As school districts look for ways to save money, supporters of school libraries point to a recent study showing Pennsylvania students do better on state tests in reading and writing if they have access to strong school libraries.
The study found students with access to a better-staffed, funded, equipped, stocked and accessible school library are more likely to score advanced and less likely to score below basic on the state reading and writing tests.
The study looked at the impact on test scores of each of 12 types of resources, ranging from electronic databases to flexible scheduling.
"The most important thing a strong school library program can have is a full-time certified librarian with support staff," said Keith Curry Lance, a consultant with RSL Research Group and the lead member of the study team.
The study also found the library effect is greater in writing, with students who have access to good resources, in most cases, two to five times more likely to score advanced than those without.
For example, 13.2 percent of students scored advanced in writing in schools with a full-time certified librarian while 5.3 percent did so in those without.
"These differences are not explained away by the socioeconomic, racial/ethnic or disability status of the students," the study stated.
That's because the study took each subgroup and compared test scores within the subgroup based on whether various resources were available.
The study concluded that some student subgroups that tend to have academic achievement gaps -- such as racial minorities, economically disadvantaged and special education -- "benefit more proportionally than the general school population."
For black students, it found six times as many who have flexible access to their school library during the day scored advanced on state writing tests as black students lacking such access.
The study found that higher scores were more common in schools spending at least $21 per student annually on library resources.
The study estimated it would cost $128.9 million in 2012-13 to have a full-time certified librarian in every Pennsylvania public school.
Libraries are among the resources threatened in the days of tight school funding.
Mary Kay Biagini, director of the school library certification program at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and an analyst for the study, said that 56 percent of public schools in the state didn't have access to a full-time school librarian in 2011-12.
With the economic conditions and resulting library cuts of the past two years, she said, "Students are getting even less of a chance to have access to library resources and information literacy curriculum."
She believes school libraries will be even more important as schools implement the new Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math that call for the curriculum to go deeper in fewer areas rather than skimming the surface in many.
"They are more rigorous and they go hand in hand with the various kinds of content and processes that school librarians are teaching, which is in the area of information literacy, evaluating diverse media, selecting informational text, drawing evidence from primary and secondary sources, developing research questions, synthesizing information.
"All of these are areas the school librarian is an expert in and works collaboratively with teachers."
The study used 2011 data from a Pennsylvania State Board of Education school library survey and test score data from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests.
The project partners were the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, Health Sciences Library Consortium and the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services provided support, but the views expressed in it do not necessarily represent those of the institute.
The study is called "Creating 21st-Century Learners: A Report on Pennsylvania's Public School Libraries."
The study states it is the first library study in Pennsylvania to look at the relationship between libraries and test scores and the first in the nation to look at the impact on subgroups.
Ms. Biagini said a school library obviously isn't the only factor contributing to student success, but she said, "There have been a number of studies in 22 states that have done fairly the same amount of research in a similar way that have come up with replicable results."
She said the Pennsylvania study had what may be the widest sampling of school libraries, with 78 percent of school districts and 73 percent of school libraries participating.
The 12 library components in the study were certified librarian with support staff; certified librarian working at least 35 hours a week; more than $11 spent per student; eBooks; more than 10 newer computers; databases; more than 12,000 books; more than 150 videos; audio; flexible scheduling; hours beyond the school day; and more than 21 group visits a week.
The report can be found at http://paschoollibraryproject.org/research
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.