At the beginning of the semester, I blogged about a lovely school librarian that I had the opportunity to interview. When we discussed concerns about her library, the conversation turned to funding. She spends a great deal of her time contending with funding and how to ensure that students have the books that they want and need while staying true to the budget that she’s been given. This particular librarian has turned to outside funding in order to make budgetary ends meet. And as classes wind down and summer looms, I can’t help but think about what’s coming in the fall. Teaching candidates spend time student teaching and learning some of the ins and outs of being an educator. As a school librarian, I’ll get to spend time pursuing a field experience—which is similar to student teaching. Naturally, I’ve been thinking about a job when I’m through and where I’d like to end up working. Unfortunately, many public school systems are choosing to reduce funding or get rid of librarians all together.
When I wear my UNC School of Information and Library Science school t-shirt out in public, inevitably someone asks me what I’m studying (um, library science) and asks why I’d need a master’s degree if I ‘just want to be a librarian.’ But the role of the school librarian has changed; school librarians are now commonly referred to as ‘teacher librarians.’ The job of a librarian is to be an active part of the learning community by helping foster curiosity and help students become “efficient and effective in the pursuit of information” (ALA, 2012). The American Library Association states in the Position Statement on the Role of the School Library Program that the, “school librarian participates fully in all aspects of the school’s instructional program” and provides “expertise in accessing and evaluating information, using information technologies, and collections of quality physical and virtual resources.” School librarians also provide equitable access to all forms of materials and help create a community of 21st century learners. And the benefits go beyond collaborating with teachers and teaching students. For schools with a full time librarian, students are “almost three times as likely to have “Advanced” writing scores as students without full-time librarians.” That’s right-according to the research out there, school librarians can help students become better writers and readers.
An article in the School Library Journal titled Latest Study: A Full-Time School Librarian Makes a Critical Difference in Boosting Student Achievement found that student achievement suffers when schools lack libraries that are staffed by full-time librarians. Access to a library with a full-time librarian can increase student reading and comprehension. The National Center for Education Statistics remarked that schools that gained school librarians had significant improvements in reading scores; states with few to no school librarians didn’t fare nearly as well. The NCES also noted that, “in California… there was just one certified school librarian for every 7,784 students in 2012-13. Chicago and Philadelphia are among the other cities that have sharply cut library staffing. More than 8,000 public schools nationwide did not have libraries in 2011-12” (Nonprofit Quarterly, 2015). Librarians and teachers work together to create a quality public education for all students. However, the arts and libraries are often the first to go when the fiscal budget gets tight. The article The End of the School Library? states, “in 1991, there were 176 certified librarians in Philadelphia public schools. Today there are 10. Two hundred Philadelphia schools do not have a functional library book collection. A majority lack the technology to access necessary e-resources. And 85 percent of these children come from homes in poverty.” These numbers are mind boggling. And the repercussions for students who might not otherwise have access to the internet, technology, or print materials are the greatest and most far reaching.
School librarians have the ability to be a part of a school community and to help ensure that there is a culture not only of reading, but of thinking deeply and of questioning. Students deserve to have equitable access to print and e-resources and to have a trusted adult that cares about their well-being. I certainly don’t have an answer to the funding problems that seem to plague schools, but I do know that if having a teacher librarian on staff means improving student educational outcomes, it can only be positive.