March 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

California’s Modesto City Schools To End Library Instruction for Elementary Schools


Virginia Johnson, associate superintendent of MCS. Photos courtesy of Modesto City Schools.

Modesto City Schools (MCS) is set to end all library instruction for its elementary schools for the 2014-2015 school year—while keeping the school library opens with library assistants. Nine certified school libraries have already received notices from MCS warning them their jobs are likely to disappear for the coming school year as a proposal made by the district to end school library skills instruction passed through the Board of Education (BOE) earlier this spring, and is now set for adoption at the June 16 BOE meeting, according to Virgina “Ginger” Johnson, MCS’s associate superintendent.

The decision stemmed from the district and the board’s belief that students needed more computer training, including keyboarding and how to use search engines, says Johnson, particularly with online testing related to Common Core. The only time they felt could be substituted was the 30 minutes a week each first through sixth grade student spent with school librarians learning skills including research, she says.

“In a perfect world we would have kids have everything,” she says. “But we have so many minutes a day.”

Modesto, a town located about 91 miles due east of San Francisco, has a population of about 208,107 people with approximately 30,000 K-12 students served by 22 elementary schools, four junior high schools, and seven comprehensive high schools, according to MCS’s website. Certified school librarians will remain on staff at the junior and high schools for now. But Modesto is hardly the first city in California to cut school librarians from its staff.

According to the most recent statistics from the California Department of Education, just 804 teacher librarians had positions across the state in the 2012-2013 school year, with numbers dropping every year since the 2007-2008 school year when 1,253 were on staff—a nearly 36 percent drop, and a ratio today of nearly 7,400 students for each teacher librarian. For context, Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 900 schools alone.


Amy Elliott Neumann, vice-president of Modesto BOE. Photo courtesy of MCS.

Johnson emphasizes that school libraries will remain open—which the Board was emphatic about, she says. Amy Elliott Neumann, vice-president of Modesto’s Board of Education, agrees and says that school librarians were already not in the school libraries, which were run by assistants who checked in and out books. And although the libraries are open each week, not every school has them open full-time, she adds.

“Our libraries are still open and still available to the kids,” says Neumann, elected to the Board in 2011, and currently has a fifth grader in elementary school. “The libraries are still there, and there’s still a librarian there. It’s just a credentialed teacher we are talking about eliminating.”

The nine teacher librarians are being offered the opportunity to vie for the new positions in computer instruction. Johnson says some of the librarians are already meeting with the county to get their credentials, and that all of them have voiced that they believe they can do the jobs. She says they all should have the opportunity to have a job in the district.

“They would be reassigned if they have the appropriate teaching credential,” she says. “It is not the district’s intention to lay off anyone if they don’t have to.”

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

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  1. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Lame! So lame!

    • Sarah Mollenkramer says:

      I have been looking for your opinion on this, JH! What is going on here? Who are the strong voices for libraries in CA right now?

  2. Modesto City Schools is poised to cut 29 full-time teaching positions for next year, including most elementary school librarians. The long-standing program that taught students the Dewey Decimal System and how to find reference books may be replaced by teaching computer skills and online data searches.

  3. Amy Bloomberg says:

    Neumann clearly does not have an understanding of what a librarian is when she says, “The libraries are still there, and there’s still a librarian there. It’s just a credentialed teacher we are talking about eliminating.” According to the article, they are staffing the libraries with assistants next year. These are not librarians and do not have masters degrees in library science as certified librarians do. It is a shame the district is ignoring overwhelming research evidence that shows a correlation between student achievement and having a full-time, certified librarian in a school. Ignorant decision.

  4. Joanne Pruett says:

    No respect — We get no respect! I said this last week! Librarians are the Rodney Dangerfields of schools. WE keep getting more admin and micro-management and fewer people who can teach.

  5. Kelly Higgins says:

    Technology is all well and good, but if you don’t have the organizational skills behind that, you are toast! Library skills are skills that transfer over to all other areas of research. I’m from Texas, but I will tell you, that when we receive a student from California…we cringe! They are usually a year or more behind what we are doing. As for having clerks totally managing the libraries, it sounds good for cost cutting at first. Give things a year or so, and you will find that all sorts of money is being lost because the clerks may not be able to keep track of materials as well as first was thought.

  6. Lydia Smith-Davis says:

    Australia understands the value of the 21st Century Librarian …

    What is a teacher librarian?

    A qualified teacher librarian is defined as a person who holds recognized teaching qualifications and qualifications in librarianship, defined as eligibility for professional membership for the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA).

    Within the broad fields of education and librarianship, teacher librarians are uniquely qualified. This is valuable because curriculum knowledge and pedagogy are combined with library and information management knowledge and skills.

    Teacher librarians support and implement the vision of their school communities through advocating and building effective library and information services and programs that contribute to the development of lifelong learners.

    Teacher librarians have three major roles.

    Teacher librarians as curriculum leaders:

    work with Principals and senior staff to ensure information literacy outcomes are a major school focus;
    are involved in curriculum planning and school curriculum committees;
    raise staff awareness of the need for students to acquire information skills and of the importance of resource-based learning in developing these skills;
    promote the use of the information process as a framework for the development of information skills and as the basis for systematic monitoring of students’ development as information users;
    plan, teach and evaluate collaboratively with teachers to ensure the effective integration of information resources and technologies into student learning;
    maintain literacy as a high priority, engaging students in reading, viewing and listening for understanding and enjoyment;
    provide additional assistance to students with particular learning needs or abilities, and to students for whom social justice considerations apply;
    involve students in the operation of the information centre to contribute to their understanding of the role of educational information services in lifelong learning and reading.

    Teacher Librarians as information specialists:

    provide access to information resources through efficient and well-guided systems for organising, retrieving and circulating resources;
    provide training and assistance to students and staff in the effective use of these systems;
    interpret information systems and technologies for students and teachers in the context of curriculum programs;
    provide specialist assistance to students using technology and information resources in and beyond the school and for independent research;
    provide specialist assistance to students using the school information service facility for independent reading, viewing and listening.

    Teacher librarians as information services managers:

    develop and implement strategies for evaluating the resource collection and for determining curriculum and student needs within the context of identified school priorities;
    develop policies, procedures and criteria for selecting resources which meet curriculum, informational and student recreational needs;
    develop information systems and services responsive to student and teacher needs;
    ensure that the day-to-day administration of the school information centre is efficient and that systems, resources and equipment are well maintained;
    develop budget estimates to ensure that teaching and learning requirements are met;
    provide a stimulating, helpful environment which is a focal point and showcase for students’ learning achievements;
    promote the effective use of resources and information sources, systems and services both within and beyond the school.

    (Learning for the future: developing information services in schools, Second edition, p. 60-62)

    • Martha Bayle says:

      How about Teacher-Librarians as engaging, motivating and supporting student readers, connecting readers with books!

  7. willetta payton says:

    This is amazing! Most often districts do not understand the role of the library media specialist (LMS). LMS were removed from our district years ago at the elementary and middle school levels. People do not understand that the Library Media Program has become the cornerstone of bridging technology and information together. One of our Board members have recently complained about students not being able to engage in effective research and that research papers are in dire need of attention. Like anything else in education, learning how to be effective users of information has to start early and scaffold. With the inclusion of technology, it is even more imperative now than decades ago because information is overwhelming, ever-changing and has been compromised. We are existing in a digital landscape, where specific competencies need to accompany how to navigate effectively in this new atmosphere. My assistant said it best when she said, “Do people in Power think that students just take their Smartphones and get smart?” People believe that students are savvy users of information and technology because of their overwhelming use of technology, but research shows (Dr. Don Leu-UConn Researcher -studies on New Literacies Research-Web Evaluation and Online Reading) that students are not savvy users of information. These skills need to be taught. When and where do we think these skills are being taught? According to my study, students said these skills are self -taught. No one is holding students accountable to these skills.
    I conduct surveys each year at the high school level. Students are not coming into high school knowing how to cite sources, setting papers up in MLA/APA, researching with credible search engines, using multiple resources outside of Google, knowing the difference between a magazine and a journal article, understanding how information is organized on the Internet, knowing what page rank means, (Research says that students do not move beyond the first few websites), my students did not understand what the domain .com stood for and how it can impact the information they are retrieving, they did not evaluate websites knowing that technology has challenged the credibility and reliability of information, etc. Many of these benchmarks are 4th grade benchmarks that high school students are unaware of or have not been taught. Is this their fault? Absolutely not!
    Common Core is built around preparing our students for College and Career. It is infused with information, technology use, and research. High performing educational systems were examined from other countries. With decisions like removing LMS and replacing library skills or information literacy skills with just using technology, explains why there is lack of research in the US on this topic and explains why other countries are excelling much faster than we are in this information literate society. We are moving backwards with this kind of backwards thinking decision when we separate Technology, Pedagogy, Content and Knowledge (Research done by Julie Coiro).
    Why these skills? Teaching students the core competencies associated with information literacy is important in both education and the workforce. Remember that the terminology “information literacy” was coined by Paul Zurkowski in 1974 who referenced this word for the work arena. This terminology was used again by ALA’s president I believe in 1989 where it was applied to education. Our society is demanding that the students we graduate be information literate, which is why we have state and national standards along with educational reports like “A Nation at Risk,” that support the need for this imperative mind shift that we need to partake in. I am not saying that the library is the only place these skills can be taught, but the library media specialist has always been the point person when it came to teaching information literacy skills which was once called library skills. Districts need to rethink how they are using LMS or better research their roles.
    I challenge the Board member to have her students take the TRAILS9 assessment on information literacy before the ink dries on this bogus decision. Colleges are complaining that students are not coming to college prepared to engage in effective research at the college level. I am a doctoral student who conducted a mini field study on the information literacy skills of incoming freshmen and my dissertation will address the information literacy skill levels of graduating seniors. There needs to be assessments. We are not preparing our students if we decide to give up on teaching information literacy skills or think students are going to learn them through osmosis. We will be doing them a disservice! I know there is not a lot of time in a day to teach everything, but in time we will learn that not squeezing in this time for these skills will be detrimental.

  8. Karen Morris says:

    Lets save even more money and/or class time. Lets use administrative assistants for superintendents, babysitters for full-time parents, and dental technicians for dentists. Lets have lab techs perform surgery and dog groomers can spay our pets. Think of the money we’ll save!!!

  9. Rene Hohls says:

    It’s going to take a lawsuit – like Williams – to bring our school library services back to what was intended in Ed Code in this State. If you want to provide a room full of books with no instruction on how to use them or master them – to instill a love of reading for lifelong readers – then the “assistant who checks in and out books” is exactly what your students will end up with. Don’t be surprised when these kids get to middle school and have less of an interest in reading than they do now and even less of an idea how to use a library in an educational institution. Nevermind college and career ready – some kids will not even know how to access their own public libraries. There is no equity in our state as long as local districts are allowed to gut library instruction.
    As the librarians in schools go…. so too go the test scores. And worse than that, so too go the skills and knowledge for our students. They will know what to do with a keyboard, but they will have no idea what to do the written word. Wait and see. Because that’s what we do in California – we set things up badly and then we wait and see them fail. and then we spend millions of dollars and millions of hours to react. In the meantime, other states and other countries will already be farther ahead of us.
    Instead of expecting nothing from school librarians – why are district boards and administrators not expecting MORE – and getting it for our kids. Instead of a job description that allows for a clerk to check in and check out books, why not change the job to a teacher librarian and turn that library – a space with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of resources already in place – into the learning environment (CLASSROOM) that it could be and give schools a staff member they will soon learn they cannot live without. Apparently it will take parent and teacher outrage – it will take measurable harm to students’ learning – before district boards and administrators see how short-sighted it is to imagine that the only thing students can get out their school library is a book.