How Student Engagement is Important for Libraries

A recent survey conducted by YouthTruth discusses whether or not students feel engaged in their school studies. Understanding student engagement is important for educators and librarians because it can give great insight into challenges affecting learning both inside and outside of the classroom. YouthTruth analyzed survey responses from over 230,000 students in grades three through twelve. The information was gathered through YouthTruth’s anonymous online climate and culture survey across 36 states. View the entire report here.

The survey targeted four specific statements, which followed with percentages of their findings. The first was that, “across all grade levels, the majority of students feel engaged.” The results to this statement showed 78 percent of elementary school students, 59 percent of middle school students and 60 percent of high school students respectively felt engaged in school work. It is interesting to see that number drop from the time a student left elementary school and finally made it to high school. However, it isn’t surprising. In elementary school students are constantly praised for the work they do and are often times engaged in more “fun programs” than those who entered the older grades.

This isn’t to say that middle schools and high schools aren’t doing their job of praising students or that they are not having fun. They are – I see it on a daily basis on the social media websites and social media accounts that the schools and teachers at middle and high school levels use. A lot happens in middle school and high school: Life changes occur, college prep begins and suddenly the fun of school is hidden beneath the requirements needed to leave and enter the real world. Students may not feel engaged, not because their teachers aren’t showing how important they are but because so much is happening that education gets lost in the shuffle.

According to the survey, “most students take pride in their school work.” This result shows 72 percent of middle school students taking pride and 68 percent of high school students. The survey broke it down even further to state that females are slightly more likely to take pride in school work than males or students who identify as other than male or female.

The last two survey findings were interesting to me, as they speak a lot to an area I feel public libraries can step in and help fill the gap.

The survey found that “less than half of secondary students feel what they are learning in class will help them outside of school” and “only about half of secondary students enjoy coming to school most of the time.” Only 48 percent of the secondary students surveyed felt that what they learned in the classroom would help them outside of school. As the survey results were analyzed closer, it showed that as students came closer to graduation from high school, the felt even less that their school work was pertinent to their outside lives.

This statement alone is a gold mine for public libraries because it presents to them a unique opportunity to tackle the issue of making the connection before education and real world/workforce. Students who are getting ready to graduate need to see more than ever how important all of the hard work they have put into their education has been. While I still wonder why some of that math I had to learn in the 9th grade is really helping my current library career, I understand now that the study skills, the work ethic I developed, and the sense of responsibility working hard at school brought me has paid off ten fold. The soft skills I developed alone from being in extracurricular activities and service clubs helped with job applications and keeping jobs.

Libraries can fill this void. The library’s resources of books, computers and STEM Learning Labs and Makerspaces can help bridge the importance of education and the outside world by offering unique opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Catch the younger students during summer reading and make those programs reflect learning from the classroom – you know, the fun learning where they don’t realize that they are learning. Then, target those same students participating to join your library’s version of a young adult library group. Use the young adult group two-fold – let them have fun and plan programs for teens while also throwing in some service hours they can earn for volunteering with library programs. You never know when you will find that one student who doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional service organizations in the school but finds themselves flourishing at the library service group.

Use community partnerships as a way to reiterate how important the education that the students are learning is to their future careers. Partner to bring in local businesses owners and more to talk to students about not only careers but how important everything they are doing in school is for their future. So often we focus on the importance of making the grades and finding a job that we forget to let students know that what they are learning really matters. You never know who the business owner is in town with a great success story that is just waiting to tell some students that everything they are learning really does mean something.

I have said it before and you will see me say it a lot, public libraries are the educational extension of the school classroom. It’s important that we make the connections with our community and our schools to see what areas they need help with so that we can also help bring learning and purpose to the students.

About Laura Pitts

Laura Pitts is the Library Director for the Scottsboro Public Library in Scottsboro, Alabama. She is a member of the Alabama Library Association's Executive Council, serves on the Alabama Author's Awards Committee, and is the recipient of the 2016 Alabama Library Association's Award for Distinguished Service. Laura has an MLIS from The University of Alabama, a MA in English from The University of Alabama Birmingham and a BA in Journalism and English from The University of Alabama. When she isn't being a librarian, she is spending time traveling and exploring with her best friend, her Labrador retriever Leonardo da Vinci.
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