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