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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response


January 2018


What does the research say about the relationship between student public library card ownership and student achievement, particularly in literacy? What does the research say about the role of the public library in student achievement?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and literature reviews on the relationship between student public library card ownership and student achievement, particularly regarding literacy. In addition, we searched for resources related to the role of the public library in student achievement. For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Cuban, S., & Cuban, L. (2007). Partners in literacy: Schools and libraries building communities through technology. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Why have libraries and schools—both public institutions committed to community-based learning—adopted new technologies in dramatically different ways? Exploring the differences of technology use in schools and libraries across the country, the authors describe ways that these two institutions can collaborate to improve teaching and learning while building communities. With a focus on literacy development, they investigate how new technologies are implemented and the lessons that institutions can learn from one another. Including case studies and surveys to illustrate concepts, chapters discuss: (1) The histories and purposes of schools and libraries from the 1800s to the present; (2) leadership and staffing issues related to technology development; (3) differences in mission, structural approaches to literacy, and public expectations for each institution; and (4) the uses of technology in both institutions to create stronger communities.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

De Souza, M. (2016). Examining the role of the library in promoting the academic achievement of English learners. CATESOL Journal, 21(1), 29—44. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this article is to share findings from a qualitative study showing the positive influences the local public library and the school library had on the personal and academic lives of 18 low-income English language learners of Mexican descent while they were adjusting to the numerous demands of school in the US. For these students, the library represented a resource and a safe haven, a direct link to the academic world they knew little about and a strong connection with librarians who not only supported them with reading materials and guidance for homework assignments, but who also encouraged them to pursue their formal education against all odds. These particular findings are consistent with evidence from related research in the last 3 decades pointing to the vital roles played by well-stocked and properly staffed libraries in the lives of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially English learners.”

Krashen, S., Lee, S., & McQuillan, J. (2012). Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1), 26–36. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Three multivariate analyses, all controlling for the effects of poverty, confirm the importance of the library. Replicating McQuillan’s analysis of 1992 NAEP scores, this study finds that access to books in school and public libraries was a significant predictor of 2007 fourth grade NAEP reading scores, as well as the difference between grade 4 and grade 8 2007 NAEP reading scores, suggesting that access is important for improvement after grade 4. Access (school/classroom libraries) was a significant predictor of scores on the PIRLS test, a reading test given to fourth graders in 40 countries.””

Krashen, S., & Shin, F. (2004). Summer reading and the potential contribution of the public library in improving reading for children of poverty. Public Library Quarterly, 23(3–4), 99–109. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Research indicates that there is surprisingly little difference in reading gains between children from high- and low-income families during the school year. Rather, the difference is what happens in the summer. Children from high-income families make better progress in reading over the summer, and over time the summer advantage can account for social-class differences in reading achievement. There is a simple explanation for this difference: Children from high-income families read more over the summer, and they read more because they have more access to books, not only at home but outside the home as well. Studies show that public libraries offer inferior collections and services to children of poverty. An obvious way to increase access to books over the summer is to improve public library services.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Lance, K. C., & Marks, R. B. (2008). The link between public libraries and early reading success. School Library Journal, 54(9), 44–47. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Storytimes, lap-sit programs, and other services for young children are a major part of most public libraries’ missions. According to children’s librarians, these services play a significant role in preparing children for success as readers. This article discusses the positive relationship between children’s services and early reading success by looking at new state data from across the country.”

Merga, M. K. (2015). Access to books in the home and adolescent engagement in recreational book reading: Considerations for secondary school educators. English in Education, 49(3), 197–214. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The emphasis on schools’ providing reading materials for students at home is very much on the primary school years, when the skill of reading is being acquired. Little consideration has been given to the impact of curtailing school-mediated access to books beyond this point. Regular recreational reading offers a wide range of benefit, and is essential for supporting ongoing literacy development. Without easy access to books, it can be readily surmised that capacity for regular engagement in reading can be limited. This article adds to the body of research supporting the benefit of student access to books in the home, linking access to books in the home with improved attitudes toward and frequency of engagement in recreational book reading, particularly in boys. It also provides analysis of data on students’ access to books in the home, as well as discussing alternative avenues of access to books, such as the library and devices. The implications of the findings are explored, with educators ultimately urged to support increased access to self-selected home reading materials through the secondary school.”

Note: : REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Michie, J., & Chaney, B. (2000). Assessment of the role of school and public libraries in support of educational reform. General Audience Report. Rockville, MD: Westat. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to find out how school and public libraries were performing as education providers and how well they were responding to the country’s urgent demands for school improvement. This general audience report summarizes the results of the assessment of school and public libraries. It discusses staffing and patronage, the use of libraries by students and others, the amount and adequacy of materials and resources, programs and services offered by libraries, availability of technological equipment, access to the Internet, education reform, and cooperation between school and public libraries. The information presented comes from several study components. The assessment included two national surveys that were conducted in 1997; one was sent to public library outlets, and the other went to library media centers in both public and private schools. The text of this report provides a general overview of the findings from the surveys. Ten case studies involving both school and public libraries were conducted, and examples from some of them are highlighted in this report.”

Neuman, S. B., Moland, N., & Celano, D. (2017). Bringing literacy home: An evaluation of the Every Child Ready to Read Program. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In 2013, the Public Library Association (PLA) and Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to conduct a national study on the effect of library programming on parent behavior and engagement using the ECRR model. From 2013-2016, the research team observed and evaluated storytime programs at 57 library branches representing 36 different library systems across the country. From that group, 20 target libraries were selected for the study—ten that were deemed to be strong implementers of the ECRR curriculum, and ten that were not. Neuman et. al. observed significantly greater engagement of parents and caregivers in the libraries that used the ECRR program: these libraries offered more opportunities for parents and children to interact, more parents-only workshops, and more diverse program offerings.

Although seemingly simple, the ECRR initiative represents a sharp turn in the way many libraries approach children’s services, the report reads. ‘Previously, librarians focused their attention primarily on children, not on parent education. Today, librarians see that they can have a greater impact on early literacy by focusing on the primary adults in a child’s life—parents and caregivers.’”

Ramos, F., & Krashen, S. (1998). The impact of one trip to the public library: Making books available may be the best incentive for reading. (Rapid Research Report). Reading Teacher, 51(7), 614–15. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Describes a study of second- and third-grade Hispanic students in an inner-city school, in which increasing children’s access to books (through monthly visits to a public library) significantly increased children's interest in books and their reading at home. Concludes that simply providing interesting books for children is a powerful incentive for reading.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Sebring, P. B., Brown, E. R., Julian, K. M., Ehrlich, S. B., Sporte, S. E., Bradley, E., et al. (2013). Teens, digital media, and the Chicago Public Library. Research Report. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Opened in fall 2009, YOUmedia attracts high school aged teens who want a safe and welcoming place to hang out and socialize, as well as those with established or nascent interests in both digital and traditional media. With the guidance of staff and the synergy of peer involvement, participants discover and pursue their interests through both collaborative and solitary activities, such as blogging, writing and sharing poetry, playing and reviewing electronic games, producing music and videos, and participating in book clubs. Special events open the door for youth to collaborate with and learn from recognized artists, authors, and experts. YOUmedia is being replicated in 30 learning laboratories across the country. This study, the first of its kind to explore teens’ and adults’ on-the-ground experiences in the flagship program, focuses on activities from 2010-12. It answers key questions about YOUmedia that can help inform the design of similar initiatives and more general efforts to engage students in learning through the use of technology and student-centered activities. This study: (1) Illuminates how the design of YOUmedia shapes youth participation; (2) Describes the teens that YOUmedia serves, their patterns of participation, and the activities in which they engage; (3) Provides examples of the benefits youth perceive from their participation; (4) Characterizes the roles adults play in engaging teens and the ways programmatic choices have shifted; (5) Offers suggestions for organizations intending to launch similar initiatives; and (6) Illustrates how YOUmedia instantiates elements of the emerging Connected Learning Model.”

Whitehead, N. (2004). The effects of increased access to books on student reading using the public library. Reading Improvement, 41(3), 165–179. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study examined the effects of students access to print through public library card ownership and class trips to the community library. Reading performance, attitudes toward reading, time spent reading at home, number of books at home, and family visits to the public library after school were compared between students who had library cards, students who did not have library cards, and students who participated in class trips to the library. Findings indicate the students who had library cards and that visited their community library outperformed students who did not. Recommendations include increased access to print through library card ownership and class visits to the public library.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

American Library Association –

From the website: “The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world. Founded on October 6, 1876 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the mission of ALA is “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.””

A section of the website links to research on education and literacy impacts of libraries (


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Library card

  • Public library

  • Public library card

  • Library card “academic achievement”

  • Public library “academic achievement”

  • Libraries matter

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES, Google Scholar, and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.