As parents, we tend to get involved in our children’s education: Are they getting enrolled in the right classes? Did they make the team? We are concerned if they aren’t afforded access to technology, or if they are being bullied at school. If a school down the road is performing better, parents often lobby to get their child enrolled there, even if their addresses do not allow it.
These issues are all easy to get passionate about, even for the casual parent. Where we fall short, however, is when it comes to the fundamentals: the important things that actually have proven, direct effects on learning, such as ensuring that every one of our kids has access to school librarians—yes, librarians.
For those who don’t spend a lot of time in American schools, it’s easy to overlook how big of an issue we face as a nation. We are behind in STEM, with a recent PEW Research study showing the U.S. in the 50th percentile in both math and science. We also have a serious reading problem; more than 30 million adults cannot read at a third-grade level, according to ProLiteracy, a nonprofit that focuses on adult literacy. And children of illiterate adults have a 72% chance of being at a low level of literacy themselves, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.
To have any chance for success in school, a child must be able to read at or above the reading level for his or her grade. It’s highly unlikely that a child who cannot read will succeed in any subject and even less likely that a child who cannot read will avoid behavioral and social problems, let alone matriculate to college or have a career.
On a near-daily basis, you can find news articles about school districts cutting librarians or even closing their libraries. Some reallocate the monies to other programs in the school, some just cut the budgets entirely, and others reinvest in facilities and football fields. Yet there is rarely uproar among parents, simply because they are not aware of the consequences of these actions. In many cases, even the district leaders have no clue what librarians can do.
In the past year, Follett has become actively involved in supporting a grassroots movement to fight back. Recently, a district leader and Follett customer threatened to take his business to a competing vendor after a campaign was waged to protest his district’s eliminating all six of its library media specialists at the elementary school level. We did not give in. Everyone needs to know the vital role librarians play.
If you have ever met children who cannot read or read well, you know they are intimidated by reading and find the process to be painful. Often, these children lack interest in the subject matter, are afraid to “look stupid” in front of classmates, and don’t have access to a support system at home that reinforces the importance of reading practice.
Some districts justify the loss of librarians with the excuse that reading happens in the classroom. Yes, books do exist in the classroom and kids read there. But where do children have the opportunity to enter a judgment-free zone and pick books based on their interest and ability? Librarians are trained to help children become better readers, better digital citizens, and more informed people in general. Librarians were “fake news” cops before talk of “fake news” was even a thing.
I encourage parents to find out whether their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews have access to librarians—not just a library but also a librarian. Be infuriated if librarians are being cut or have already seen their positions eliminated. And don’t believe that the internet is a substitute for librarians; this is like saying math teachers are no longer needed because we have calculators. I encourage you to get involved.
As readers, educators, publishers, and learners, it is our duty to fight for this cause. This profession does not get the respect it deserves, and enough is enough.
Nader Qaimari is President of Follett School Solutions, the largest provider of content, solutions, and services to pre-K–12 institutions worldwide.