Is My School Library Good Enough?

I wrote this post a year ago and was never brave enough to post it. Thanks to Lee Crockett’s keynote at the ASLA 2023 Conference, I am finally hitting the go button. His talk about practice never being perfect but always a work in progress and change being neither painful or personal inspired me to share my thoughts on this topic.

As I have been digging into reading culture and assessing reading cultures recently, I have come across many checklists and guides for good school libraries. It had me questioning, how does my school library stack up? Is my school library good enough?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll notice that I am passionate about school libraries. I love my job and it suits my personality to focus on one thing – school library practice. It’s why I love professional development, writing about school libraries and reflecting on and sharing my practice. I love improving and I love knowing I am pretty good at my job. I have also had the privilege of working in a variety of school libraries over my career (five so far in the past ten years) and in a variety of roles (head and acting head of library, library volunteer, teacher librarian, library aide and textbook coordinator). I’ve had the honour to work with some incredible library teams, know incredible librarians, and network with school library professionals from around Australia and the world. It’s an awesome community. I have visited school libraries in my area and virtually visited and connected with libraries from all over the world. So, that means I should know what a good school library is, right? But what makes a good school library? What makes good school library practice? And, should we even be asking that question?

Should we compare libraries?

I am an absolute shocker at saying, “well, in my last library, we did…”. I hear a lot of librarians who have been at another location using the same phrase. My #AmazingLibraryTech is at the point where she just rolls her eyes. And fair enough. We are not at my last library. Just because it worked there, doesn’t mean it will (or should) work in this library. Should we be comparing?

Some things are transferable, as is the experience the staff bring with them. But it’s amazing what doesn’t transfer. Book tastes, for example. I have had one series totally and completely loved in one school and never even touched in the next. Or one school library that has multiple, well-attended book clubs and another who can’t get students to go to a single book club meeting. What makes the difference? Is it the staff, who might prefer and promote different things? It is the culture within the school, that values and promotes different choices? Is it the students themselves, where different life experiences equal different interests? If such circumstances differ so greatly, how could we possibly compare libraries?

But equally problematic to unfair comparison is ignorance. If you don’t know what is happening in other school libraries, how can you gather ideas or make changes?Staying complacent and static can be the ruin of a library.

Driving Change

One of the hardest things to change in a library can be the culture, the “this is how things are done here” mentality. Or, even harder to shake is the “this is how I do things”, which stays the same no matter the person’s location. Without change or flexibility, how do you adapt or improve? I am so fortunate to be working alongside the wonderful Library Team at my school and my AmazingLibraryTech in the Secondary Library, who has responded so positively to the many changes I have enacted this year and who continually questions and provokes change, comes up with amazing solutions to problems and amazing new ideas. But there is also a recognition that we don’t need to change if something isn’t a problem or just for change’s sake.

I have connected with many library staff who struggle with change and I’ve connected with others who wish wholeheartedly for change, who are happy to do the work and drive the change but who come up against teacher librarians or leadership who restrict and constrict any advancements. Both can be really hard to deal with.

So, sometimes evaluating a library, looking for areas to improve and to change, comparing to another school library or reflecting that maybe your school library just isn’t good enough is a great thing. If we, as a library profession hadn’t changed, we’d still be using card draws for the catalogue.

Joy stealing

You might have heard of Margaret Sullivan’s article “Your PLN: Source of Inspiration or Thief of Joy?” In it, she discusses the fine line between finding inspiration in what other school library staff share online or within your networks and letting comparisons become negative and overwhelming. She talks about not being able to do everything. I can relate to that. I’m someone who wants to do all the things!! All the clubs, amazing collections, awesome lessons, even better programs and events, strong social media and newsletter presence, collaborations with teachers, trying that new thing or new idea. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to do everything. Sullivan justifies why it’s important that we don’t, not only because it’s impossible, but because what each school library offers their community is refined and targeted towards that school community. We don’t need to do it all, we just need to do what’s best for our school library.

A unique school equals a unique school library

If every school library serves its unique school community, then every school library is unique. I think that’s what I love about school libraries. Every single one of them is different, has its own focus, its own specialness. It’s why I love conducting brand audits and branding plans for my school libraries, as that process helps me to dive deeply into the school culture and find those unique qualities to feature and promote. How then can we compare unique school libraries? Should we?

Sneaky spreadsheet

I have a secret. I have a spreadsheet with the loan statistic data from the past few libraries I have worked at. The data is a little old now, but I still add in each year’s new data from my current school. While loan stats by no means tell the whole story, they are neat data for comparisons. My spreadsheet doesn’t just compare total statistics. I have the stats for each collection and I’ve highlighted the top two libraries’ stats for each collection and then made a note about why those stats might be so high. For example, the first library I worked at has the most magnificent statistics for the non fiction collection. Like six times the stats from any other library I’ve been at. Why is this? Is it because the head of library curated the most beautiful non fiction collection, with gorgeous high interest titles alongside helpful curriculum titles? Is it because the Junior students were allowed to borrow from this collection in addition to the Junior non fiction collection? (And let me just add that the Junior non fiction collection stats were also astronomical). Was it the lack of restrictions around borrowing limits (generous or no loan limits and no restrictions around how many fiction vs non fictions each student could borrow?) Or maybe the general population’s interest in non fiction?

For each collection, I’ve made notes to see if I can highlight what part of that collection made it so valued by the school community. Am I crazy? A little. But I do think this has some merit. It also gives me something to compare my current library to. And there I go again with the comparisons. It’s hard not to want to compare my library with what I’ve seen done before. Trust me, my current library’s non fiction statistics are terrible. But when I look at the collection, see its terrible condition and lack of any books anyone would want to read (harsh but true) and compare it to what I know it can be, I see a clear area for improvement (don’t worry, I’m working on it). Comparisons and strong critique of my library are helpful, I think, in this situation. I’m not blind to other factors, though, including student numbers, student interests, culture of the school, etc.

A network of school library professionals on Instagram recently started a chat about comparing loan stats for the year. It was an interesting conversation, with each person sharing their stats, an average of books read per student, congratulating those with good stats and reminding those with lower numbers the other work they were doing and how hard the year has been for many reasons. A part of me did want to offer to get a spreadsheet going so we could all add stats and compare in detail, but I refrained. The chat was helpful, but I avoided encouraging a deeper lever of comparison. Did it help me to know if my school library is good enough by comparing my stats to these other libraries? Not really, but it did leave me proud of the work all the library professionals in the group were doing to support their libraries and readers.

School Library Evaluations

No doubt I am not the first person to ask if my school library is good enough. There are plenty of checklists and assessment guides for critiquing a school library. Here are a few.

The Florida Power-Library School program is an award designed to recognise outstanding library programs that includes a initial application, surveys with school students, teachers, admin and parents, a digital portfolio, and interviews with the principal and library specialist. Their assessment rubrics are available online along with the criteria for each section of the application process.

The American Association of School Librarians have created an evaluation checklist. They have aligned the checklist against the AASL Standards Integrated Framework.

The Scottish Library and Information Council have a How Good Is Our School Library? guide. This explores explores six areas of leadership and managements, learning provision and successes and achievements. Each of the quality indicators are explored through vision statements, exemplars and challenging questions.

ALA Core have an overview of library assessment, from definitions of assessment terms and procedures, methods, data mining and ethics. A helpful guide to exploring library evaluation

Education Software Solutions together with the School Library Association of UK have created an online library evaluation There is one for primary schools and one for secondary schools. It takes 15 minutes to complete online.

Want to assess your school library collection? The National Library of New Zealand have a guide to assessing the collection, which also includes a guide on weeding and purchasing.

And of course, if we are evaluating our library, it seems only right to include the staff within that library. The ASLA have Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians.

Look for librarian excellent standards or evaluation templates from your national or state library organisation, like this evaluation form from Mississippi Department of Education You might also want to look at librarian awards from your library organisation, as they have checklists, criteria for excellence and standards that you can compare to.

I am actually in the process of creating my own rubric to help me align our school library to gaols and steps that will help us to meet our vision. This rubric brings many of the things school libraries do so well and customises them to our unique school setting. In this way, I hope to be able to assess and measure the effectiveness of our school library.


So, should we compare our school libraries or indeed even our own practice? In some ways, I think yes. Absolutely. I know I’m unlikely to be able to stop anyway, but I do think that some comparison and critique is useful for driving change and improvement, for helping to spot areas that need improvement, for gathering ideas and sharing these within a network. However, it’s important to do so in a positive way, to ensure we don’t “steal that joy” that Margaret Sullivan refers to, and to ensure that any comparisons do consider extremely important contributing factors, like budget, school culture, student numbers and student interests.

As for whether my school library is good enough? I am proud of the work the library team does each and every day. I am grateful to those who have come before me and upon whose work I can build. I am thankful for my professional learning network, for their generosity in sharing ideas and experiences. I am well aware of areas that need improvement within my library, I am confident in what steps to take to make those changes and I know how to gather data to provide evidence on the impact of the changes. There is work to be done, but I am extremely grateful for that because otherwise I’d be bored, and I hate being bored.

So, is my school library good enough? No. It’s a work in process and always will be. As it should be.