School Library Studies

SLIDE:  The School Librarian Investigation–Decline or Evolution?

On July 23, 2020, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant to Antioch University Seattle (AUS) for a three-year research project entitled SLIDE:  The School Librarian Investigation–Decline or Evolution? 

As a consultant with the RSL Research Group, Keith is the project’s principal investigator, and his longtime colleague Debra E. Kachel of AUS is the project director.

This landmark study will investigate what is going on behind the data indicating a steady national decline in school librarian employment since the Great Recession.  To what extent is it accurate?  To what extent is something more complex going on?

Besides analyzing available data, this study will interview staffing decision-makers in school districts that appear to have gained and lost the most librarians over recent years to learn what kinds of changes they are making, why, and how those changes are affecting reported numbers of librarians.

In addition to issuing reports, articles, infographics, social media posts, and videos, the project will create a dynamic website that provides interactive tools allowing users to extract, chart, and map data they select for geography they define.

The project is being supported by an Advisory Council of exemplary library and education leaders, national partners (Future Ready Schools and ISTE), and partners in all 50 states who will serve as intermediaries to districts selected systematically for study.

The project will begin in September 2020.

Linking Librarians, Inquiry Learning, and Information Literacy (2020)

In the March 2020 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Keith and colleague Leslie Kuhlthau Maniotes, co-creator of Guided Inquiry Design, published an article titled Linking librarians, inquiry learning, and information literacy.  This article reports on their analysis of Colorado data on the relationship between school librarians embracing inquiry learning and their teaching of a variety of information literacy skills.  In addition to that analysis, they also interviewed school librarians in Colorado and elsewhere about the value of this relationship.

Why School Librarians Matter:  What Years of Research Tell Us (2018)

In the March 2018 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Keith and colleague Debra E. Kachel of Antioch University Seattle published a meta-analysis of three decades of school library impact studies in an article titled Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.

This article was part of a special issue of Phi Delta Kappan magazine focused on “the other adults who matter” in schools.

School Librarian State of the Union (2018)

In the March 2018 issue of School Library Journal, Keith and colleague Debra E. Kachel of Antioch University Seattle published a series of articles about the alarming loss of school librarian positions since 2000 and especially since 2010 as well as the many factors that are reshaping the structure of public education and thus the fate of school librarians:

School Librarian, Where Art Thou? by Keith Curry Lance

There’s Little National Data About School Librarians.  What Happened? by Keith Curry Lance

A Perfect Storm Impacts School Librarian Numbers by Debra E. Kachel

A companion article titled Changing Times: School Librarian Staffing Status, co-authored by Kachel and Lance, appeared in the April issue of Teacher Librarian magazine.

School Libraries Work! A compendium of research supporting the effectiveness of school libraries (2016)

The 2016 edition of Scholastic’s School Libraries Work! updates and builds upon the 2008 edition, reinforcing the most relevant themes from that report while highlighting recent research at both the national and state levels. All told, the research included in this compendium continues to show that school libraries and school librarians are a powerful force in the lives of America’s children.  (This edition includes the 2014 SCASL study.)

The Impact of School Librarians and Library Programs on Academic Achievement of Students:  The South Carolina Study (2014)

scaslKeith’s latest research on the impact of school libraries and librarians was pursued on behalf of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians, who commissioned a 2014 study.  This latest RSL study replicated the 2013 Pennsylvania study’s two phases.  First, the impact of libraries and librarians on state test results was assessed using available data from a 2013 statewide survey of school libraries.  Second, how school librarians impact the teaching of specific academic standards in reading and language arts was assessed based on original surveys of administrators, teachers, and librarians.  Rather than focusing on the usual subject-level test results, this study is using more detailed standard-level test results.

School Library Research Summarized:  A Graduate Class Project (2013)

Debra E. Kachel and a class of Mansfield University graduate students produced the most detailed, comprehensive, and readable summary of the school library impact studies that began with the 1992/93 “Colorado study.”

It summarizes the then-new 2011-12 Pennsylvania study findings, identifies which state studies provide evidence for various components of school library programs, and describes the nature of the evidence for each school library program component.  Its Works Cited section was the most comprehensive bibliography of the impact studies to date.

An update of School Library Research Summarized is long overdue; however, it still covers well the research to that point.

Supporting the Infrastructure Needs of 21st Century School Library Programs (2012)


In late 2012, Keith and his RSL Research Group colleagues, Marcia J. Rodney and Bill Schwarz, completed a 2011-12 National Leadership Grant research project funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and led by a consortium of Pennsylvania organizations:

  • Health Sciences Library Consortium
  • Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
  • Education Law Center

Visit this link and click on the Project Research tab for access to the full report:

Change in School Librarian Staffing Linked with Change in CSAP Reading Performance, 2005 to 2011 (2012)

A fourth Colorado school library impact study, published as one of the Library Research Service’s A Closer Look series, has taken this type of analysis down to the school building level employing more precise data on different types of school library staff (endorsed librarians, non-endorsed librarians, non-endorsed library assistants not supervised by a librarian) and more inclusive data on reading scores (including grades 3 through 10).

This study, also co-authored with Linda Hofschire, may be accessed at:

Something to Shout About: New research shows that more librarians means higher reading scores (2011)

SLJ_Dec11_STSAThe cover story in the September 2011 issue of School Library Journal reported on a new ground-breaking study by Keith. That article, co-authored with Linda Hofschire, may be accessed at:

Using federal data on the 50 states and DC, they examined the relationship between pre- and post-recession change in school library staffing and change in fourth grade reading scores. Not only was the fate of reading scores tied to that of school library staffing, but the relationship remained when change in overall school staffing was taken into account.

This article documents the fact that inferior gains or losses on reading scores were the prevailing fate of states in which schools cut librarian positions.