No group of librarians has been more under siege in recent history than the school librarian or media specialist. As a public librarian, I don’t have any insider information on why this is happening. My suspicion (and experience in my home school district) is that the budget is being used as justification for the cutting of this position within schools. Arguments have also been made that ubiquitous technology has rendered the school library obsolete.
Before we get too far down this rabbit hole, I need to point out that the job of a school librarian is not just to check out books to children. A professional school librarian is a teacher specializing in information gathering and search processes. That means that a school librarian doesn’t only point kids in the direction of the right resources. A school librarian empowers students to find and use resources appropriate to their needs. A school librarian teaches our children about the nature of information – how to frame questions, how to hone in on the right information to provide answers, how to use information in a way that’s truthful and equitable. A school librarian provides curriculum support to classroom teachers in the form of supplemental materials – both physical and digital. A school librarian models an enthusiasm for information discovery and the sharing of ideas. A school librarian takes Google and Wikipedia and teaches them as tools rather than a panacea.
I hear the murmurs though. “But the budget…”
Let’s just lay it out there. We pay for those things we value. If I spend more money on soda than salad, I value soda more than salad. If we value those things taught by school librarians, we will pay for them. We cannot tell classroom teachers to do both the job of a librarian as well as teach in their own areas of expertise and then expect excellence. If we want a culture of excellence, we need to leave behind the “Jack-of-All-Trades-Master-of-None” mentality. In the same way, we cannot hand an iPad to a student and say that that removes the need for a school librarian any more than putting a calculator in their hand removes the need for a math teacher.
Many of my formative, school experiences happened in the school library under the guidance of our school librarian. It saddens me to see the slow and far-too-quiet loss of this aspect of public education. I hope that, in a time when we must be developing critical thinkers, dreamers, and builders like never before, our communities and schools will recognize the invaluable nature of the school librarian and demand their place in primary and secondary education.