School Libraries: Endangered Species?

From the Not So Distant Future:

It seems like a no-brainer. For students’ reading skills to improve, they need to read. They need to have lots of access to books and technology. They need to feel comfortable around books, talk about books, and associate books with positive interactions. They need the support of librarians who can match them up with the right books, bring guest authors into the school, create book clubs, help them access electronic books, guide them to online book discussions, help them get past the digital divide by providing Internet access and information literacy training, and connect their teachers with the latest tools.

And we know this works — study after study has shown that schools with well-stocked, well-staffed libraries have higher achievement test scores. And yet, perplexingly, across the nation, librarian positions are being cut; elementary libraries have no librarian, librarians are spread among multiple schools, and libraries are being closed due to lack of staff, or opened only a few hours a day, manned by the occasional teacher.

I know that school libraries in New Jersey got clobbered by the budget cuts last year. You can read one librarian-teacher’s account of going from the library back to the classroom due to cuts over at Library Garden. It’s this really horrendous paradox in which we demand better academic achievement from students and then can’t seem to find our collective wallet when the bill comes in. I realize that money is not the solution to some of the education woes in this country, but when you have a bunch of evidence that indicates that a library is a relatively cheap and easy way of knocking up reading scores a notch, it really is a no-brainer.

For related reading, The Unquiet Librarian takes on the lack of mention of school libraries and school librarians in a Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy white paper, “Digital and Media Literacy:  A Plan of Action”. They appear to be re-inventing the wheel with a recommendation to create Digital and Media Literacy Youth Corps rather than support existing school libraries and librarians that are already in place and on the (relatively) same mission.

What will it take to bring school libraries back from the brink of budget extinction?

(Late addendum: Chicago’s Lack of School Libraries Sparks Dispute. [h/t: Resource Shelf])

12 thoughts on “School Libraries: Endangered Species?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention School Libraries: Endangered Species? « Agnostic, Maybe --

  2. Libraries and Schools are very important to keep in government. Essential services for people in a free society as Finland.

  3. It is not school libraries that are becoming an endangered species; it is school librarians! Too many administrators look at the library as a room full of books that anyone off the street can operate successfully. And, they look at the research and figure they can still get the results the studies point to because they are not getting rid of books, they are just getting rid of overpaid clerks.

    I believe part of this stems from the title school librarian and the other part stems from ignorance. First of all, the title “school librarian” is completely uninformative and uninspired. Both components of the title are nouns. A school is a building and what is a librarian? I mean, you and I know what a librarian is, but does an administrator? And even if you try to show them what you can do are they open to seeing it? So, uninformed administrators and teachers are ignorant because most have no idea what the heck we do, nor do many have an interest.

    My thought is that there needs to be a new title created that is active! Something firmly anchored to a verb. Teachers teach. Administrators administrate. Coaches coach. Librarians…library? Yeah, that reads: Keep the room full of books and get rid of the librarian- we can’t afford two nouns; we’re in a budget crisis! When AASL made school librarian our official title what were they thinking? There has to be something better. I have suggested “Knowledge Educator” (we deal with knowledge, a dynamic noun, and we educate the students using said knowledge, a noble verb…and as a neat bonus we could be referred to as keys because our initials would be KE). But hey, if you don’t like that idea, that is totally fine, just please- come up with a title that points to active value rather than passive dead weight to throw overboard!

    Also, we need to rally for administrators and teachers to be required to take education courses that enlighten them about the value and integration of the library into the school community, curriculum and culture! Until the importance of the librarian is acknowledged, introduced and integrated into teacher training programs, I believe we are going to meet up with resistance solely due to unnecessary ignorance.

    Oh, and by the way, if any of the hundreds of librarians out there that have been cut, have the means to go back to school…please DO consider obtaining a certificate to become an administrator! If librarians opt to cross-over into administration then whole school districts can model exemplary library programs and increased achievement rates. Then these ex-librarian administrators can toot their horns for all to hear…and follow.

    Hey, and maybe if enough librarians seek out administrative positions in high enough places we can achieve a complete paradigm shift in education; one that sincerely moves toward inquiry-based learning rather than mediocre, teach-to-the-test dogma.

    • Librarians moving into administration? That’s not something I would have considered as a possibility. I can imagine that some teachers might get a bit huffy at the idea, but since there are a respectable number of school librarians that are former teachers, why not?

  4. I feel so fortunate that we have a credentialed teacher librarian at each of our secondary schools in my district (Santa Barbara, CA). We fought really hard a few years ago and proved our point: we have not even been on the consideration for the cut list since while millions have been cut in other areas. At this point I think California is the worst in teacher librarian to student ratio in the country!

  5. As a school librarian I can tell you that school libraries are an afterthought where I live. If district-level admin had their way we would have been closed down awhile ago. The only reason we haven’t (from what I’ve seen) is that closing school libraries is bad press, and the school board wants to avoid bad press at all possible.

    Sorry, I should really be posting suggestions or solutions, but the topic makes me so incensed I just end up rambling about the problem.

    /end rant

    • I think in rambling on it, you get out all the unorganized thoughts and emotions. Then we (you, me, the profession) can work like hell on this to turn this trend around.

  6. Pingback: Never Surrender: Teen Services vs. Budget Cuts « YA Library UK

  7. Pingback: Improving Literacy Through School Libraries (March 28) « Grantsquest Featured Grants

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