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K-12 Librarians Turn to Tech, but Lack Bandwidth and Money, Survey Finds

By guest blogger Sara Gilgore

School librarians are utilizing technology tools more heavily than in previous years, but they remain challenged by budget shortfalls and limited school Web connectivity, according to School Library Journal's 2015 Technology Survey.

The survey, given every two years, examines how librarians incorporate applications, devices, social platforms, and other digital resources into instruction, their preferences for certain tech tools, and barriers to implementation. In the past, the journal has released its results in stand-alone reports, but this year published its findings in an article in the publication's August issue.

This year's survey data, from 1,259 librarians throughout the country, show several new developments over the past two years, in both the types of tools librarians use and their level of engagement in using technology, said Kathy Ishizuka, executive editor of the journal.

Within the community of school librarians, there's an "embrace of new technologies or techniques to enhance what they do with kids," Ishizuka said.

Among those new tools are tech-based applications for instructional purposes, which 71 percent of K-12 librarians now report using, compared to 57 percent in 2013; and social media, which 76 percent say they use to share library information, compared to 59 percent in 2013.

Maker spaces are also being more widely employed than in past years. In addition to the 38 percent of librarians in the 2014-15 school year who currently have "maker activities and tech," 13 percent will add maker spaces next year, according to the survey.

"[Maker activities] seem to have some staying power," Ishizuka said, "in an area that school librarians seem to have been generally enthusiastic in embracing hands-on learning opportunities."

The survey also shed light on librarians' concerns about their ability to make use of technology, including lack of access to digital resources, lack of money, and inadequate support from administration. Some librarians are interested in developing coding skills, for example, but say they lack the necessary time and support, the journal found.

Though not a new issue, many librarians report budgetary constraints. Median funding for libraries' overall budgets, including books, supplies, and technology, during the 2014-15 school year stood at $4,800, a drop from $5,300 the previous year. 

Poor bandwidth in K-12 systems is also a significant hindrance to librarians—and their concerns about lack of connectivity spiked this year. In 2013, 82 percent of librarians said they had "adequate" bandwidth, whereas this year, it declined to 63 percent.

Despite those hurdles, school librarians are finding ways to use technology to help students and teachers become more enthusiastic about their lessons, Ishizuka said.

Ishizuka said she hopes the survey's findings will "not only prove how effective school librarians are, but might be used to help shore up support for what they're doing," adding: "We hope to see some change in that way."

UPDATE: This post has been updated with additional information from the journal about school libraries' budgets.


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