Thanks to the new emphasis on nonfiction in the Common Core
standards, my school visit dance card has been filled for months (and for
months, even years to come). Books about
Sasquatch and UFOs may not land me a place on most award lists, but they make
it easy to define critical thinking skills and the value of diligent research.
My job seems secure.
Not so for librarians.
Coast to coast, city to city, I’ve seen a disturbing
trend. Librarians are fighting for their
lives. IMHO, we should be fighting right alongside them. Librarians are the living, breathing bridges
between writers and readers. And they
need our help to survive.
Public education budgets are stretched to their limits and
administrators are search for ways to cut costs. Librarians are an easy target, thanks to the
ready availability of paraprofessionals.
“We can fire our librarians,” the ill-informed conclude, “and hire paraprofessionals
at half the expense. After all, how hard is it to check out books?”
Our educational administrators are stretched so thin with the
demands of academic life, they’ve failed to recognize how much their librarians
do, beyond checking out books. So I hope
we can gently remind them.
Librarians ARE Teachers
They are professionals with years of academic study behind
their credentials. Like classroom
teachers, they have worked hard to achieve their professional degrees and to keep
their credentials current. They are
specially trained to work with books for young readers – and the kids who will
Librarians Build Relationships
Consider an elementary school librarian’s awesome
reach. He or she meets a student as a
five-year-old checking out books for the very first time. He knows if the kindergartener had trouble
being away from home. He knows if they
recognize their letters and colors. He
knows if there are signs of abuse or neglect.
He knows if the child is gifted or needs extra help. A year later, he sees the progress the
six-year-old has made. He knows the
second grader got a new step-father, and he knows the marriage crumbled by the
time the boy turned ten. Year after year, the librarian offers her
students a safe place to go – and a witness.
The relationship between a librarian and a child is far deeper than most
people recognize. It is long term and it
is vitally important.
Librarians Spark Imagination
Because of their long term relationships with an entire
school population, librarians acquire books with specific readers in mind. They target their purchases with precision
and sharp consideration. When a
librarian buys IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH, she knows exactly who will check it out
first – and who will line up to check it out later. She knows which readers are waiting for the
new Lisa Yee novel. She knows who’s
aching for BABY MOUSE and who’s secretly ready for Chris Crutcher. Years of professional observation, years of
trust have created the potential for great reader growth, thanks to the careful
selection that goes into an exceptional library collection. It’s personal. And it matters.
Librarians Are Media Specialists
Common Core standards emphasize the need for students to read
and understand nonfiction in all of its research applications. College students will be required to research
and write in depth papers. Our schools
are charged with making sure they’re ready once they graduate. Who better to teach young people about
research than our media specialists?
Librarians know their collections inside and out. They know what books are available on
loan. They also know their electronic
devices, their computers, their access to online material. Classroom teachers are charged with teaching
math, science, English, history and social studies. Librarians should be celebrated for their ability
to teach research skills.
Librarians Have Heart
Where principals are the heads of every school, librarians
are the hearts. They are the gentle glue
that binds the whole school population.
Like the books they choose, protect and repair, librarians reach out to
needy children and remind them they are never alone. As long as they can find the perfect books,
they can find their kindred, even when traditional friends are scarce. As long as a librarian is on call, kids will
find those perfect books. It’s what
librarians are trained to do, thanks to years of education.
Librarians ARE Appreciated
Well, they SHOULD be.
They are the gatekeepers, poised to unlock every young reader’s passion
for reading. But they are far too often
cast aside. I did a school visit
yesterday where the librarians had been fired, district wide. One librarian had been retained to care for
the collections and populations of twelve different elementary schools. One librarian, twelve schools. She happened to be at the school I visited, though
she was not aware of my visit and the library had almost none of my books.
I asked her how she managed twelve schools as one
individual. She shook her head and laughed.
The squeaky wheel gets
the librarian grease – she goes, at any given moment, where she is most
needed. But she doesn’t know any of the kids. How could she? She’s
never building relationships. She’s
always putting out fires. She teaches a
research unit one week, weeds a collection the next. She can’t buy books for readers she doesn’t
know. So she buys, hoping she’ll hit the
mark – never knowing if she's even come close.
I asked what we could do to help. She said, “Oh god, if you could only speak
When the district fired the librarians, she said loud voices
made it possible -- voices fighting for music; voices fighting for art; voices
fighting for physical education. And I’m
glad those programs were defended. I
would have been lost without P.E. and art.
But the silence disturbs me. No
one fought for the librarians, so they were easy to scrap without the threat of
As we face the onset of 2013, I hope we’ll look for
opportunities to celebrate our librarian friends the way I did at that same
school visit. I knew when I walked into
the school that the librarians had been fired – even before I spoke to the over
taxed one to twelve remainder. As I
watched one teacher search for the projector while another looked for a table,
and still another searched for a microphone that worked, the principal
“It’s hard to pull things
together,” he said with a smile. I
smiled when I answered, too.
“I know exactly what you need,” I said.
He seemed so sincere as he asked his one word question. “What?”
“You need your librarian,” I said. “They are the keepers of the keys.”
“Ah…” he said, almost wistfully. “I’m beginning to think you may be right.”
I smiled again. “I’ve
always loved new beginnings.”
Bless the principal for inviting me. I am grateful. He cares about his students, and the visit
went very well. The kids were enchanted
by my books – only one of which was in their library collection, one published
in 2003. I donated seven more before I
left because the value of a school visit to a student depends on the chance to
explore the books after the author’s gone.
The paraprofessional was delighted. She loved my presentations, even if she had
no idea who I was or what I wrote when I walked through the door. And we had a good day. But I couldn’t help wishing I’d fought harder
to save the librarian along with the paraprofessional. A good author visit could have been great,
in the hands of a devoted librarian.
An academic team works best when it has all its most crucial
players. Librarians should be at the top
of that list.