Just How Flexible Are We?

Last year, I had a wonderful intern. She was energetic, enthusiastic, and eager to join the noble ranks of school librarianship. She was hired in my district this year, and I was delighted to hear that I would be her mentor. But, recently she left me an urgent message saying, “I want to get your input on an issue that is frustrating me, but may be out of my control. It’s about scheduling….” She explained that her media center had been closed for testing and that another round would be coming up, forcing her center to close again. She hesitated, then added that certain teachers were holding their classes daily in the media center in spite of the district and state mandates for flexible scheduling. “I don’t know if this is something I should protest,” she continued, “or if it’s common in school media centers.”

The Current State of Scheduling in School Libraries
by Peggy Milam Creighton

schedule a time to bring their classes to the media center for instruction whenever the need arises, as opposed to coming at the same time each week. Offering a flexible schedule was based on the belief that teaching skills in isolation does little to extend student learning, while building on prior knowledge at the point of need leads to greater retention and application of knowledge. Stripling (2003) notes that “…waiting a week until the class’s regularly scheduled library period is inappropriate and counterproductive.” In 1989, AASL and AECT published a statement on flexible scheduling

in Information Power: “The library media program requires flexible and equitable access to information, ideas, and resources for learning.” Information Power further explains that “providing flexible access and flexible hours makes the library media program’s resources and services more available to the learning community.” Based on the definitions of experts in the field and guidelines from AASL/AECT, a truly flexible schedule is one in which the school library media center is not closed for other activities or scheduled regularly for classes. In practice, however, some

Table 1: Characteristics of Flexible, Fixed, and Combination Scheduling Flexible Driven by class activity Center available at point of need Classes come for instruction as often as necessary; students come individually throughout the day Instruction involves collaborative planning Fixed Same day and time weekly Center only available when not scheduled for a class Combination Fixed/Flex Some classes scheduled on needs basis; some regularly Center sometimes available, but sometimes unavailable Classes sometimes come more than once a week, sometimes do not come; students may have a time when they may come on passes Sometimes instruction is related to curriculum and collaboratively planned

My first thought was, “This can’t be happening!” but after some research, I realized that her predicament was not so unusual. School library media center scheduling, particularly the fixed versus flexible scheduling controversy, continues to be debated in spite of decades of advocacy for flexible scheduling.

Definition of Flexible Scheduling
What is flexible scheduling anyway? If a center is occasionally closed or allows selected classes to schedule times on a regular basis, is it considered inflexible? According to van Deusen (1999), flexible scheduling is “a plan wherein classes meet for instruction in the library resource center when they have a specific need driven by activity in their classroom.” Simply put, flexible scheduling means that teachers may

Classes come weekly on a set schedule

Instruction is not necessarily related to curriculum or collaboratively planned


Of special interest to grades... K-5 6-8 9-12

by 1999-2000. Schools Michie and Chaney (2000) determined that the practice of flexible scheduling fluctuates depending upon the grade level and the school. Rodney. The American Library Association (1991) issued a position statement advocating flexible scheduling in school libraries over 16 years ago. A sample of 550 library media specialists from various parts of the United States responded to McCracken’s (2001) study. and Hamilton-Pennell’s research confirms the impact of flexible scheduling on student achievement and also resulted in important new findings. a large number of schools. K-5 6-8 9-12 . School Library Media Specialists’ Perceptions of Practice and Importance of Roles Described in Information Power. Miller and Shontz (2001) reported that 79% of librarians with flexible schedules reported planning with teachers.” their research. only 28. Department of Education (2004). and to meet and work with other students and teachers. Classes cannot be scheduled in the library media center to provide teacher release or preparation time. Many researchers have followed the lead is reported by 45. Disappointing as these statistics appear.9 percent report a conducted state library impact studies mix of fixed and flexible scheduling. In addition. “ completely A fixed schedule.” Year Public Elem. More recent data did show some improvement. “The integrated library media program philosophy requires that an open schedule must be maintained. they reported that there has been “a persistent and disturbing decline at each grade level” in implementation of flexible scheduling.” Fixed scheduling. They conclude. Ninety-five percent of public secondary school media centers are flexibly scheduled. Miller and Shontz (1999) noted that less than half of the library media specialists surveyed practice flexible scheduling. to read for pleasure.9 percent of the of the Library Research Service and respondents and 25. but only 60% of public elementary school media centers are flexibly scheduled. though. Lance and his team (1993) found that students perform at higher levels on achievement tests when “access to the LMC is not limited to regularly scheduled class visits” to the library media center. Data from National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) surveys conducted in 1993-1994 and 1999-2000 is shown in Table 2. School Library Journal published several studies between 1997 and 2003. The most frequent use of flexible scheduling is when it is used in combination with fixed scheduling at all levels. A large-scale New York school district survey confirmed the results of similar studies. according to 93-94 Flex Comb Fixed 17% 27% 57% Flex Comb Fixed 15% 23% 62% 99-00 Flex Comb Fixed 21. McCracken found that slightly more than 50% of elementary media specialists practice fixed scheduling. Students and teachers must be able to come to the center throughout the day to use information sources. which are preparation periods for classroom teachers.8 percent of the responding schools do not have access to the SLMC Table 2: National Center for Education Statistics Data at the point of instructional need but only during prescheduled times. It reads. tends to be the norm.. is that group visits do not necessarily enhance student achievement. In the initial Colorado study.. Mosqueda (1999) surveyed National Blue Ribbon schools in Florida and found that 75% of the 67 schools responding reported operating on a flexible schedule. Schools Private Elem. “the majority of elementary schools have fixed schedules. Roscello (1999) gathered data from 4. the NCES data gives us a baseline for comparison with other studies. and 84% of high school media specialists commonly practice flexible scheduling.000 schools in 42 school districts in New York. or access to the SLMC at point of instructional need. In addition to confirming support for her proposal that the roles of Information Power were not being fully implemented. particularly elementary schools. according to the U. A surprising result of their research. Forty-five percent of library media specialists using flexible scheduling plan with more than 71% of the teachers. “…despite research evidence that flexible scheduling. where students come to the SLMC only at scheduled times. Sadly. while 29% of those with a combination of fixed/flexible scheduling plan with teachers.2 percent of the respondents report scheduling that is completely flexible. do not practice flexible scheduling.6% of public and 28. as compared to 49% of those with fixed schedules. That means students in 71.” But how much real progress have school libraries made toward that goal? teachers.” and only “29% of schools have some or full-time flexible scheduling.S. while 48% of middle school media specialists practice either flexible or combination scheduling. According to D’Elia and Zimmerman (2000). Perhaps the implementation rate is higher than the average reported in other studies because the Blue Ribbon schools are strongly focused on learning and student achievement.centers may follow a flexible schedule most or part of the time and follow a combination or a completely fixed schedule the remainder of the time.8% LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION November/December 2007 Of special interest to grades. Review of Research Statistics on Flexible Scheduling In spite of standards such as those issued by the ALA and AASL.4% of private elementary school libraries reported having flexible schedules. While Miller and Shontz did not report explicit statistics on flexible scheduling. 57% of public elementary school libraries and 62% of private elementary school libraries operated with fixed schedules. In 1993-94. In comparing their longitudinal data. provides greater academic benefits.6% 28% 51% Flex Comb Fixed 28% 24% 50. and a dismal 13% of those with fixed schedules plan with 12 State Library Impact Study Data Lance. only 21. Results indicated that. or a combination of flexible and fixed scheduling. while students visiting the library media center independently do score higher on standardized achievement tests. they did report statistics on collaborative planning.

and other needs when a permanent schedule is not routine. and high school librarians reported seeing about 82% of their classes on a flexible schedule.” said Lynn Rutan. Some practitioners wisely admit that it is not always possible to offer a flexible schedule. In fact.” Data from this Florida study indicates that “while middle and high schools have between 80 and 90% of their time flexibly scheduled. and Russell (2007). despite the standards and the research to the contrary? Too often library media specialists nationwide face disgruntled staff who want relief for a planning period or want a regular time to come to the media center each week. Interestingly. I’m tired of getting beat up about our fixed scheduled library media programs.” he says.” However. while elementary schools averaged only 16 flexibly scheduled hours per week. high schools averaged 35 hours per week. Baumbach (2003) reports that “Particularly in elementary schools. Services.3% of media specialists responding to the survey reported that their classes are on a fixed schedule for media center visits. After repeatedly facing flak on this stance from the profession. stepped up to the plate again to collect and analyze the data from the Illinois study. meetings. report that 67. as in many schools. “Our library. Rodney. Miller. The Missouri library impact study.32% had fixed schedules. Pennell. Illinois middle schools responding to the survey averaged 30 flexibly scheduled hours per week. and Russell National Texas Study National National Florida NY Year 1993-4 1999-00 1999 1999 2000 2000 2001 2001 Flexible 17% 21. Resources. Pennell. conferences. & Whitacre Baumbach Lance.9% 25. Johnson (2006) responded “Look. From this data.2% 60%-E 95%-M/H 84%-H 33%-E 72%-M 82%-H 60% 85%-M/H 16%-E 30%-M 35%-H 55. 55. Administrators often see the media center as an all-purpose room whose space can be filled at will for testing. Show Me Connection: How School Library Media Center Services Impact Student Achievement. it appears that combination scheduling is in effect with a majority of media specialists operating their programs on a fixed schedule that may include flexibly scheduled visits on a weekly or monthly basis. 56. Rodney. 58. According to Smith and EGS Consulting (2006). Texas middle school library media specialists reported seeing 72% of their classes on a flexible schedule.9% of media specialists in Indiana schedule classes flexibly at least once a week. Want.9% Fixed 57% 51% Comb 27% 28% Reasons Flexible Scheduling Continues to be Controversial Why is flexible scheduling not more widely practiced. Librarian. In How Students. In Making the Grade. Texas School Libraries: Standards.2% had a fixed schedule. elementary schools have almost 60% of time filled with scheduled classes and combination schools have approximately 42% scheduled classes. However.7% schedule classes flexibly once a month. more than half of the elementary schools surveyed in Wisconsin still maintain a fixed schedule. indicates that the majority of elementary media specialists in Missouri maintained a fixed schedule. Teachers. Clearly. & Hamilton Smith & EGS Consulting Lance. and Principals Benefit from Strong School Libraries.9% 60%-E 42% 50%-E 48%-M 45. Table 3: Comparison of Study Data on School Library Scheduling [ E=elementary M=middle H=high ] Authors NCES NCES Mosqueda Roscello D’Elia & Zimmerman Michie & Chaney McCracken Smith & EGS Consulting Quantitative Resources. it appears that time in the library media center may continue to be used as a way to provide a break time for teachers. “You can’t teach kids you don’t see. 2003). Sixty percent of classes visiting the library media center each week in schools responding to the survey were “rigidly” scheduled (Quantitative Resources et al.32% 56. Macatawa Bay School. and Hamilton (2005). In “It is Good to be Inflexible.3% 67. Michigan. Powerful Libraries Make Powerful Learners. it is more appropriate to schedule according to the needs of the population you serve. Holland. and Students’ Performance (Smith & EGS Consulting.” Lance.6% 75% 29% 28.” Johnson (2001) wrote that a fixed schedule may not be so bad. Lance. The Indiana Study. 2001) reports that an average of only 33% of elementary school media specialists in Texas schedule classes flexibly. has served the last several years as an overflow classroom.” Although 13 Missouri Florida Illinois Wisconsin Indiana 2003 2003 2005 2006 2007 LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION November/December 2007 . “Middle school and high school library media centers with a full-time library media specialist had a larger percentage of class visits that were flexibly scheduled. results of the data gathered from elementary schools indicated that when a full-time library media specialist was in place. who reported the data from the Wisconsin study.. Student Learning Through Wisconsin School Library Media Centers. and when a parttime library media specialist was in place. and 14.of their own.

Miller. Prerequisites to flexible scheduling. Lance.ala. (www.com/dougwri/trueflex. and community expectations that impinge on our professional dignity.. 1999.org) Accessed 1/15/07. schoollibraryjournal.. & Shontz. Come on.” he continues. 14 LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION November/December 2007 Of special interest to grades. Stripling and S. Making the grade: The status of school library media centers in the sunshine state and how they contribute to student achievement. & Chaney..html?q=miller+%26+shontz+slj+ new+money+old+books) Accessed 1/15/07 Mosqueda. J. (http:// dese. 2001. ed. & Shontz.state.tsl. M. 2006.com/illinoisstudy/) Accessed 3/5/07 Lance. D. com/article/CA170306.us/ld/schoollibs/schlibsurvey/ index. New York. K-5 6-8 9-12 . and students’ performances. Johnson. B. Make your point: It’s good to be inflexible. G. B.gov/nyc/Library/ Documents1/ZimmermanSchoolLibraryMediaSurveyReport.. The library is often considered an all-purpose room.lrs. 2000. signing athletic letters of intent. M. SLJ spending survey – How do you measure up? School Library Journal.wi..ilfonline. 2000. (www. Ed. “Like it or not. & Heffron. 1999. old books. & Hamilton-Pennell. more than half of us continue to practice fixed scheduling.. & Whitacre. She is the author of the Linworth titles National Board Certification in Library Media (2005) and InfoQuest (2002). Texas school libraries: Standards. Johnson is very much in tune with reality in the daily practice of a large number of media specialists. J. Holton.com/article/CA326338.schoollibraryjournal. Miller. Rodney. classes (38. Hughes-Hassell. School library media program staffing and scheduling 1999.nysed..gov/divimprove/curriculum/librarystudy/ libraryresearch. Respondents indicated that the library is frequently closed for reasons such as testing or meetings (40.46%). American Library Association. Rodney. other duties (12%). 1991. (1999). (http://www. M.. B. M. being the site of kindergarten screenings. take the blinders off. Michie.gov/ pubsearch) Accessed 1/15/07 Van Deusen. (http://www.” While AASL continues to advocate for flexible scheduling. (http://www.com/article/CA179495. and more. Only 19% reported that their library is never closed for other activities. K.nysed. American Library Association. J. Baumbach. B. E. L. In Curriculum connections through the library.. eds. C. Show Me Connection: How School Library Media Center Services Impact Student Achievement. (2004).. (http://nces. dissertation. The State Education Department/The University of the State of New York. Information power. Y. When Library Media ConneCtion (2006) asked what happens in their school when the media specialist goes to lunch. S.ed. How students. D. (http://www. The Status of Public and Private School Library Media Centers in the United States: 1999–2000.state. Library Media ConneCtion (2006) has published the results of several onequestion surveys that indicate the state of staffing and scheduling in school library media centers across the nation. & EGS Consulting. D. R. Lance. htm) Accessed 3/5/07. services. & Hamilton-Pennell. onefourth of respondents reported that they eat their lunch in their media center but nearly half ask another teacher to cover for them. D’Elia.html) Accessed 2/17/07 Smith. AASL. differing teaching styles. B. By Peggy Milam Creighton References AASL & AECT. Powerful libraries make powerful learners: The Illinois study. Rodney. they may feel frustration that they are being asked to do something that is contrary to what research says is best for students.. (http://www. Certainly staffing limitations and administrative support for flexible schedules play a significant role in whether or not a program is flexibly scheduled.. But the reasons media centers are not flexibly scheduled and/or available to students throughout the school day are as varied as the schools where they originate. (http://www. but they are not alone! n Peggy Milam Creighton is a library media specialist at Cobb County School District in Powder Springs. 2001.html?q=miller+ %26+shontz+slj+spending+survey) Accessed 1/15/07 Miller. Brown. General Audience Report. 2003.. Only in middle and high schools does flexible scheduling tend to predominate and.D. Baldridge. The perceptions of the role of the library media program and the library media specialist in selected National Blue Ribbon Schools in Florida.org/AIME/indata. True Flexibility. Foundations for Effective School library media programs. Student learning through Wisconsin school library media centers: Library media specialist survey report.org/ala/aasl/ aaslpubsandjournals/slmrb/slmrcontents/volume42001/ mccracken. 1989.. And what do school librarians do when the library media center is closed? Respondents to this question posed by Library Media ConneCtion (2006) reported that they accomplished administrative tasks. (http://eric.. & Zimmerman.html) Accessed 2/2/07. Quantitative Resources.us/imt/ lmsstudy. 1999. and taught classes.75%). Are media specialists truly trying to make resources available to their students? If school library media specialists are trying to make resources available to students whether or not their centers are flexibly scheduled. & Russell.emsc. (2003).gov/nyc/ Library/Documents/K-StaffingandSchedulingPreliminaryRe sultsfulldocument.dougjohnson. M. 1999. and school pictures. Georgia.doc) Accessed 2/1/07 Smith & EGS Consulting. social events (28. School library media survey report. schoollibraryjournal.ed. doc) Accessed 1/15/07. Want. K. 2002. Selected results from the education longitudinal study of 2002.mo.S.: Libraries Unlimited. Conn. Albany. reports from the field indicate that progress toward implementing flexible scheduling has been slow.he faced some tough critics. J. 2002. Inquiry-based learning. (http://www.pdf) Accessed 2/2/07. Position Statement on flexible scheduling. (http://www. Ill.gov/ERICDocs/data/ ericdocs2/content_storage_01/0000000b/80/10/d9/38.htm) Accessed 3/2/07. Department of Education. Implications for Practicing Library Media Specialists Despite the wealth of data indicating that flexible schedules are best for student achievement. Like my protégé. 2001. School Library Media Specialists’ perceptions of practice and importance of roles described in Information Power. in some areas.. School Library Journal. B.66%). M.10/no. New money. All good professionals play the best game they can with the cards they’ve been dealt and never let a fixed schedule be an excuse for an ineffective program. McCracken. assisted with the activity that closed the center.emsc. org) Accessed 3/1/07. (http://www. School Library Journal. F. Preliminary Results.. Practicing media specialists should remain informed about the actual data that is available and take heart if they are still practicing a fixed or combination schedule. K. A.tx. resources. what happens to the student who needs access to materials when the media center is closed for a meeting or the media specialist’s lunch? Johnson. 2001.html?industr yid=47087&q=doug+johnson+good+to+be+inflexible) Accessed 1/15/07.html) Accessed 2/17/07 Stripling. teachers and principals benefit from strong school libraries. Westport. (http://www.gov/programs/quarterly/vol_6/1_2/6_1. M. C. (http://dpi. D.. Nine percent reported that they closed the media center while they had lunch. 223-227. and the vast majority have either fixed or a combination of fixed and flexible scheduling. 2007.alliancelibrarysystem.ala. University of Central Florida. N. Proof of the Power: A First Look at he Results of the Colorado Study…and More! Fast Facts ED 3/110. Assessment of the role of school and public libraries in support of educational reform. U. Bae. even middle and high schools are not fully flexible.asp) Accessed 1/15/07. These statistics raise some thought-provoking questions. (http://nces. Chicago. M. Oct 2003.pdf) Accessed 5/7/07 Roscello. “we operate in a real world with budgets. 2005.164.G. The Indiana study..

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