Stories That Stick: Why We Took a Narrative Approach to the State of School Libraries | From the Editor

Our School Libraries 2021 project goes beyond statistics to tell the human story of the profession. With reporting from across the country, we assess the scene from Washington, DC, and Seattle to tiny Crandall, TX, and New York City.


When it comes to our work here at SLJ, we’ve about landed in a tub of butter. Covering a beat of books, literacy, and libraries, I mean, how fortunate are we? With that comes a personal and collective responsibility, embraced across the team, to do the job well in serving our readers and the field.

This month, we are pleased to present a special report on the state of school libraries. A year in the making, the project goes beyond mere statistics to tell the human story of the profession. With reporting from across the country, we assess the scene from Washington, DC, and Seattle to tiny Crandall, TX, and New York City. You’ll meet librarians serving school communities of every stripe, sparking journeys of discovery and imagination among students to inform a lifetime, while fostering literacy and myriad skills—and so much more.

The secret sauce of journalism is the unexpected paths that reporting can take you on. An editor or writer can have an idea or a thesis, the story they thought they were trying to tell, and a plan to get there; then comes the inevitable. New information, diverse perspectives revealed in the process can further understanding.

That was the case for news editor Kara Yorio, who led the project, the culmination of which constitutes the entirety of our feature well this month. An over-arching takeaway for her: the sheer complexity of school librarians’ jobs.

“It’s so wide-ranging what school librarians do,” Yorio told me. “It’s their versatility, the flexibility [of their positions] that makes them best suited to get us out of this,” indicating a current, critical state that goes beyond the pandemic.

They are, no less, “the professionals to lead education forward,” she said.

But for school librarians today, doing the work, as we say in our coverage, isn’t enough. They have been compelled to make a case for their very jobs.

As John Chrastka, executive director of Every­Library, a political action committee, wrote in ­Publishers Weekly, “After a generation-long, nationwide trend of cuts to school library positions, persistent de-professionalization, and a drift away from dedicated school libraries toward so-called classroom libraries, it is vital that school librarians find new ways to engage not only the students and families they serve but the local decision-makers who will determine the future of school library positions and programs.”

It’s time for school librarians to “start treating the fight for their future like the political campaign it truly is,” concluded Chrastka.

To move people, district leaders and lawmakers included, we must first inspire them to care. Toward that end, we present this take on school libraries. Narrative is a strong tool, proven to exceed data to compel commitment and action.

The feature package is available as a download; use it to springboard discussion with educator peers and professional groups, and importantly, your school communities.

And frame it as the equity issue that it is.

Thanks go to Yorio, features editor Sarah Bayliss, and the SLJ team; Debra Kachel and Keith Curry Lance, leaders on the SLIDE report; and reporters Marva Hinton and Lauren J. Young. Numerous librarians contributed to our coverage, including Joseph Vernacotola, who provided photos documenting his media center through COVID. The support of Capstone has enabled the online presentation of this project, along with additional resources, and a chance to further discuss the state of school libraries.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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