Ashbridge: Why Cutting School Librarians Is a Mistake
Penny wise and pound foolish.
That’s the best way to describe the recent move among schools to save money by cutting school librarians and/or reducing funding for school libraries. The actions of school boards and administrators across the country shortchange our students and our society as well.
A school library in each and every school, staffed by a professional and certified librarian, is critical to the education of our students. We cannot expect to have an informed citizenry if we neglect to teach our students to think critically and evaluate the information that inundates them daily.
Significant and extensive research, led by Keith Curry Lance and his team, proves over and over that school libraries have significant impact on student achievement. More than sixty studies, beginning in Colorado and expanded to twenty-two other states, clearly document that school library expenditures are a key predictor of academic achievement, as measured by standardized tests scores. Other key predictors are the amount and level of library staffing, the size of the collection, and the time the school librarian spends in direct instruction.
The school library of the 21st century is not a book warehouse. It’s not confined between four walls and entered through a single door. Instead, it’s a portal to information, print and electronic, on site and off. It’s the specialized classroom that teaches skills for the adult world. Students learn to access information, critically evaluate it, and communicate it to others. They are introduced to books that excite them to become lifelong learners and readers. As Laurie Halse Anderson, renowned young adult author and spokesperson for the American Association of School Librarians, says, “ A school without a library is like a school without a roof.”
A professionally certified school librarian is critical to the goal of ensuring that students are effective users of information. The librarian is trained to be a curriculum, technology, and information leader in a school. The librarian interacts and collaborates with ALL staff and students. The librarian is a teacher of information literacy, creates pathfinders and web sites, and introduces new technologies to her school. The librarian builds a collection of resources that supports the curriculum. A librarian who is excited about reading and literature imparts that excitement to students. The librarian helps build the foundation for student success in school and in life. When you have a school library without a school librarian, you just have a room -- not a program.
Administrators and school boards need to realize that cutting school libraries and school librarians will be counterproductive in the long run. Pound foolish. And maybe, given the research, not even penny smart.
Carole Ashbridge has been a school librarian for 35 years and is active in state and national library associations.