November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Advocating for the Worth of Librarians Pays Off in CA | Take the Lead

Thinkstock montage/SLJ

Thinkstock montage/SLJ

According to the most recent statistics available from the California Department of Education, 859 credentialed librarians are working among the 296,000 school libraries in California. The state continues to rank at the bottom of library professional staffing rates. Selma Unified is one of the very few school districts in California that is hiring credentialed librarians, with the goal to have one in every school by next year.

A long-time dream

But six years ago, when I received my current position as the district library coordinator for Selma Unified, I could only dream about our schools being fully staffed with credentialed librarians. At that time, there was exactly one—me!—in the entire district. I never gave up on that dream, though, and included hiring credentialed librarians in the district library plan goals, only to be told it would never happen.

When the district administration was worried about rolling out the California Common Core Standards and wondering how we were going to support teachers in their use of technology, I mentioned my goal again…and again. I actually brought up my mission so many times, it became a running joke.

Finally, success

Turns out, the joke was on them, since we now have five credentialed librarians in our district, and they have been game changers in our library programs.

But it didn’t happen overnight. I spent my first few years in the district educating administration, teachers, and the community about the benefits of having certified librarians, along with full-time paraprofessionals, in all of our school libraries.

My “big break” came during my third year on the job, when a technology coach position was vacated. I jumped at the chance to advocate to the school board for adding a credentialed librarian position, instead of hiring another technology coach. I emphasized how specialized a credentialed librarian’s skill set is, as well as research that supported the academic benefits of a credentialed librarian and a strong school library program.

Finally, the board approved the hiring of our first teacher librarian, and we haven’t looked back since.

SLJ1702-TakeTheLead-PQRight candidate is key

I was fortunate to find a superstar teacher already in the district and convince him that being a credentialed librarian was the best job on Earth. He enrolled in our local library graduate program and became our first credentialed librarian.

I knew that finding the right person for this first hire was crucial, because if he or she didn’t wow, chances are I wouldn’t be making more. But I discovered that after all of my years of fighting for this critical position, seeing a credentialed librarian in action was all it took to get teachers and principals on board.

Advocating continues

In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Local Control Funding Formula, which significantly changed how California funds its K–12 schools and specifically allows districts to fund the positions they need and value. That first year, I attended every community forum and district meeting possible to ensure that the school libraries were allocated fiscal resources. Because of this funding, the district has been able to hire more credentialed librarians and make our paraprofessionals full time at each site.

Having credentialed librarians has made those library programs innovative and forward thinking, while our principals and teachers are now their loudest advocates. It took time, but it’s exciting to see my dream of credentialed librarians being hired and valued come true in Selma Unified School District.

Maria Petropulos is the district library coordinator for Selma (CA) Unified School District, a teacher in the Fresno Pacific University Teacher Librarian Program, and a Lilead fellow, a professional development program for select school library supervisors.

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This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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