Amid Cuts to School Libraries, ALA Honors Top Programs

By Erik W. Robelen — June 27, 2011 3 min read
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Budget reductions are leading some school districts to put staffing for school libraries on the chopping block, The New York Times reported last week. In one example, it notes that the school superintendent in Lancaster, Pa., said he opted to eliminate 15 of the district’s 20 librarians to save full-day kindergarten. And in the Salem-Keizer district in Oregon, all 48 elementary and middle school librarians would lose their jobs under a budget plan that’s up for a vote this week.

The story comes as just today the American Library Association will honor three of what it calls the nation’s leading school-library programs at its annual conference in New Orleans. The goal of the award program, as an ALA press release notes, is to “shed outdated stereotypes [of librarians] as shushers, shelvers, and book checkers” and emphasize ways school librarians have reinvented themselves to play a vital role in helping students harness 21st-century information technology.

The winners are “leading their profession in adopting the latest technological tools in collaboration with teachers and students to promote creativity, self-reliance, and self-directed learning in schools,” the press release says.

This year’s winners are the Henrico County public schools in suburban Richmond, Va.; the North East Independent school district in San Antonio, Texas; and Pine Grove Middle School in East Syracuse, N.Y. Each winner receives $10,000 for its library program.

“The stereotype of the librarian is we are the keeper of the books. And that’s not who we are today,” Ann M. Martin, the supervisor for school library programs in the Henrico district, told me in a recent interview. “School libraries and librarians are trying to infuse technology into student life in a way that is effective and productive to them.”

She added: “One of the things that librarians are today are managers of information, and that means all types of information, so it involves technology skills and organizational skills, and school librarians on top of that are instructional, they are teachers in their everyday life.”

As for what makes her district’s program special, Martin said: “I think the thing is that they are vibrant, interactive communities where students and teachers come to learn. It’s a community within the schools that is so active and interactive; it’s not a passive place.”

The ALA press release praises the “collaborative partnerships” between librarians and teachers working to merge content and technology through the district’s Henrico21 initiative, and says the districts librarians “integrate curriculum and dynamic interactive technology to teach self-sufficiency.” For a more detailed description, check out this earlier press release.

The New York Times story quotes Nancy Everhart, the president of the American Association of School Librarians (a section of the ALA) as saying the Internet age has made trained librarians more important to guide students through the basics of searching and analyzing information they find online.

Libraries, she said, are “the one place that every kid in the school can go to learn the types of skills that will be expected of them when it’s time to work with an iPad in class.”

The story indicates that there are fewer school librarians in New York City, based on state and city data. The story says there is one librarian for every 2,146 students this academic year, compared with one per 1,447 in 2005.

Data from the School Libraries Count! 2010 survey, conducted annually by the American Association of School Librarians, shows a decline in 2010 compared with the prior year in some key areas.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.