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How Rural Students Use And Perceive Their Libraries

More than 60 studies have shown the connection between school libraries and improved student achievement, but almost none of the research on how students use school libraries has included predominately Hispanic schools in high-poverty communities.

Shirley Bleidt, a professor at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, focused on those students for her research, and the results, "How Students Utilize and Perceive Their School Library," were published in the summer issue of American Secondary Education, a journal published three times annually by The Dwight Schar College of Education, at Ashland University, in Ashland, Ohio.

Her study involved 1,509 predominately Hispanic students attending rural public middle schools in South Texas. Students from 10 high-need schools completed online surveys on their school libraries. The library staff of these schools was mixed, with some having full-time certified librarians and others having only library aids.

Bleidt wanted to find out whether and how students were using their libraries, as well as their perceptions of the library's strengths and weaknesses. The rural angle of the study was the participants, and Bleidt's research didn't delve into the difficulty many rural schools face in staffing and equipping these spaces.

The vast majority, or 97.2 percent, of rural students surveyed said they used their school libraries at least four times during the school year, and the top four reasons were: reading books, using computers, checking out fiction books, and research. Nearly 98 percent of students said the library helped their learning.

Bleidt's major take-aways weren't relegated to rural schools. They included:

• Library attendance may increase if students are given more opportunities to visit their school libraries. She suggested making library time part of students' schedules and opening libraries before and after school.

• The environment of the library is an important variable in library attendance and use. Bleidt writes that if the library is to be more than a place to check out books, "resources for research should be provided, a quiet place for reading and writing should be available, space for students to work together on collaboration projects should be provided, and highly trained library staff should be present to support student learning."

• University preparation programs should include information about the significance of school libraries.

• Policy makers need to ensure high-poverty schools aren't disproportionately affected by the economic downturn by making funds available to create effective libraries.

• Future studies that investigate what and how students learn through their school libraries are needed to keep pace with the rapidly changing technological climate.

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