June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

10,000 School Librarians and Counting | Editorial

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Numbers only tell us what can be measured by them—and as our feature package on the state of the union of school librarians illustrates loud and clear—they can raise more questions than they answer.

For almost a decade, the profession has buzzed with the news of school library closures, radical restructuring, and head count reduction. Advocates have saved positions, too, strengthening the cause. Along the way, the field has evolved and so has the understanding of how school librarians can enhance student learning. It hasn’t been all bad news, as positions have been regained and school leaders have renewed support for their library programs.

SLJ has been covering it all. Now we further explore what has happened to staffing during this decade of upheaval. Here we begin with data and analysis by Keith Curry Lance. But numbers are only one part of the story. Debra Kachel covers the many factors at work on the national, state, and local levels. Meanwhile, Sarah Butler Jessen explores national education policy and the widening equity gap.

The news is dark. The field has been grappling with a precipitous decline in full-time equivalent (FTE) school librarian positions since the 2008 financial crisis. We’ve lost over 10,000 FTEs, down from 53,805 in 2008–09 to 43,367 in 2015–16. This is a reality we need to face squarely in the eye.

It’s also a reality we need to understand more fully. As Lance notes, these national numbers are only as good as the reporting. Case in point: The decision in California to record school librarians as teachers. This questionable strategy, while likely guided by good intentions, confuses the numbers and points to an identity crisis that has plagued the profession for years.

We need more robust ways to measure what librarians are doing in our schools and under what title. Without clear-cut data, we won’t be able to gain a solid understanding of the workforce. It also prevents us from measuring the impact and telling the full story of this dynamic profession.

Nonetheless, the stark reality this national snapshot presents is ours to address. Across the field, as a community that grasps that school librarians are catalysts for learning, it is time to find new ways to recover lost ground.

Rebecca_sig600x_WebEditorial

Rebecca T. Miller
Editor-in-Chief
rmiller@mediasourceinc.com

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Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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