Where Have All the Librarians Gone (And How We Can Get Them Back)
Consider this sobering fact: the numbers of full-time, certified librarians in public schools across our country declined sharply with the Great Recession of 2008. Although the country’s economy recovered its losses, school library positions did not (Lance, 2018.)
The reasons vary (Kachel, 2018), but together they create a cautionary tale with an obvious conclusion: It could get worse.
School librarians are the canaries in the coal mines of information literacy, and their demise or weakening status will eventually affect future patrons in public, university, and special libraries. Consequently, all of us must consider how we can join school librarians to influence policy on local, state, and national levels (Berg, 2018.)
School librarians, serving on the front lines, have the clearest paths to follow. Emphasize your worth, whether you are in an exemplary or an imperfect program. Show rather than tell. For example, if asked to organize a Literacy Night, don’t simply complete the task, but also submit a document outlining the process to your principal.
Emphasize the goals of your makerspaces that empower students and foster creativity and problem solving. When buying materials, briefly annotate your requests showing how each item is designed to lead to independent thinking.
Administrators, often with little formal knowledge about school library programs, may need some education. If so, remember that with every communication to campus and district administrators you are teaching rather than informing. When making requests, from increasing budgets to adhering to book challenges, refer to state and national standards showing that you are expressing more than just a whim and that your profession has recognized guidelines and ethics.
State library organizations can help here. Awards, such as Library Administrator of the Year, highlight quintessential programs and individuals, as does the creation of a designated “Administrators’ Day” at annual conferences. Librarians have a reverse role to play in this advocacy. Submit proposals to administrators’ conferences and focus on the benefits and structure of strong school library programs.
Our national association is moving forward in this area. AASL recently adopted a proposed collaborative with school librarians and administrators to champion teaching and learning (see: http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2019/05/aasl-launches-school-administrator-collaborative) that offers great promise in showcasing successful collaboration between librarians and administrators.
All librarians can inquire about local school libraries, their staffing, funding, and programs, as well as about state mandates that support or don’t support them. We can write to appropriate local school administrators and board members, state legislators, or the state Commissioner of Education expressing our concerns or praise.
We are members of an honored profession, a discipline in which its members often tout their selfless concern for others. Now is the time to use that altruism to support our profession and our fellow school librarians.
Berg, Cara, Darby Malvey, and Maureen Donohue. 2018. “Without Foundations We Can’t Build: Information Literacy and the Need For Strong School Library Programs.” In the Library With the Lead Pipe, March 7. http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/strong-school-library-programs/. (Accessed June, 2019.)
Kachel, Debra. 2018. “A Perfect Storm Impacts School Librarian Numbers.” School Library Journal, March 16. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=perfect-storm-impacts-school-librarian-numbers (Accessed, June, 2019.)
Lance, Keith Curry. 2018. “School Librarian, Where Art Thou?” School Library Journal, May 16. https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=school-librarian-art-thou (Accessed, June, 2019.)