School Library Advocacy
A number of news stories have surfaced about cuts to school libraries. One of the reasons cuts can happen is because those in charge don’t see any effect to the cuts. If you are a non-user of libraries, your attitude will be ‘who will miss this library?’ Recently, the Windsor Essex Catholic School Board in Ontario made a decision to close all libraries, lay off all library staff (39), and ‘disperse’ the library collections to the classroom. The superintendent, Jamie Bumbacco, stated “that was an area that we felt, as a senior administrative team, that would have little or no impact on student learning.” Despite evidence to the contrary (school libraries have been proven to improve student learning), the board made this decision without consultation. While budgets are tight, it is difficult to make cuts, but this is surely a short-sighted decision with the potential to be more expensive in the future; how many specialists/consultants will need to be hired when test scores drop and reading levels fall? A second superintendent commented “teachers are turning to scholarly journals found on the internet.” Well, how did those teachers access the content? This kind of statement shows that this superintendent has never actually conducted research online (successfully).
It comes as no surprise that this decision is now being ‘reconsidered’ due to the overwhelming negative, national press and outcry from both parents and students. The board obviously wasn’t aware that the library IS important to many.
An issue I take with some of the coverage is that often the reason offered for keeping libraries is rooted in nostalgia. Nostalgia is a dangerous justification for libraries because it is the same reason for making cuts in the first place. What can the quaint quiet library offer today’s amazingly techno-savvy students? Save the library because it’s so quaint and quiet and I loved curling up with a book when I was a child!
The key point in the Windsor Essex decision is that the administrators thought that relocating the books to the classroom would be an unnoticeable change. Again, this notion is rooted in thinking that the library is just a place for housing dusty books. Thankfully, some well-balanced pieces (Kate Hammer and Ian Brown in the Globe and Mail) were also published that highlighted the role of librarians in a digital world.
We can only save libraries by advocating for the services and resources provided by librarians, technicians, and other staff, and not for the nostalgia factor of curling up with a book.
In the U.S., the Department of Education announced it is cutting all federal funding to school libraries. In California, L.A. teacher librarians have to actually prove their qualifications to teach in court. This reporter still felt the need to include this unintentional insult:
“Sitting in during two court sessions this week, I felt bad for everyone present, including the LAUSD attorneys. After all, in the presence of a school librarian, you feel the need to whisper and be respectful. It must be very difficult, I thought, to grill a librarian.”
A hilarious and tragic image was provided to me by a relative: the kids’ school does not have a librarian so the library is staffed by the gym teacher. The gym teacher actually blows his whistle to stop reading time. How’s that for quaint and quiet?