School Library Renaissance in Baltimore County
An Open-and-Shut Case for Library Funding
by Della Curtis • Coordinator, Office of Library Information Services • Baltimore County Public Schools
MultiMedia Schools • November/December 2000
For  the next 3 years, I have a budget of $10.529 million to buy new library books for the 50 secondary schools in my district. How did we do it? It wasn’t as hard as you might think.

Creating a library renaissance was not an overnight task. It was one big “research” assignment that began by clearly defining the problems; asking essential questions; gathering data, research, and resources; synthesizing information; massaging data; communicating with decision-makers and stakeholders; and reflecting every step of the way. But I had confidence from the very beginning that a positive change would take place, because the citizens and leadership of Baltimore County care about the education of their children.

Many school libraries across the country are challenged by inadequate funding and staffing. This was the case 3 years ago in Baltimore County when Doris Glotzbach and I, newly appointed to the district’s library administrative office, rolled up our sleeves and got right to the heart of the problem.

First, school library staff was needed to carry out the vision; 33 out of 165 schools did not have a library media specialist, nor were there any to find. Thus grew the partnership with Towson University, whereby outstanding teachers were recruited to enter the instructional technology/school library media graduate program.

Then came the fight for funding. You just can’t point at the shelves and say, “What a deplorable mess,” and whine. Look around. What is everyone clattering about? Technology! I recall a technocrat telling all 175 librarians at a meeting that books would be dead, and because of it, schools would not need libraries anymore. Now that made me see fire. How could a so-called intelligent human being think such a thing? After all, we were well into the Information Age!

The love affair with technology blinded some, but not library media specialists. We had already enjoyed a 15-year marriage with technology, progressing from the horse-and-buggy kind to a 1400 baud modem and computer that connected students to online information databases. We have never lost sight of our mission, which is to teach students how to use information for critical thinking and problem solving, nor have we divorced ourselves from one of the first technologies, the book.

Holding fast to the belief that a library should have a balanced collection of print, non-print, and electronic information was the cornerstone to developing a strong information-literacy instructional program. Creating an information-literate school community was the goal. Technology was the means to the end, not the end itself.

The first order of business was to demonstrate to the school community how technology should be used to enhance teaching and learning. We embraced the opportunity to make visible the unique talents and knowledge base of library media specialists, thus changing the “perception” of the school community. Caretaker of moldy-oldie book collections was not their role, nor their fate.

In 1995, the first Web site, onLINE: The Librarians’ Information Network for the Essential Curriculum, was launched by a group of tenacious library media specialists. No longer would they participate in the common practice of handing out long lists of Web sites that were placed in teachers’ and library media specialists’ three-ring binders. A dynamic information resource had to be created. We truly understood the difficulty of getting to the “right information” as we grew up learning to use the Internet in the “gopher” years. I shudder when I think of those days...typing long numbered pathways (sometimes as many as a dozen) in order to get to the gold. Learning how to publish on the Web was challenging. We taught ourselves by reading—you got it, books—and having a strong sense of purpose and colloquial support. Marketing onLINE and the technological talents of library media specialists and, more importantly, the value of the library media program, was a joy! We showed all how librarians are participants in the Information Age as users, navigators, teachers, and producers.

The next order of business was to harness the power of technology to market, refine, and expand the library media instructional program. For three summers, teams of library media specialists collaborated with curriculum designers to develop online learning modules. Currently, there are 59 Online Research Modules that represent an exciting new way to guide student research toward a higher-level thinking that fully utilizes electronic resources. Students who use the self-guided modules are challenged to employ thoughtful reading, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis of information to create answers, not just to find them. The modules are designed as Web pages that present students with a clear research structure, including a research scenario, a learning task, rubrics and scoring tools, directions for use of various media resources, and links to useful Web sites. Module availability on the Internet also serves to make curriculum information accessible to parents and the general public.

A community service initiative geared toward marketing the library media program and involving parents was our Parent Internet Education program. Again, library media specialists used technology to deliver the message and the online curriculum. All 175 school library media specialists offered a series of training sessions over a year. While parents learned about the benefits of the Internet and the safety issues, they also learned a great deal about the technological expertise of library media specialists.

In concert with our Web publishing successes, library media specialists were also applying technology to another practical use—automation. It was yet another opportunity to garner community support by involving parents, students, and anyone who was willing to help with the retrospective conversion of library holdings. Every book, new and old, had to be handled and assessed for its usefulness for retention in the collection or retirement  into “library heaven.” Weeding the shelves of the worst of the worst created an awareness of the need for funding. Discarding “misinformation” and “unappealing” reading materials left library shelves with a lot of open spaces. The “visual cue” was used along with the data to confirm that our libraries did not meet Maryland State standards for collection size (12,000 for elementary, 15,000 for middle schools, and 18,000 for high schools). However, we couldn’t stop with size as the single criteria for assessing the collection.

This was lesson number one. The superintendent’s staff needed more information. That our school libraries did not meet the state standard for collection size wasn’t enough: They wanted to know about the “quality” of the collection. Faced with this mammoth task and only limited time to respond, the BCPS library “team”—comprised of Glotzbach and me—put our heads together to come up with a solution. A technological solution was the key.

A representative sample of schools from the district was selected for a comprehensive library collection analysis. Fifteen schools were analyzed using three criteria: collection size, number of items per pupil, and currency of the collection.

Following our initial findings presentation to the superintendent’s staff, we were asked to carry out a thorough analysis of the remaining schools in the district. Every library media specialist was provided with a substitute for 2 days to accomplish the required task. Systematically, each library media specialist completed the collection analysis for their school using Chancery Software’s Library Pro automated software to collect the statistical data.

“What fellow library specialists and education professionals should understand is that library automation software has many more uses than simply managing circulation,” says Doris Glotzbach. “Our particular library software, Chancery Solution’s Library Pro, is extremely versatile and capable of organizing, sorting, and grouping information for a variety of purposes using Boolean logic and sorting options. Library Pro is [also] an essential tool for students to use to develop information-literacy skills for critical thinking and problem-solving.”
 
Why We Only Address the Problem at the Secondary School Level

The Maryland State Legislature addressed the problem of inadequate library collections at the elementary school level with the passing of the Elementary School Library Enhancement program. For the five-year funding period 1998-2002, counties in Maryland receive state funds, matched by local county funds, to upgrade collections in the elementary schools.

Collection Analysis Criteria

Criteria 1: Currency of the Collection
Criteria 2: Size of the Collection
Criteria 3: Items per Pupil

Our team then presented to the superintendent’s staff the collection analysis results for all 165 schools. Along with the findings, we made a budget request of $10.529 million, over a 3-year period, to bring the secondary library collections up to state standards with resources that were current, age-appropriate, and supported the essential curriculum of Baltimore County Public Schools.

The School Library Facts Web site was launched to “tell the story.” Remember the “communicate” part of the research assignment? Technology again was used in a very practical and powerful manner. The Web site contains the following:

The school board unanimously passed the budget request. But that was only one hurdle overcome; there were several more still to negotiate.

Data can be used effectively to justify needs and to answer essential questions. Budget requests are more likely to be funded when the rationale is based on statistical data that clearly demonstrates areas of need for collection development along with an understanding of how libraries contribute to student achievement. There were four key stages of the budget approval process, each of which had to be passed to be successful:

The Baltimore County Council wanted specific assurance that money allocated for library books would be spent only for this purpose. The statistics offered an inarguable case about the funding patterns over the last 10 years and the current state of the library collections. Using the data collected from Library Pro automation software, the Baltimore County government budget office created a formula to determine the exact amount to be allocated to each secondary school for this funding request.
 

Another Powerful Use of Technology
How will quality collections be developed? Use technology to work smart and think out of the box! List all the tasks that need to be done, apply knowledge of selection and collection development (remember the courses in grad school?), and identify the resources (information and human) that can assist with the process.

The magnitude of rebuilding library collections is daunting. It must be done effectively, efficiently, and with accountability. These are the operative words that demanded a technological solution and a partnership with a major book jobber.

Effective: To develop quality collections to support the curriculum, interests, and ability levels of the students.

Efficient: For the ordering process to be completed by library media specialists in a 7-month time frame.

Accountable: To demonstrate that funding is spent responsibly, equitably, and for its intended purpose.

The Office of Library Services developed Project Specifications, of which a technological solution was a key requirement. Two book jobbers responded to the Project Specifications. Presentations by both were made to a committee comprising members of the purchasing, accounting, and library depart-ments. Follett Library Resources was selected by the committee because it could meet all of our Project Specifications.

What are the Project Specifications and how will Follett Library Resources work with the Office of Library Information Services to address them?

Spec I: May 2000 Baseline Collection Analysis
School library inventories (MARC records) were exported from the automated catalog and given to Follett to generate a baseline snapshot of the collection (the collection analysis done by the Office of Library Information Services was conducted in December 1999). It was essential that we had an up-to-date baseline snapshot of the collections before the project begin date (August 30, 2000) so that the results of the initiative could be evaluated.

Spec II: June 2001 Final Collection Analysis
Will be used by the Office of Library Information Services and the Office of Research and Data Analysis to measure the collection growth, and along with other school system data, the impact that quality collections and information literacy instruction have on student achievement.

Spec III: Online Ordering with Password Protection
Since Follett already had an online ordering system in place [Titlewave at www.titlewave.com] it was compelling that we use it for our purposes. The online ordering information must include reading level, title, author, ISBN number, cost, checkbox to select, and be arranged by Dewey classification.

Spec IV: Five Specialized Online Selection Catalogs
The Office of Library Information Services worked closely with Follett to develop catalogs of quality books from which library media specialists can make selections. Follett removed from the catalogs current school library inventories for each school before posting the catalogs online.

As library media specialists order from each of the catalogs and inventories change, Follett will remove the duplicates from the next catalog in the ordering cycle. The catalogs and ordering schedule are as follows:

1. Core Collection Catalog
H.W. Wilson’s authoritative core selection references used are Senior High School Catalog and the Junior and Middle School Catalog. Phase I Ordering Cycle: 8/30-10/15, 2000.

2. Curriculum Map Catalog
Keywords and descriptors specific to the BCPS Essential Curriculum indicators were cooperatively generated by all curricular offices and library media specialists. This information was given to Follett to enable its collection development department to search its database of all available publications in order to produce a catalog specific to BCPS curriculum. Phase II Ordering Cycle: 10/15-11/15, 2000.

3. Award-Winning Books Catalog
Phase III Ordering Cycle: 11/15-11/30, 2000.

4. Consideration File Catalog
School library media specialists will provide Follett with their local school “wish list” of books recommended by the educational community, books needed to support unique instructional programs, initiatives, and special populations, and recommended books in current review journals. Phase IV Ordering Cycle: 11/30- 12/20, 2000.

5. Spring Books Catalog
Newly published books as of March 2001. Phase V Ordering Cycle: 3/15-4/30, 2001.

Spec V: Online Fund Tracking
Since the stakeholders were involved in helping obtain the $10.529 million, it is important to keep everyone informed as to the completion of the project. Therefore, Follett will include in the online ordering system a fund-tracking component. This component will be made available to schools and stakeholders in order to monitor each school’s legislative district, order status, number of items delivered, amount encumbered, actual dollars spent, and a running balance of the school’s allotment.

Spec VI: Cataloging and Processing
Follett will use the catalog and processing specifications on file at Follett Library Resources to catalog and pro-cess all book orders. Books will arrive at the school “shelf-ready” and be immediately available to students and teachers. MARC records for uploading in the school’s automated catalog will be available via the Internet.

Spec VII: Shipment of Materials
Follett will ship orders within 30 days of receipt of the school’s order.
 

Summary and Conclusion
Here’s a sorry fact: Across North America, it is estimated that the percentage of schools with the requisite numbers of books in their library collections is well below acceptable standards. Using the Baltimore County schools district case history as a guide we can conclude the following:


Baltimore County Web Sites Referenced

www.bcplonline.org/online 
onLINE: The Librarians’ Network for the Essential Curriculum

www.bcpl.net/~dcurtis/libraryfacts
Baltimore County Public School Library Facts (Web site created for the funding initiative)

www.bcplonline.org/centers/education/LibraryWeb/lib_info/cohort/index.html
Partnership with Towson University School Library Media Cohort

www.bcpl.net/~sullivan/modules and www.mbrt.org/effprac-tech.htm#c5
Online Research Modules 

www.bcpl.net/~sullivan/pie/index.html
Parent Internet Education Program
 

Communications to author can be sent to Della Curtis, Coordinator, Office of Library Information Services, Baltimore County Public Schools, 6901 Charles Street, Towson, MD 21204; 410/887-4035.
 

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