The Digital Era Needs Human Guides: Why Your School Should Keep, Not Cut, the Librarian

Filed in: Libraries, Schools

Filed by Sarah Jackson

 
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6.28.11 | The New York Times reported this weekend on continuing cuts in school librarian positions across the country, where bare-bones school budgets are forcing administrators to make a Sophie’s Choice about which they value more: school programs or the school librarian. 

The article highlights what’s going on in New York State, where some secondary schools are now in violation of a state law requiring certified librarians in middle and high school. Fernanda Santos writes:

In New York, as in districts across the country, many school officials said they had little choice but to eliminate librarians, having already reduced administrative staff, frozen wages, shed extracurricular activities and trimmed spending on supplies. Technological advances are also changing some officials’ view of librarians: as more classrooms are equipped with laptops, tablets or e-readers, Mr. Polakow-Suransky noted, students can often do research from their desks that previously might have required a library visit.

“It’s the way of the future,” he said.

Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians, whose membership has fallen to 8,000 from 10,000 in 2006, said that, on the contrary, the Internet age made trained librarians more important, to guide students through the basics of searching and analyzing information they find online.

Libraries, Ms. Everhart said, are “the one place that every kid in the school can go to to learn the types of skills that will be expected of them when it’s time to work with an iPad in class.

The Times analyzed state data and found that the student-to-librarian ratio is one librarian for every 2,146 students this year, compared with 1 per 1,447 in 2005. At least 386 schools serving students from grades six through 12 do not have a librarian on staff.

The argument made by the administrator above, that a student’s ability to get on the internet from their desk might eliminate the need for a librarian is disturbing. The digital age should be inspiring administrators to include the school’s local information expert in all phases of instructional design and lesson planning.

As we’ve demonstrated in our coverage, just because kids are computer savvy doesn’t mean they know how to be information literate. In fact, studies show this generation isn’t as knowledgeable as stereotypes of digital-savvy millennials may lead us to believe.

A recent study by Project Tomorrow calls the school librarian the “go-to” person to identify websites for classroom use, create collections of resources for curriculum support, and to find specific digital content, such as podcasts and videos, to support classroom lessons.

Last month, I wrote about the lack of understanding of what a librarian is and can do in the digital age when we covered how budget cuts in California are affecting school districts and how school librarians in Los Angeles now have to defend their teaching abilities in Kafkaesque administrative hearings. I also highlighted the work of several librarians who are leading the way in digital literacy education.

We got an incredible response to that post, with many librarians and educators writing in to express support. Like Sandy Schuckett, who described the school library as “the most cost-effective room in any school.”

“The teacher librarian,” she continued, “is the educator who not only helps students in selecting exactly correct books according to what they want and need, but also teaches them to navigate the world of information…..to evaluate websites, to use what they have found in new and creative ways, to gain confidence in their own abilities to learn.”

Or Connie Williams, a teacher librarian in Petaluma, Calif. and past president of the California School Library Association, who urges readers to become library advocates by sending their own stories to decision makers. Now is the time to speak up. You can share your story at this audio journal Williams put together with the help of storyteller Joe McHugh.

Williams writes: “The research is clear; and the evidence can be seen across the country in countless school libraries where school librarians are teaching, guiding, and creating dynamic learning spaces for our 21st Century kids.”

Are you a librarian? Are you involved in advocacy efforts to save school libraries and digital literacy education? We’d love to hear your story in the comments.

Tags

books, ipad, reading

 

Comments

Picture of Sonia Hernandez
Sonia Hernandez (Mty Mexico)

6/28/11
1:48pm

In Mexico is the same, sadly this problem is extended to all scholar levels. Our students research at the Library if and only if the teacher ask for it in the classroom.
We need to reinforce bridges between librarians and teachers also librarians and students. I believe that critical thinking starts in the moment we are deciding where to start our search. I do support to use internet as a complementary source, but who else than us, librarians can be better prepare to lead our students for the right path of information?

 
Picture of P. Fegan
P. Fegan (Lawrence, MA)

7/4/11
9:36am

The Internet does not answer questions, entertain, speak the truth, nor comfort us. People do!  The home made can and string telephone is a wonder to us as children.  But, it is our friends at the other end that make it fun!  The Internet is a highly technical can with highly technical strings. It is connected to millions of other highly technical cans with strings. The benefit of the Internet is that there are human beings on the other end of these strings.  That is what makes it fun!

Our children are in a unique place in history.  The village at their fingertips is wondrous and vast.  The generation of rotary dialed telephones and typewriters can not get it into their heads that these better machines require more intellect, comprehension,  appraisal, and responsibility.  Today’s’  preschoolers, who are first introduced to online learning, will be propelling the wave of technology forward, and developing the technologies to come.  Society does not want people to drive cars or fire guns without human beings training them to uses these powerful machines well and carefully.  Why should we let students hack away at keyboards of machines of global influence? 

Our children need librarians to help them evaluate, sort and store the tsunami of information that floods the interned every day.  They need librarians to help them interact with the worlds’ population who access the internet everyday.

 
Picture of Judi Moreillon
Judi Moreillon (Denton, TX and Tucson, AZ)

7/5/11
12:22pm

I submitted a question via eSchool News to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding school librarians. You can read his response and my response to his response at: http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/home/891190-312/education_secretary_duncan_feds_support.html.csp

 
Picture of Richard Opie
Richard Opie (Australia)

7/8/11
12:01am

I forwarded a submission to the Australian Parliament’s enquiry on school librarians.  As a class room teacher I argued that librarians are a key element in my efforts to get students to read.  It was subjective of course but based on 40 years of observation.  In my opinion no school is serious on literacy if it scraps the librarian.  The published report lacked enthusiasm and was limited in its findings.  After all, we no longer train teacher-librarians in any sufficient numbers.  Down to 3 courses from 11.  If for no other reason we need a central figure to pre-view novels and to fit the book to the kid.  Schools in Australia are being built without libraries and I had the personal experience of an unthinking architect proudly showing me five bookcases that were to be our new library.  The barbarian could not grasp my disgust.

 

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