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December 22, 2014

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California School Librarians Look to Higher Ed during Advocacy Overhaul

Recent data from the California Department of Education confirming the dramatically low ratio of media specialists to students (about 1:7,000) has members of the California School Library Association (CSLA) rallying for big advocacy—including radical new approaches—in 2014, they tell School Library Journal. Key to those efforts will be the state’s universities, which can help broadcast the message that students’ college readiness is suffering without information literacy experts on site at every school.

Advocacy WelcometoCali California School Librarians Look to Higher Ed during Advocacy Overhaul

“The fast track to changing [K–12] education in this country is to get the universities to say ‘we want kids to receive this education in information literacy for the 21st century. We need to see this happening in our schools.’ And if they do that, it will be probably the fastest catalyst for change,” says Glen Warren, CSLA’s vice president of government relations and teacher of information and digital literacy at the McPherson magnet school in the Orange County Unified School District.

“When you start talking to academic librarians [and] administrative librarians at the higher education level across this country, you will see one unified voice saying, ‘we are doing nothing but remediation for our freshman and sophomore classes,’” Warren says.

In particular, CSLA’s advocacy will be looking to the ongoing attempts by educators to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in California, Warren notes.

“[Maybe] you can get the No Child Left Behind education done without teacher librarians. You cannot get Common Core expectations done without teacher librarians. It’s not possible,” he says. “ If the Common Core is calling for college readiness, and the colleges say [students don’t have] information literacy, we can make a lot of dominoes start to fall.”

CSLA previous partnered with California’s college community in 2010 in its efforts to encourage the state to pass strong library standards. Warren reached out specifically to the Librarians Association of the University of California (LAUC) for direct support on that issue.

Since then, the ratio of media specialists to students in the state has fallen even more sharply, and the moment for bolder action—and more innovative strategies—is at hand, Warren says.

“At the time, I said, ‘I need you guys to give me your voice,” Warren explains. “[And LAUC] put together an official resolution in essence saying that students are coming to the University of California—all campuses—information illiterate. Then the state PTA showed up to speak for those standards, too. So I think what happens now is we build on that kind of strategy.”

California’s situation is severe but not without hope, notes Jane Lofton, CSLA past president and teacher librarian at Mira Costa High School in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District. “We were at something like 1:5,000 a few years ago, and since then we’ve been bleeding librarians,” she says, although she is quick to point out that the state might be poised for a turnaround, despite dire situations in budget-squeezed communities such as the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Since the recession hit in 2008, “every year we’ve seen major cuts and this last year we didn’t. That was a big relief,” she tells SLJ.

Lofton also confirms that the CSLA is making the most of its relationships with multiple local stakeholders, including academic librarians, school boards, and the California State PTA.

Lofton is no stranger to tight school budgets. Before Mira Costa, she was teacher librarian in the Las Virgenes Unified School District until her position was cut in 2009. She then taught seventh-grade language arts. All of California’s teacher librarians are certified teachers first, with library credentials second, so moving to another position is one way for veteran educators to stay on the books. However, when the critical role of teacher librarian is cut from schools, students still lose out.

“As a teacher librarian I am able to reach all the students in the school…promoting reading, promoting effective use of technology, teaching information literacy,” Lofton says. She also notes that teacher librarians specialize in these areas “and we have training in digital citizenship and information and media literacy that is not part of the training of any other credentialed teacher” in the state.

Notes Lofton, any of California’s certified teachers trained as librarians inevitably pass on their information literacy knowledge in the course of their other duties, helping students as well as supporting other teachers. “[Teacher librarians] do a lot of professional development training for other teachers, and when I was teaching language arts, that didn’t change.”

Even Warren, a certified teacher librarian, is working in a classroom and not a school library, “offering all of that expertise and availability for professional development to the staff at his school,” Lofton says.

However, it’s not enough for California’s kids, according to the CSLA. First, there just aren’t enough teachers trained in librarianship to go around. Second, even those now working in California classrooms, no matter how generous they are with their time, are hard pressed to complete the wide range of duties teacher librarians can accomplish when working in dedicated librarianship roles.

“We have given up trying to get new teacher librarian jobs,” Warren tells SLJ. “We are fighting a brand new fight: for teachers who are in place in a classroom or in a secondary context, who are leaders in teaching and leaders in technology, to get their librarianship credentials. Not for the purpose of getting a job, but for the purpose for staying on site for both teachers and the community. We’ve got whole school sites that don’t have anyone with that expertise on campus!”

CSLA also plans to create infographics  to help publicize the recent data, along  with an advocacy film modeled after one created by the Washington Library Media Association and a toolkit of resources that local members can use to advocate in their own districts. The kits will include research studies showing the importance of having a teacher librarian on site, talking points, webinars, and videos—like the one CLSA filmed at a presentation to the California School Boards Association last fall, Lofton says.

During that event, CSLA members shared how “vital it is in having our expertise in implementing Common Core,” Lofton says. “Common Core is a huge issue.”

Getting those California-specific resources out to the membership is critical, because advocacy in 2014 really needs to be done locally, Lofton says. Not least of the reasons for this is new state legislation—governing LCFF, or local control funding formulas—that will allow districts to make more decisions about how to spend their dollars, rather than leaving those decisions up to the state.

CSLA continues to be inspired by the work of librarian advocates across the country, such as the Spokane Moms and Project Connect, Lofton says, while Warren notes that he is also pursuing the support of the national nonprofit organization Creative Commons. Says Warren,  teacher librarians are the best instructors for copyright and permissions issues.

“[Creative Commons] said ‘we want to CSLA to lead the way on educating kids with Creative Commons concepts,’ and if we’re successful in California, we’ll roll it out to librarians internationally,” he adds.

That’s an exciting prospect for the CSLA: to be able to raise the profile of both the profession and that of information literacy both locally and nationally, Warren says.  “If we could have won this argument on facts and logic, we would have won a long time ago. Now we’ve got to start raising the ethical aspect of it and the emotional aspect of it. We can’t afford to have a bunch of new citizens that do not have the capacity to access, evaluate, integrate, originate—and ethically, safely, and legally use information.”

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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