01/23/2012 11:19 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2012

The Movement to Save School Library Programs

A movement is afoot to save school library programs threatened by closure. Money is tight and state and locally supported school funding is dropping. School districts are looking for places to reduce costs and many believe school libraries and librarians are expendable.

As a former teacher-librarian I can tell you the idea to dispose of school libraries and librarians isn't new. In the 1990s, when I was a high school librarian, some of us were assigned to cover both middle and high schools. Money for books and resources were cut back. Today that district has no librarians, only aides, in its high schools or middle schools.

Last year I volunteered in an elementary school library in this same district. It was a contract negotiation year and in the end elementary librarians were given only a two-year contract and are no longer working with 5th grade classrooms.

I'm not sure administrators, other teachers, or parents understand what a teacher-librarian does. They know he/she doesn't work in a traditional classroom and doesn't grade papers. They think anyone can check out books or read a story, but there is so much more to it than that. To start with libraries are no longer just about books, they are information centers.

Teacher-librarians have two degrees because they need to know how to manage a library and how to teach children. These skills are necessary and substituting an aide with no knowledge in either field is a downgrade in quality education. Teacher-librarians do many things, but here are three of the most important.

  • They teach students information skills using a variety of resources, including online. Everyone assumes kids can just jump on the internet, find a site, and be done. The real issue is locating quality information. They need to learn skills that will help them assess if information is accurate.
  • Teacher-librarians do a lot of reader's advisory, meaning they help connect students with great books they will love. To do this they are constantly reading children's books and reading magazines that critique new children's books.
  • Teacher-librarians collaborate with classroom teachers to help students find resources and teach lessons that enrich and expand on what is happening in the classroom.

Mike Eisenberg is the Dean of the Information School at the University of Washington. In 2007 he gave a speech on the importance of teacher-librarians after cuts were made in school programs. Parents started a petition to save school libraries and their librarians and some gains were made. But the issue persists and we need everyone to make a strong statement on this issue.

So, if you think school libraries and the teacher-librarian-information specialists who serve in them are important, help send that message. Go to this site and sign the petition to the Obama Administration to ensure that every child in America has access to an effective school library education. Then let your school district and state legislature know you value this resource.

I did because teacher-librarians fill a unique position. Ask any child.