effective school libraries and student test scores from the extensive statewide studies directed by Keith Curry Lance and the Colorado State Library research team. (For more information on the Lance studies, see “Dick and Jane Go to the Head of the Class,” School Library Journal, April 2000, pp. 44-47.) However, we don’t have standard methods for collecting and documenting evidence of student learning that goes beyond the test score. We need clear, tangible documentation of how effective school library programs foster learning in information age schools. We are only beginning to understand why effective programs based on a team approach to inquiry have a positive impact on student learning. Evidence of the multi-faceted nature of student learning through the school library is needed for the development of evidence-based practice. CISSL is addressing these important questions in a comprehensive research initiative.

The research initiative of CISSL is developing practical, replicable methods to assess the impact of effective school libraries on student learning for school communities to know the tangible benefits of their school libraries. It is increasingly imperative that school librarians provide tangible and clear evidence of the significant impact of their school libraries on student learning, particularly in a time of budget, staffing and resourcing constraints. With increasing focus on standards-based education, many school administrators, school boards and parent communities are looking for documented evidence of the impact of the library on student learning as a basis for making decisions regarding library funding, technology and staffing. CISSL is conducting studies to provide evidence of student learning in school libraries and to develop methods that can be applied to document the impact of school libraries on student learning at the state, district, school and class level.

CISSL has two distinct approaches to studying the impact of school libraries on student learning, a macro or large-scale approach for studying a large population of students at a state or large district level and a micro or small-scale approach for studying individual students within a school. The combination of macro and micro study of student learning in school libraries is providing comprehensive tangible evidence of the benefits of school libraries for educating students in the information age.

The macro approach is producing evidence of how students benefit from school libraries by surveying a large number of students across a state. The initial study was undertaken in 2002 – 2003 in Ohio titledStudent Learning through Ohio School Libraries. This study of 39 effective school libraries across Ohio, involving 13,123 students in grades 3 to 12 and 879 faculty, sought to understand how students benefit from school libraries through elaborating “conceptions of help.” The study documented the nature and extent of help provided by the school library in relation to student learning as perceived by students and faculty. The study was funded by the State Library of Ohio through a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OLEMA) and was coordinated through Leadership for School Libraries (L4SL), a coalition of OLEMA, INFOhio (the state K-12 network), the Ohio Department of Education and the State Library of Ohio. The directors of CISSL, Professors Todd and Kuhlthau, were the contracted researchers. A summary of the Ohio study may be found at:

Results of the Ohio study show that 99.44% of the students indicated that the school library helped them in some way with their learning. The instrument developed in this study is a web-based survey with 48 questions and one open-ended critical incident that effectively captured the students’ view of how the school library helps them to learn.

Collectively, the data show that effective school libraries in Ohio are dynamic rather than passive agents of learning. Specifically, students found the school library most helpful for getting to know how to use different kinds of information sources and to know the steps in finding and using information. They reported that the school library helps them to get better grades on their assignments and projects. They also reported that the school library is helpful in the process of working out the main ideas in the information they find. In addition, over 10,000 written responses to the open-ended question shows that what students find most helpful is the instruction and intervention offered by school librarians about resources, technology and ideas in pursuit of their learning.

The Ohio study shows that an effective school library, led by a credentialed school librarian who has a clearly defined role in inquiry learning, plays a critical role in facilitating student learning in building content knowledge and information literacy.

The web-based questionnaire developed in this study is being adapted for large-scale studies in other states and districts to gather data on how the library helps their students. A study of Delaware school libraries is now underway and several other states are discussing the prospect of studies with their students. For further information regarding gathering evidence from a large population of students of how the school library helps them learn contact Professor Todd at:

CISSL is also undertaking a micro approach to the study of the impact of school libraries on student learning with small groups of students engaged in inquiry units. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has funded CISSL to conduct a two-year research project titled Impact of School Libraries on Student Learning. The purpose of this project is to design and test instruments and procedures for tracking and assessing student learning through the school library and to adapt these instruments in a resource package. The research project involves school librarian-teacher partnerships in ten New Jersey schools that have designed and implemented inquiry units with their students.

An earlier study of the Library Power Initiative in 40 schools in states across the US, found that a team teaching approach to inquiry was a key component to fostering student learning in school libraries. Case studies of effective school libraries showed a profound difference in the engagement and learning of students where the school librarian and teachers had expertise in inquiry based learning and regularly applied inquiry learning with their students for meeting curriculum goals. For further information see Carol Collier Kuhlthau, “Student Learning in the Library: What Library Power Librarians Say,” School Libraries Worldwide, July 1999. Through the IMLS funded study, CISSL is documenting the elements of inquiry learning from the student’s perspective as a major component of evidence based practice.

Instruments for tracking and assessing student learning throughout the inquiry units have been developed and are being tested with the students in the ten schools. The outcome of the project will be a functional model for measuring the impact of effective school libraries on individual student learning and packaged materials that school librarians may adapt and implement to track and document student learning in their school libraries titled the School Library Impact Measure (SLIM) packet. The first phase of the project was initiated in 2003 and will be completed in 2005. The school librarian-teacher partners have implemented inquiry units with a wide range of student groups from grades 6 to 12, including those identified as learning disabled, at risk, ESL, advance placement and honors students. At a workshop in May of 2004, the teams from each school enthusiastically described their success in engaging students in innovative inquiry units incorporating content from science, social studies, language arts, foreign language, art and music with information literacy skills. They reported on their use of the instruments and recommended adjustments for efficient implementation. In the current phase of the project, the CISSL research team is developing analysis methods that can be replicated. The next phase of the project is to conduct further study to validate the measurement instrument and adapt it for widespread application in schools as the SLIM packet. Information on this project may be found at: http:www//

CISSL has received initial financial support from a number of sources. Scholastic Publishing is funding a doctoral student, as the Scholastic Fellow to CISSL for 2004-2005. Ruth Toor, school library consultant and a past president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and Jay Toor, publisher of School Librarians Workshop have generously funded masters students preparing for school library certification to work with CISSL. The Carole and Norman Barham Foundation has provided support for masters students preparing for school librarianship in New Jersey to participate in the administration of CISSL. An important goal of CISSL is to educate masters and doctoral students who have expertise in conducting extensive research on learning in school libraries for the development of school library programs based on the evidence from these studies. We are seeking to extend our financial base to accomplish this goal in the future.

In addition, CISSL is developing a program for visiting scholars to come for a short term to gain expertise in studying the impact of school libraries on student learning and in developing school library programs based on the research findings. Several teams of school librarians and teachers have visited CISSL in the past year. In addition, CISSL is developing “train the trainer” workshops to prepare teams of school librarians and teachers to adopt the SLIM packet for documenting student learning in inquiry units in their schools. School library educators and researchers from other countries are visiting for extended stays to work with CISSL. Dr. Jannica Heinstrom, from Finland, is conducting her postdoctoral research with CISSL during 2004-2005. Her doctoral study of students’ research styles related to personality and study approaches has brought valuable expertise to the work of CISSL this year. In October 2004, Lynn Hay from Charles Sturt University in Australia was a visiting scholar with CISSL to prepare for conducting similar studies in her country.

In April of 2005, CISSL will hold an international symposium on the research of CISSL and that of other scholars on evidence of the impact of school libraries on student learning. Researchers from a number of countries including, Great Britain, Scotland, and Sweden have been invited to join those from the United States to present the most recent findings from their research on learning in school libraries. The symposium will bring together noted school library researchers, graduate school faculty, doctoral and masters students to discuss the latest findings on student learning and to consider prospects for future research and the further development of evidence based practice for effective school library programs. Information about these and other initiatives of CISSL may be found at the CISSL website:

In the short time that The Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) has been established the enthusiastic response and high interest from the school library community has shown how timely and important this work is. Tangible evidence of the impact of school libraries on student learning is essential for the continual growth and development of school libraries that meet the challenge of educating students in the twenty first century.