Skip Navigation

Home Ask A REL How does having a school library staffed by a certified librarian impact student achievement?

How does having a school library staffed by a certified librarian impact student achievement?

Central | March 01, 2020

How does having a school library staffed by a certified librarian impact student achievement?

Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Coker, E. (2015). Certified teacher-librarians, library quality and student achievement in Washington State public schools: The Washington State school library impact study. Washington Library Media Association. Retrieved from

From the executive summary:

“The goals of the present study were to describe the current conditions of school libraries in Washington State schools and to evaluate the relationship between quality school library programs staffed by certified teacher-librarians and student achievement. The findings are based on the results of the 2014 Washington State School Library and Information Technology program survey (WSLIT) of public schools sponsored by OSPI and WLMA, linked to school-level student achievement data provided by OSPI. The WSLIT/OSPI survey response rate was 61 percent, or 1,486 out of a total 2,428 K–12 schools across the state. The linked achievement data included elementary, middle and high school standardized reading and math test scores for 2013/14, as well as 5-year graduation rates for the year 2012/13. Major findings of the present study include: Students who attend schools with certified teacher-librarians and quality library facilities perform better on standardized tests and are more likely to graduate, even after controlling for school size and student income level. The presence of a certified teacher-librarian on staff has a particularly high relationship to a school’s five-year graduation rate. Students who attend schools with on-staff certified teacher-librarians (CTLs) have more equitable access to technologically advanced and accessible library facilities. Students who attend schools with certified teacher-librarians staffing their school libraries have greater access to databases and resources for longer times during the school day and are more often accessible outside of school. Students who attend schools with certified teacher-librarians are more likely to be taught information technology skills and technology fluency skills. Quality public school libraries staffed by full time CTLs are unequally distributed across the State. Students who are least likely to have access to a quality library are disproportionately more likely to face poverty and other risk factors known to adversely impact student achievement.”

Francis, B. H., Lance, K. C., & Lietzau, Z. (2010). School librarians continue to help students achieve standards: The third Colorado study (2010). Colorado State Library, Library Research Service. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“In 2000, the Colorado State Library published ‘How School Librarians Help Kids Achieve Standards: The Second Colorado Study.’ This follow-up study is the third Colorado study of the impact of school libraries and librarians on academic achievement, and the second study to examine their impact on student performance on the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests. The findings of this latest study are consistent with those of the two previous studies on several key points. Students tend to perform better on achievement tests where school libraries have more full-time equivalents (FTEs) of staffing; larger collections of periodicals and instructional videos; better-networked online resources made accessible via computers in the library as well as in classrooms, labs, and offices; higher total library expenditures; and heavier use, as indicated by both library visits and circulation. Between 2000 and 2009, similar findings have been generated by studies in 17 other states (Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin) as well as the Canadian province of Ontario. Many of these studies also present evidence that the relationships between library programs and test performance cannot be explained away by other school or community conditions.”

Kimmel, S. C., Mardis, M. A, Pribesh, S., Pasquini, L. A., Schulz-Jones, B., Jones, F. R., Wine, L. D., & Colson, L. M. (2019). The preparation and certification of school librarians: Using causal educational research about teacher characteristics to probe facets of effectiveness. School Library Research, 22, 1–32. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“How do we define a high-quality school librarian? Decades of educational researchers have attempted to link teacher characteristics–such as how teachers are prepared, which credentials they carry, and years of experience–to student outcomes. These researchers have contended that individual educator attributes may have a direct effect on what and how much their students learn. School librarians are also teachers who have direct student contact, and although numerous studies have indicated that school librarian preparation, licensure, and other background characteristics are promising areas for further direct exploration, researchers have yet to examine if, how, and why school librarians’ certification or preparation positively impacts students’ learning outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to compare findings from causal educational research to findings from descriptive school librarianship research to discern possible areas of causal alignment that warrant further investigation. In this study, we present a subset of a larger mixed research synthesis of causal educational research related to student achievement, contextualized with existing school librarianship research, to draw relationships between classroom teacher and school librarian preparation and characteristics and to shape researchable conjectures about school librarians’ effects on learner outcomes.”

Lance, K. C., & Schwarz, B. (2012). How Pennsylvania school libraries pay off: Investments in student achievement and academic standards. PA School Library Project. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of Pennsylvania school library programs on student learning–specifically, the infrastructure (staffing, budgets, collections, technology, and access hours) that contributes most to student achievement, the costs and benefits associated with them, and the gap between current Pennsylvania school library programs and what is needed to develop students with 21st century skills. Lead investigators Keith Curry Lance and Bill Schwarz, RSL Research Group, Louisville, Colorado, examined three data sets--1) student reading and writing standardized test data for all 500 public school districts from the 2011 Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), including subgroup data for students who were classified by PSSA definitions as economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, Black, and students with disabilities, 2) survey data on the status of school libraries from 2,180 (73%) of the state’s public schools collected by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education in Spring 2011, and 3) survey data about the roles of school library programs and librarians in teaching the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and the Common Core standards as initiated in Pennsylvania from 950 teachers, 597 school librarian, and 295 school administrators. The findings were consistent with more previous research conducted in over 22 states that indicate that students in schools with well-supported, resourced, and staffed school libraries achieve a higher level of academic success. Consistently, reading and writing scores were better for students who had a full-time, certified librarian than those who didn’t. Students who were economically disadvantaged, Black, Hispanic, and students with disabilities benefitted proportionally more than students generally. Additionally, the impact of school library programs was greater proportionally on writing than reading scores. Educators’ responses to survey questions, which were correlated to their schools’ PSSA tests scores, indicated that what librarians teach both addresses academic standards and impacts students’ standardized test scores. This study adds to the evidence that all K–12 students need quality school library programs with full-time certified staff to achieve academically. These findings also suggest that staffing libraries with certified librarians can help close achievement gaps among the most vulnerable learners. The research was funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services as a 2011 National Leadership grant. Grant partners were the Health Sciences Libraries Consortium (HSLC), the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA), and the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania (ELC).”

Soulen, R. R. (2016). From Mary Virgina Gaver to the CLASS Research Summit: A journey toward causality and student success. Knowledge Quest, 45(2) 42–47. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Mary Virginia Gaver conducted the first correlational research in the field of school libraries. Many in the field trace the beginning of the search for proof that effective school libraries impact student learning to her study published just over fifty years ago. While conducting her study she developed measures of the effectiveness of school library programming and the positive influence of a certified school librarian. Today’s digital environment allows us to display effects that were never possible in Gaver’s analog world. Recent efforts to establish causality have been mounting. From the linear analog world of Mary Virginia Gaver to today’s hyperlinked digital environment, school library research has evolved from finding correlational relationships to uncovering the causes of student success. Future research will allow for high-definition characterization of the emerging roles of school librarians and their professional actions that drive student achievement. This integration of theory and practice will launch us into new worlds of research-driven practice.”

Todd, R. J., Gordon, C. A., & Lu, Y.-L. (2011). One common goal: Student learning; Report of findings and recommendations of the New Jersey School Library Survey Phase 2. Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries. Retrieved from

From the background of research:

“This report documents the findings and recommendations of Phase 2 of the research study commissioned by the New Jersey Association of School Librarians (NJASL) in 2009 and undertaken by the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Communication and Information (SC&I). The overall research agenda (Phases 1 and 2) seeks: (a) to construct a picture of the status of New Jersey’s school libraries in the educational landscape of New Jersey; (b) to understand the contribution of quality school libraries to education in New Jersey; (c) to understand the contextual and professional dynamics that inhibit and enable school libraries to contribute significantly to education in New Jersey, and (d) to make recommendations to NJ stakeholders to develop a sustained and long term program of capacity building and evidence-based continuous improvement of school libraries in New Jersey.”

Additional Resources 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.’”

Library Research Service at the Colorado Department of Education, School Libraries Impact Studies:

From the website:

“The Library Research Service generates library statistics and research for library and education professionals, public officials, and the media. LRS reports and analyzes statistics on school, public, and academic libraries, and conducts studies on major library issues that are reported in the Fast Facts and Closer Look series. Topics of continuing interest to LRS and its clients are the impact of school librarians on student achievement, public libraries and the use of web technologies, and the changing library workforce.”


Keywords and Strings

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

  • “School librarians” AND “academic achievement”
  • “School librarians” AND “education research”
  • “School librarians” AND success

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, REL Central considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2010 and 2020.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

Connect with REL Central