School Librarians Should Be Required, Not Fodder for Short-Term Cuts | Editorial

Nothing as vital to learning as school libraries should be left to the push-me, pull-you of whittling a budget under pressure.

My heart sank when I heard that school ­librarians are at risk in Spokane, WA, again, with a clock ticking for a decision on proposed cuts at the end of the summer. Then my blood boiled. School libraries, with certified school librarians powering them, should be required in our schools, not fodder for temporary cuts with long-term negative impacts.

In Spokane, this current setback comes just over a decade after the renowned Spokane Moms turned the tide there with an advocacy effort that set a new standard for what parents can do when they get into the fight. Now, one of the moms, Lisa Layera, describes the problem in a way we should all be listening to. “What we learned over a decade ago was this idea that it’s nobody’s fault per se,” Layera told SLJ’s Kara Yorio. “The districts aren’t the bad guy. The superintendents aren’t to blame. These are strictly budgetary decisions, so we spent a lot of time going back and forth after the famous multimillion dollar allocation, and it was really about policy language.”

I agree. Policy is where it’s at—and as many ­efforts by library leaders illustrate, it is hard to do. Still, nothing as vital to learning as school libraries should be left to the push-me, pull-you of whittling a budget under pressure. Toward that, all eyes should be on Michigan, where three bills are in play that would require public schools to have a library with a certified librarian in it, as well as provide backup staff for the librarian, according to Lansing’s City Pulse. There are pitfalls here as well, as unfunded mandates can be a struggle at best to fulfill, and there is currently no budget proposed to support compliance. With that major caveat stated, policy like ­this—­co-sponsored by a first-time legislator and former public school teacher—has the potential to put teeth in the advocacy fight that can otherwise be little more than a fatiguing, spiraling cycle.

The current state sets up a painful process that has stakeholders fighting to restore funding instead of ­fueling a valued key service with even better funding. Not to mention the trauma for the individuals who aren’t sure where they will be working come autumn, nor the impact a cut like this will have on the learning in those schools this year and well beyond.

When prioritized in policy at all levels, the upside improves, and we can build instead of repeatedly shoring up support.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should look away when a fight needs fighting, as it does in Spokane today. And, key partners in that advocacy work are, yes, parents and other caregivers. When they are connected to the positive impact of school libraries, they are unmatched advocates.

Consider the recent win by parents at the ­Strawberry Point Elementary School in Mill ­Valley, CA, where a plan to cut the school’s half-time ­librarian was recently reversed. That feat was accomplished thanks to impassioned advocacy anchored by a petition that some 300 parents signed, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

The petition itself advocates, but at the same time informs the reader about the many positive and critical contributions a school librarian makes across learning activities. As ever, we should keep getting better at articulating the impact of school libraries—as Library Love Letters, a nifty collaborative zine from Seattle Public Schools, does. Engaging kids and adults in telling that story in the short term ­mobilizes the fight for funding today and the long-term positioning toward policy prioritization.

When parents and caregivers know, understand, and can share the upside of libraries like this, we have no better partners in the work of ensuring school libraries are present and supported. And, those same advocates could just be voters, too.

 

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Rebecca Miller

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

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