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Libraries and Librarians are not Luxuries

May 28, 2014
The library is the hub of academic life on campus.

The library is the hub of academic life on campus (photo by the author).

At EdSource Today, a recent headline caught my eye (actually, thanks to Educate Our State for pointing it out):

School librarians a rare find in California public schools

Unfortunately, this problem is one of several indications that California’s policy makers don’t understand or don’t value the connection between “the whole child” and the classroom: we’re similarly underfunded when it comes to school counselors and nurses.

Many people hold an outdated image in mind concerning librarians, and they don’t know how much a professional librarian adds to the quality of a school. In response to comments at EdSource Today suggesting we could hire some “librarians” on the cheap to take the place of professionals, I composed the comment below – and encourage you to add your own comments here, and at EdSource.

Glad this is getting attention. It should be noted that librarians are teachers. In fact, a good librarian has to be the best teacher on a campus, because this is typically the only teacher whose responsibility extends to every student. We’re not talking about glorified book clerks and “Shhhh”-ing duty here. At Palo Alto High School, our librarian is incredibly pro-active. She anticipates student needs by familiarizing herself with the school-wide curriculum, to a degree possibly matched (but certainly not surpassed) by counselors and administrators. Knowing the curriculum allows the librarian to anticipate teacher needs as well. Collaboration between these teachers means that students (and even the classroom teachers) have better content for study, and learn the most up-to-date research skills and informational tools. Our librarian makes continual efforts to promote reading and literacy – not just by acquiring and checking out books, but also by finding out what students want to read, what form they prefer (audio, e-book, print), and what their individual tastes and interests are. She identifies what’s timely, relevant, important, popular. She has improved instruction by teachers, and made a remarkable difference in the academic careers – perhaps even the lives – of many, many students.

As much as I admire her, she is not Superwoman. This is not heroism – it’s professionalism. And she couldn’t do that job without having her own support. That means she has a budget to spend, authority to spend it, and classified staff supporting her.

My question is, why is the norm for Palo Alto, and not every other school in California?

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