April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

St. Paul to Create 15 New School Library Positions

A  January 30 rally supporting the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers with parents and teachers.

A January 30 rally supporting the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers and school librarians. Photo: Anna Brelje

After a nine-month battle, Minnesota’s Saint Paul Public Schools has agreed to more than double the number of school librarians over the next two years—to 25 positions—by the fall of 2015. And Saint Paul has a message for new library school graduates: Please apply.

“This is a district that is taking the role of media specialists seriously, says Paul Rohlfing, an organizer with the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT), which negotiated with the district to increase the number of school librarian positions in their K–12 schools. “We want the young, radical school librarians who are looking to make a difference.”

Currently, Saint Paul’s 38,000 students are served by ten media specialists, an “abhorrent ratio,” says SPFT president Mary Cathryn Ricker, who has led the union for the past nine years. Ten new school librarians will be added for the 2014–2015 school year, with an additional five added the following year. The positions will be assigned to school sites, with school placement decided by the district, Rohfling says. The union will go back to the bargaining table in 2016 to renegotiate its two-year contract.

Ricker says that the district initially resisted discussing school librarians during contract negotiations, because of what they said was ” an inherent managerial right” of deciding who to hire. When the union brought the question of school librarians to the bargaining table, in effect showing that they took the issue as seriously as they did wage and benefit increases, “the district got serious about addressing it.”

Negotiations started in May 2013 and lasted until February 2014, when the district agreed to add more school librarians.

“We tried other ways to stop the hemorrhaging of librarians cut in the past decade, and the district wasn’t taking us seriously,” says Ricker. “But they did see the damage to student learning.”

The damage to library collections was also evident, says Rohlfing. He notes that some of the school libraries had been recipients of a makeover by the store Target. However, these revamped facilities were now without school librarians to run them.

“We had libraries managed or mismanaged by improperly-trained volunteers or parents in some cases,” he says. “We heard of horror stories of books being thrown out for having old copyright dates. That seemed ridiculous.”

Rohlfing says SPFT tried to pack the open-door negotiations with parents for support, until the district filed for mediation in September, at which point parents and others—not in the union—were not allowed to be present. But SPFT continued to rally, holding a walk-in on January 30, when parents and teachers marched before school and created YouTube videos on topics from PreK funding to the need for school librarians—issues also discussed during negotiations.

The union won other staffing victories in other areas as well. The district will add seven school nurses, and 15 school counselors will be hired over the next two years. Negotiators also secured an additional $6 million in pre-K funding.

To Rohlfing, the new agreement is a huge step forward—even if it did not meet everyone’s goals. He believes the renewed support for media specialists may help the district attract new recruits.

“It sends a message to licensed media specialists of where to look to start their career,” says Rohlfing. “We hope to draw some of the best.”

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. Tori Jensen says:

    Thank you for covering our story. It would be great to see more district unions get behind these types of staffing issues. We were totally backed up by our union. They really went to bat for us and it paid off for students in St. Paul.

  2. Gail Bullard says:

    It’s nice to know that age discrimination is alive and well in St. Paul. So only young, radical librarians are welcome to apply for these school media positions. Because obviously, only the young, newly graduated librarians could possibly be looking to make a difference. Older librarians who might have some experience in the field couldn’t possibly be the best. And certainly, older librarians who have recently graduated from library school would neither be looking to make a difference in the world, nor would they have any chance to be the best. Shame on you for these offensive comments, Mr. Rohlfing.

    • My thoughts, exactly!!!!

    • K Cantwell says:

      How ridiculous. It comes off as perpetuating the “old school marm” stereotype of librarians. Yes, young librarians may have new ideas, but experienced librarians have seen what works and doesn’t work. Not to mention, that if they are applying for the job at all, it is because they obviously want to make a difference and could be looking for a fresh start where they can be more radical rather than dealing with bureaucracy in their formal jobs. Age has nothing to do with someone’s ability to breath fresh life into a library program. (The underlying message probably isn’t about “radical ideas or making a difference,” rather it’s probably that experienced librarians cost more than straight from school cheaper counterparts.)

  3. Very happy to hear that positions are being created – not so happy that only the young need apply! I just started in my position, and am pretty sure that I am making a radical difference! I am not so young, though. I am, however, an enthusiastic technophile who embraces trying new things and embraces changing the status quo. Shame for assuming that only the young will do that – probably the big difference is that the young will get paid less than the more experienced…

  4. What a terrible way to position a victory. What if we only recommended books by young, radical authors? What about the passion of mature librarians with life experience? Superficial characterizations demean the profession. Inexperience can be costly, as this misguided quote so clearly demonstrates. I’d love to write an article for SLJ exploring this misconception – as a journalist turned librarian with extensive public relations experience I think it’s a topic ripe for exploring.