February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Florida School Librarians Stretching Resources—Themselves

Sharing has a whole new meaning for Marion County, FL, elementary school librarians, far beyond the lesson they help teach their young charges. Today, the word refers to the way media specialists manage their jobs—which means each must head two elementary school libraries instead of one.

East Marion Elementary School in Silver Springs, FL.

Starting this fall, all of the Marion County Public School’s remaining 15 certified media specialists support two schools each. Each school has their librarian on site for two days, with the third day handled as a flex day, meaning librarians can spend the time at either school. The arrangement has taken adjustment for librarians trying to juggle two separate spaces since classes started August 19—but also for students who now have considerably less library instruction.

“It has been very difficult because of sharing schools,” Miriam Needham, the district’s coordinator of library media services, tells School Library Journal.  “It’s not really possible to have an effective program when you’re not there five days a week.”

The new schedule started for some school librarians in the district three years ago, Needham says. As librarians retired or moved away, their positions were frozen, and other librarians were assigned their elementary school campuses. Seven school librarians had already been sharing 14 schools even before the start of this new fall term, Needham notes.

This latest shift in how school librarians were assigned schools started in May, when Superintendent George Tomyn announced that the district was facing a $29 million budget shortfall. That led to 261 layoffs across Marion County. School librarians kept their jobs in the middle and high schools, but lost their clerks and assistants—positions that still remain at the elementary school level, as they help to maintain the library by checking books in and out.

“But that’s really all she can do,” says Susan Dunn, a certified library media specialist at East Marion Elementary School and Anthony Elementary School, of her assistant.

Dunn, who was the full-time librarian at East Marion for 21 years, now spends Wednesday through Friday at that campus with its 700 students, and just Monday and Tuesday at Anthony Elementary with its 350 students. In her 22nd year as a school librarian, Dunn has now jettisoned story time, much of her research lessons, and collaboration time with teachers.

“What I really crave is to be able to have a closer relationship with the kids,” she says. Because when they don’t see me, they don’t know me, and I don’t really know them.”

Anthony Elementary is in its fourth year of having a shared librarian—a different media specialist each year. Dunn is the fourth, and says she is having a hard time getting to know the students and staff, as she’s not as integrated into the curriculum as she would like to be.

“They may be a little gun shy,” she says. “There is a whole group of students I haven’t been introduced to because I’m not there when they come to the library. There’s an assistant checking out books. They come for 20 minutes, and out they go.”

Needham says that the administration’s plan is to restore the cut positions, and not permanently leave the sharing as it is. But that all depends on funding, she says.

In the meantime, librarians like Dunn will continue to set forth twice a week to different school sites, trying to help students at both. Sometimes that means leaving emails unanswered—there were more than 1100 that were unanswered the last time she checked her account. And even as she forges back and forth she knows she and her students aren’t the only one adjusting.

“This is really difficult for the library assistants because they have to put up with another new person, a new personality,” says Dunn. “At Anthony I moved all books from one side to another, moved bulletin boards around, threw things out. The poor assistant is so stressed because the last three librarians did the same thing. I feel bad about it even though I keep moving things around and throwing things away. But that’s a phenomenon that’s happening all over the county.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. Anni LaPrise says:

    I have been split between 2 – 3 schools my whole school career. I was the 1st librarian in 25 years and had to get the collection weeded and automated while helping set the curriculum. For the last 3 years, I have only been between the 2 elementary schools and teach 35 forty-five minute classes a week. Due to budget cuts, no librarian is in the junior high and high school. My kids will tell you that I make it work with help of some great library aides. Stuff does slip through the cracks, but the kids are learning about libraries and checking out over 17,000 books each in both schools. While I worry about my kids in the junior high, I know they know how to find and love books. I even have a book blog for them to use to find books I recommend. Maybe coming from the public library background helps me make it work because you had to serve your public.

  2. anita vance says:

    This is such a sad and sorry state – in my home city, in Pennsylvania, one poor elementary librarian must try to give effective instruction to 8 schools. It makes my heart hurt…….