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.