School Library Services in California’s Public Schools: Inequitable Access

Yesterday Maria Petropulos, Adjunct Instructor in the FPU Teacher Librarian Program and District Library Coordinator for Selma Unified School District (USD), and I presented an EdTips webinar entitled “Instructional Leadership: The Role of the Teacher Librarian in California Schools.” The purpose of our presentation was to educate participants about the unique role teacher librarians play in providing instructional leadership in California’s K-12 public schools, how they’re prepared for this role, and how participants can either hire or become a teacher librarian.  During our webinar, Maria shared her experience with the Lilead Fellows Program, a professional development program for school district library supervisors selected from across the United States, and how this impacted the development of the Selma USD library plan in regards to staffing.  During a fall 2015 meeting with the Lilead Fellows, she had an “aha moment” when the fellows from other states questioned California’s tendency to allow paraprofessionals to provide library services that only teacher librarians are authorized to provide.  They shared that in their states, the roles of teacher librarian and library assistant are distinct and separate; neither is permitted to complete the duties assigned to the other’s role.   As a result of this conversation, Maria has sought to ensure that the library personnel in her district follow this practice.

Last month, The California State Auditor released its report on the state of school library services in California’s public schools.  Below are highlights and supporting evidence from that report that mirror Maria’s “aha moment:”

“State law requires that schools provide library services and provides a basic definition of types of library services, but does not establish the minimum level or minimum types that schools should provide.” (p. 1) The following California Education Codes pertain to the preceding statement:

18100:  The governing board of each school district shall provide school library services for the pupils and teachers of the district by establishing and maintaining school libraries or by contractual arrangements with another public agency.

18101:  The State Board of Education shall adopt standards, rules and regulations for school library services.

18120:  The governing board of a school district maintaining its own library or libraries may appoint a librarian or librarians to staff the libraries provided they qualify as librarians pursuant to Section 44868.

44868:  No person shall be employed as a teacher librarian in an elementary or secondary school, unless he or she holds a valid credential of proper grade authorizing service as a teacher librarian or a valid credential issued by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing if he or she has completed the specialized area of librarianship.

Since Education Code 18120 states that school districts “may” appoint a librarian or librarians that meets the qualifications of Section 44868, most district opt to not employ a certificated teacher librarian.  This is demonstrated in the most recent staffing data provided by the California Department of Education (via DataQuest): in the 2014-2015 school year, only 859 teacher librarians were employed in California’s 9,997 public schools.  The majority of school districts instead employ classified personnel (paraprofessionals) to facilitate access to their school libraries.

“State law defines library services as including, but not limited to, the provision, organization, and utilization of materials and related activities.  It presents five types of services that may be included under library services, but does not expressly require any of them.  As a result, school districts can choose to provide services that do not require extensive teacher librarian involvement.” (p. 16)

When we examine the state laws that define library services and the authorized duties of a teacher librarian side-by-side, we can see that there are very few library services that could be provided by personnel other than credentialed teacher librarians:

School Library Services

California Code of Regulations Title 5

Section 16040

Services Credential Authorizing Service as a Teacher Librarian

California Code of Regulations

Title 5
Sections 80053 and 80053.1

“School library services” include, but are not limited to, the provision, organization, and utilization of materials and related activities supportive of the educational requirements prescribed by law and by the school districts which may include the following:

The Teacher Librarian Services Credential authorizes the holder to:

  • Coordinate or supervise library programs at the school, district, or county level
  • Supervise classified personnel assigned school library duties


(1) Library Instruction – Provide instruction to students that will enable them to become proficient users of library resources; and provide inservice training for teachers.


  • Instruct students in accessing, evaluating, using and integrating information and resources in the library program
  • Plan and conduct a course of instruction for those pupils who assist in the operation of school libraries
  • Provide departmentalized instruction in information literacy, digital literacy, and digital citizenship to students in grades 12 and below, including preschool and in classes organized primarily for adults
  • Develop programs for and deliver staff development for school library services
(2) Curriculum Development – Provide information to teachers and administrators concerning sources and availability of instructional materials that will aid in the development of school curriculum; team with classroom teachers to develop units of instruction and activities using library resources in the instructional programs.
  • Plan and coordinate school library programs with the instructional programs of a school district through collaboration with teachers


(3) Materials Selection – Provide assistance to teachers and students in the evaluation, selection, production, and uses of instructional materials.
  • Select materials for school and district libraries
  • Instruct students in accessing, evaluating, using and integrating information and resources in the library program
(4) Access to Materials and Information Resources – Provide a collection of materials and resources that support the curriculum and are appropriate for user needs.  Plan a functional system, procedures, and services for maximum utilization of resources.
  • Plan and coordinate school library programs with the instructional programs of a school district through collaboration with teachers
  • Select materials for school and district libraries
  • Develop procedures for and management of the school and district libraries
(5) Professional Development – Assist teachers, administrators, and other school staff members in becoming knowledgeable and current concerning appropriate uses of library media services, materials and equipment.
  • Develop programs for and deliver staff development for school library services

Despite this,

“…no oversight mechanism exists at the State and County level to ensure that schools do not assign classified staff to perform the authorized duties of a teacher librarian.”  (p. 21)

“…state law requires the State Board of Education (State Education Board) to establish standards for library services; however, the standards it adopted are not enforceable.” (p. 15) This statement refers to the California Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools that were adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010 to comply with Education Code 18101.

“Since the State Education Board adopted the model standards in 2010, the national average that it used to establish its recommended ratio increased from 785 students per teacher librarian to 1,109 students per teacher librarian in fiscal year 2013-2014 – the year with the most recent national data available.  Regardless of the changes in the national average, California still has by far the poorest ratio of students to teacher librarians in the nation.  National data from fiscal year 2013-14 indicate California employed only one teacher librarian for every 8,091 students, while the state with the next poorest ratio, Idaho, employed one teacher librarian for every 5,533 students.” (p. 31)

To conclude,

“…New York has a state mandate requiring the employment of one full-time teacher librarian for every 1,000 students in secondary schools.  By establishing a state mandate on the staffing of teacher librarians, states demonstrate that they value library services as a fundamental part of education.” (pp. 4-5)

The California State Auditor’s first recommendation is that the state legislature define the minimum level and types of library services that schools must provide.  I sincerely hope that the legislature will heed this recommendation so that school library services are equitably provided to all of California’s K-12 students.*  Please join me in advocating for this change!


*For more information on how effective school library programs positively impact student achievement, please download and read School Libraries Work!