Another school year is drawing to a close, but amid the celebrations and public festivities, melancholy looms over the library profession. In recent years, information professionals working in all sectors of the library field have had to fight harder and harder to show they occupy a vital place in society. But the “who needs librarians when we have the Internet?” crowd is devastating school libraries in particular, despite mounting evidence that links the presence of certified school librarians with student achievement. It’s time to recognize how valuable libraries are.
How bad has it gotten? In New York City, the number of school libraries has plummeted over the past decade. According to a recent article in Education Week, there are now fewer than 700 school libraries in N.Y.C. schools, compared to 1,500 in 2005. On average, there is now one school librarian for every 3,400 students in the city. And, surprisingly, charter schools, which were designed to improve education, are leading the charge to cut school libraries. With so much talk about education reform, we have to wonder whether some so-called reformers understand how essential a good librarian is to a child’s education, or what a librarian even does.
The List Is Long
The soul of a school resides in its library. Certified school librarians teach valuable information literacy skills. We nurture the foundations of pleasure reading within students. We assist administrators and fellow faculty members, teaching our teachers, and often overseeing valuable professional-development programs for faculty and staff at schools. And we seamlessly transition among our roles supporting students, teachers, and administrators.
Navigating through a school librarian’s typical work day requires skills learned on the job and through years of advanced schooling. Just as states require classroom teachers to have a master’s degree to be certified, school librarians must also obtain an advanced degree. And our unique skills prepare us for a range of essential tasks, including teaching information literacy, delivering captivating book talks, finding and introducing new technology and cultivating technology skills, reinforcing solid research skills, supervising and engaging students during noninstructional periods, and, of course, developing and maintaining a collection of materials to meet student needs.
School librarians are not a luxury, but central to a good education. We disseminate knowledge and offer the support necessary to make student learning experiences successful, and positive. For example, beyond our teaching tasks, we also deliver a careful form of book selection called bibliotherapy, a type of assistance that puts appropriate books into the hands of children and adolescents struggling to navigate the complex pressures and problems that complicate their diverse lives. Often, it is the school librarian who becomes the confidant and first line of defense for a student in crisis, and who initiates professional intervention for that child. There are conversations that are easier to initiate by discussing the actions of a troubled character in a novel, or by recognizing when a student identifies with a plot line that may mirror that child’s real-life difficulties.
And our jobs do not end after the last class. School librarians convene after the school day ends to host student and faculty book clubs. We coordinate author visits, both physical and virtual. We work individually with students who need additional research and writing assistance. Unfortunately, as the 2014–2015 school year winds down, certified school librarians are battling for the chance to keep these roles.
Invest in Us
Education reform has become a prominent issue with the introduction of the Common Core, and many reformers propose to run our schools like Fortune 500 companies. Of course, a school is not a business, and taking a CEO-like approach to education is not necessarily the best way to approach it.
Still, if you were to look at all the tasks a school librarian executes through the lens of a corporate manager, wouldn’t having someone with such core skills strike you as indisputably valuable? Wouldn’t you invest in someone like that? As the eduction debate continues, it’s time we bring school libraries back into the discussion, and time we recognize that school librarians are a critical part of our education future.
Margaux DelGuidice is a librarian at Garden City High School in New York and also works as a youth-services librarian at the Freeport Memorial Library.
Rose Luna is a librarian at Freeport High School in New York and also works as a bilingual reference librarian at the Freeport Memorial Library.