Opinion
Curriculum Opinion

Logged On and Literate

By Mary Somerville — May 07, 1997 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

My elementary school librarian, Miss Gresham, had an impact on my life in the 1940s in a quiet but dramatic way, giving me the self-esteem and lifelong belief in the power of books and libraries to transform lives.

“Mary,” she said one day, “you’re capable of reading far more advanced material.” It didn’t matter that the book she gave me, Kim by Rudyard Kipling, wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. What mattered was that an important adult, a school librarian, had singled me out.

From that day to this, school librarians have gifted children with reading guidance and curriculum support. With a knowledge of books, stories, and, more recently, technology, school media specialists have widened the horizons and opened doors for children. (“Libraries Seeking Updated Role As Learning Center,” April 23, 1997.)

Alas, too many of these doors are now slamming shut. Cost-cutting administrators are replacing librarians with clerks or turning librarians into baby sitters. The latest figures, from a 1991 survey, show that 26 percent of public schools lack a fully qualified library media specialist. In some districts, library media specialists are stretched among two, three, or more schools. Collections are often much out of date, with most available funding allocated for the purchase of technology.

A 1993-94 survey of subscribers to School Library Journal indicates that more than 77 percent have CD-ROMS and encyclopedias and a little more than half--56 percent--have both an automated catalog and circulation system. The same study found the median amount spent by all schools for library books came to $6.80 per pupil--less than the average cost of one hardcover book.

Kids need libraries that are wired, well stocked, staffed, and open when they need them.

The world is quickly moving into an information age driven by computer technology. Being able to read is a basic survival skill, but it is no longer enough. Our children must be able to navigate the information highway for their studies, their jobs, and their lives. Kids who aren’t logged on and literate will be lost in the next century.

What will happen to the kids deprived of Miss Greshams? What can be done to reverse the erosion of support for school libraries?On the federal level, we must promote policies that recognize the vital role of school libraries in connecting children to the information highway. We must expand funding available to school libraries in areas such as crime prevention, literacy, and education.

This year, when everyone from the White House to the statehouse is spotlighting education, it is time to shout from the rooftops: Kids need school media specialists.

Today’s school libraries must have the support they need to provide a full range of resources--print and electronic. Computers and hardware alone are not enough, however.

We must have discounts on telecommunications services that will help even the smallest and most remote school libraries connect children to the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission will be deciding soon on the size and scope of those discounts. With less than 20 percent of U.S. households connected to the Internet, school libraries are a critical access point for children whose families can’t afford computers and on-line charges.

On the state level, we must develop a strategic plan for serving the learning needs of schoolchildren and recognize the vital role of school librarians in areas such as reading, literacy, and technology.

On the local level, we must seek increased funding for school libraries, supporting the recruitment and hiring of professional media specialists. Nationally, a quarter of all schools do not have a school librarian. A quarter of all schools are shortchanging children.

Students visit school library media centers some 2.2 billion times during the school year--more than twice the number of field trips to state and national parks. Yet, only about 11 percent of elementary schools and 21 percent of high school libraries are connected to the Internet.

Americans spend six times as much on home video games ($5.5 billion) as they do on school library materials for their children. Most school library media centers spend less than $7 a year per child on books. Yet research has shown that the highest-achieving students come from schools with good library media centers, regardless of whether their districts are rich or poor or whether adults in those communities are well or poorly educated.

What does it really matter, the school library? One student put it to me this way: “I love the library at my high school. I don’t feel I could have gotten such good grades without it. I never used to read. The library had so many different books that I read whatever interested me.”

Another student told me: “Growing up poor, Puerto Rican, and without a family, I knew that drugs and gangs offered nothing to rescue my self-esteem. Librarians taught me, in parent-like fashion, to read books, rather than dwell on destructive anger. I chose to believe in myself. I chose libraries.”

Thanks to Miss Gresham, so did I. Then as now, kids can’t wait for school librarians to care, nurture, and feed them great books, new technology, and real encouragement. This year, when everyone from the White House to the statehouse is spotlighting education, it is time to shout it from the rooftops: Kids need school media specialists. Kids today need their very own Miss Greshams, as never before.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 07, 1997 edition of Education Week

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum A 'War on Books': Conservatives Push for Audits of School Libraries
After Texas banned critical race theory in schools, battles grew heated in the conservative suburbs surrounding the state's largest cities.
Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
12 min read
Image of books.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Texas Lawmaker Demands Districts Provide Lists of Books on Racism, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ
The Texas attorney general candidate's request has received criticism from educator groups who say the inquiry is politically motivated.
Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
iStock/Getty
Curriculum Teachers' Use of Standards-Aligned Curricula Slowed During the Pandemic
More math teachers are using standards-aligned materials than English/language arts teachers, according to RAND survey results.
4 min read
Illustration of a grading rubric.
priyanka gupta/iStock/Getty
Curriculum Teacher Fired for Lesson on White Privilege Loses Appeal
Matthew Hawn told students, "white privilege is a fact," and was accused by administrators of breaking the state's teacher code of ethics.
4 min read
David Cox, former Director of Sullivan County Schools, left, testifies during a public hearing for former social studies teacher, Matthew Hawn.
A hearing for former Sullivan County teacher, Matthew Hawn.
Caitlin Penna for Education Week