Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Save Libraries and Librarians!

I know I'm preaching to the choir, but I need to rant and rave about something: what the heck is going on with school districts and towns closing school libraries? How can we have schools without libraries and librarians? It's just lunacy. And public libraries, closing? I mean, what, are they kidding? Kids need libraries and librarians, adults need libraries and librarians. With most issues I can see the opposing point of view, on this one I can't. To me this issue is black and white, all or nothing: we need libraries. We need librarians.

Oh, we have the internet, right? Kids can just go on the internet, they don't need books or librarians. That sound you hear is me bashing my head against the wall. When I go to schools and there is a professional librarian in a real library, those kids know the difference between fiction and non-fiction, they know about different kinds of research books, they know what the are going on web sites and on the internet, not just that they are "on the computer." I was at Mosaic Prep, a school in Harlem, last week. This is a public school, the first year the school has been in existence. The library was filled with books. It had a smart board. The librarian was dedicated, energetic, and kind. She told me she had had an author in just about every month of that year. AND when I asked the tiniest kids, the kindergartners, what non-fiction was, they all raised their hands. And they knew.

When I go to a school where they have cut the librarian position, and the teachers are overworked teaching to the test... yes, you can fill in the rest. We all can.

No, not all of us. All of us reading this blog. But not all of us in this great country of ours. And I do mean great. We are great. Our kids are great. They all deserve the best. And that means libraries and librarians.

We don't have to bash our heads against the wall. We can speak out. We should speak out.
We have to raise our voices and stand on our soap boxes and use our pens (aka computers) to persuade the Powers that Be to keep our libraries open and staffed with librarians (or media specialists; I don't care what their title is, we know who they are).

My friend Laurie Halse Anderson spent last month making public service announcements as spokesperson for the American Association of School Librarians. Please visit their web page, watch her video, and pass it around. We need to start speaking up about this, loudly, and frequently. Among other great things Laurie says is that "every child needs an amazing library staffed with an incredible librarian." And she quotes Ben Franklin: "The only thing that is more expensive than education is ignorance." She says if we keep closing libraries, we will have to build more jails. Gives me chills.

Laurie and AASL are not the only ones who are speaking up about libraries. Teachers, writers, librarians, and parents are speaking up around the country. We need to join in.

Even my favorite NPR show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, had a segment about libraries on its show this week. For a lighter (but ultimately serious) take on what people are doing to help libraries, listen to the segment, or read the transcript of their "Bluff the Listener," segment here.

This post is self-serving in one way: we childrens' non-fiction authors need the gatekeepers more than perhaps anyone else. Librarians and teachers are the ones who put our books into the hands of children more often than not. But it's not just as an author that I write this. I am writing this as a parent who more than once a week to the library with my children, as a parent whose kids' school librarian was incredibly influential in their lives, and as, I hope, a future grandparent, who will take my grandchildren to the public library, and listen to them tell me what great books their school librarian gave them.

I write this post as a member of our society. I am with Ben Franklin and Laurie: let's keep the libraries open so we don't have to build more jails.


Susan E. Goodman said...

Sadly, the fight is larger than this. School libraries--and city ones too. With massive budget cuts, for example, Boston was looking to close down up to 10 of its 27 neighbor- hood branches. This at a time of economic downturn when people use their libraries more than ever. Last year 40,000 residents signed up for new cards, a 20 percent surge from the pervious year. Circulation has spiked 31 percent over the last three years. Many come in to use computers, which they don't have at home. How else can they look for jobs, even?

When the library board came to my neighborhood, over 400 people came to the meeting, but we are more organized. Ultimately they designated 4 libraries, but we even have some legislators that say they will not vote on the budget if it includes library cuts.

I think some people at the meeting/rally said it best--Giving people access to books and other types of information is part of being a democracy. This is not the place to cut a budget.

Deborah Heiligman said...

Susan, thank you. This is exactly what I wanted to happen--stories like this from around the country. I hope other people follow suit.

Melissa Stewart said...

Hear, hear! Great post Deborah!

I completely agree that there is a clear difference in the knowledge of kids with and without a well-stocked school library run by a dedicated librarian. Students in schools with libraries know how to identify reliable information and filter out unreliable sources on the Web. Moving forward, that skill will become increasingly critical.

Sure, keeping libraries open costs some money, but the price of closing them is much greater. We can't afford to skimp on something as important as libraries.

Dana W. Fisher said...

Thanks so much for your great post, Deborah. I will share it on FB along with Laurie Halse Anderson's PSA.

Dana W. Fisher
School librarian

Linda Zajac said...

Quite accidentally, I stumbled on a small way to help libraries while at the library this morning. My library received a technology grant and they've updated their website. One of the new additions is a button to get to Amazon to make a purchase. I believe I read the library receives 15% of all purchases made via the libraries Amazon link. I spoke with the librarian and she mentioned Amazon has been offering this for a couple of months. The librarian said right now, the income amounts to about $20/month, but it's so new I doubt many people are aware of it.

I wholeheartedly agree that internet sources can be accurate and they also can be inaccurate. Also, the educational material on the internet often is akin to reading an encyclopedia, not exactly the most enticing stuff that gets kids excited about the topic. Quite frankly, I would fight to the dickens if they wanted to hack my library.

Karen Magnuson Beil said...

What a fascinating post, Deb, and an interesting idea, Linda! I remember as a child scampering between the sky-high columns of the Rockville CT Public Library, even before they had a separate children's room. Isn't there a local bookseller who might also give the library a similar discount?