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Brief History of School Libraries & The ISNS-UNI Laboratory School Library

By Gail Froyen

When did American schools begin to have school libraries?  The best explanation may be from the Encyclopedia on Library and Information Science (1st ed.) article on School Libraries:

“The birth of America’s school libraries cannot be assigned a definite date.  Rather, these first school libraries were born unheralded in the earliest colonial times when the teacher in the one-room placed the Bible, a chapbook, and the Bay Psalm Book on the corner of his desk.” The same article also reports that in 1740 Benjamin Franklin recommended school libraries as a key element in the ideal academy, and the Penn Charter School in Philadelphia designated a specially designed room as the library in 1744.

“In the 19th century, the rise of school libraries paralleled and was intertwined with the rise of public libraries. By 1876, 19 states (or about half the number of states in the union) had passed laws allowing school libraries to be developed. At first, school libraries and librarians were resources, i.e. places patrons could find information and literature and people to help them.”

Professional organizations began developing standards for school libraries formally in 1918 when the National Education Association (NEA) published the first standards that were adopted in 1918. This report was further adopted by the American Library Association (ALA) in 1920. The “Certain Standards” for junior and senior school libraries were developed and named for Charles C. Certain, committee chairman. In the introduction, Jesse Newlon, Superintendent of the Denver, Colorado schools stated, “…the library is the very heart of the high school.”

The Certain evaluation included standards for: 1. Housing and Equipment, 2. The librarian, 3. Scientific Selection and Care of Books and Other Material, 4. Instruction in the Use of Books and Libraries, 5. Annual Appropriation, and 6. State Supervision of School Libraries. They became the standard criteria for evaluation of school libraries for many years to come.

A set of library standards for elementary schools came in 1925 through a joint committee from the NEA and ALA.  Charles Certain was the chair of this committee as well and stated “Significant changes in methods of teaching require that the school library supplement the textbook course of instruction and provide for the enrichment of the school curriculum.” Library use was expanded to include not only reference use, recreational reading, and class discussion of books and magazines but also individual instruction, reading aloud, and storytelling. In 1945 school library standards were revised again by the ALA in its publication School Libraries for Today and Tomorrow. These standards are notable for two main reasons: 1) they provide an extensive narrative on the purpose and role of the school library in the educational setting, and 2) they attempt to show the relationship between quantitative elements of a school library and the quality of school library service. They significantly broadened the definition of the school library “as an active service agency integrated with the learning program of the school not as an adjunct to it.” Students were encouraged to become discriminating users of print and audiovisual materials and the librarian tasked as a leader in coordination with teachers and in professional staff development.

Standards were again revised in 1960 through the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and 19 other professional organizations and were published by the ALA. Quantitation standards were up-dated and the document focused on the qualitative standards for school library progress.  The three main sections were: I) The School Library as an Educational Force, II) Planning and Implementing School Library Programs, and III) Resources for Teaching and Learning.

The focus of the 1969 Standards for School Media Programs was the unification of school library and audiovisual programs.  Media continue to have a more important instructional role in schools. Additional revisions in 1975 and 1988 addressed the rapid growth and changes occurring in the use and production of non-print materials and their importance in the education of students.

The AASL Website 2015

Empowering Learners advances school library programs to meet the needs of the changing school library environment and is guided by the Standards for the 21st-Century Learner and Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action. It builds on a strong history of guidelines published to ensure that school library program planners go beyond the basics to provide goals, priorities, criteria, and general principles for establishing effective library programs.

Normal School to Training School Library


The Campbell Years


The Diamond Years: Second Librarian at the New Campus School (MPLS)


The McIntyre Years

Northern University High School Library

 August 1968-June 1990

The Froyen Years

MPLS Library August 1990- July 31,1998

The Tallakson Years

MPLS Library August 1998-June 2001

The Weber Years

August 1999—May 2012

The Closing of the Malcolm Price Laboratory School 
and Disposition of Surplus Property

February 27, 2012

History of the Library

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