“School librarians are all but extinct in Harlem. The Department of Education has failed to provide librarians at 87 percent of Harlem schools that are legally required to staff them…”— NY Post; 8/4/17
A Brooklyn elder once said to me: “If you want to hide something important from some folks, just put it in a book!”
It’s not like students of color don’t have enough societal hurdles to overcome on their path to realizing a positive and productive adult life; and now we must include inadequate school library services? These are more than likely the children who live and attend schools in Gifted and Talented programs “deserts”. They are probably zip coded into schools that have never started, budgetarily starved to the point of ineffectiveness, or completely eliminated their: (not for test-prep purposes) technology i.e. robotics-coding, informal education trips, professional artist visiting (or in residence) serving the school, Performing and Graphic Arts, Dance, Music, Creative Writing, and any other intellectually stimulating programs that can get in the way of the: “all test-prep, all of the time”, school culture.
And I know this, because I heard the excuses for this line of decision making, so many times as a superintendent: “it’s the budget—it’s standardized testing!” But my push-back to principals has always been that when you reduce your students’ access to these mind-thinking-creativity expanding programs and activities, you are in fact reducing your own capacity to raise student academic achievement, including their performance on standardized exams!
School Libraries are no different. In the elementary school years, the primary learning objective of the properly certified librarian, is to serve as an “educational cupid”, and encourage the children to fall in love with books, reading and libraries. That “love affair” should continue and be solidified in the middle school; where those librarians are helping students to become bona fied readers for fun, enlightenment and learning.
The middle school (MS) librarian can also play an important developmental psychological counseling role. For middle school students, both the external and internal worlds they experience every day can be extremely confusing. The MS librarian can provided these students with special sections (i.e. “who am I?”, “what is happening to me?”, “why do I feel this way?”, “what’s going on with my body?” etc.) of “student friendly”, exciting and interesting (for them), enjoyable fiction and non-fiction books. These books can help these young people navigate through this most challenging and conflicting of human developmental periods. In both the Elem. and MS libraries, there is also the “hidden curriculum” of allowing children who may not have access to well informed, information rich, and/or well-resourced parents; the opportunity to at least dream, imagine and explore the world outside of their community, through the rich resources of books. The Elem. and MS librarian can also serve as a bridge and liaison to the public library system surrounding the school.
I believe we should rethink how we have organized high school libraries. Most in my view, are incorrectly just bigger models of the K-8 school libraries. But at each level the school library should take on new and different set of missions, while maintaining some core objectives, i.e. information and knowledge acquisition. I think that high school libraries should serve more in the capacity of Information, career-college development, and research and project development centers. Hopefully to compliment a research and project based driven school-wide instructional philosophy. I also think that high school libraries should invest more of their resources into stocking different versions of course subject textbooks (students can often grasp a difficult concept when they read it in a book other than their assigned text book), reference books, biographies, magazines, journals and external web-based internet information sites and services.
And, I guess my most controversial proposal, is to move works of fiction and poetry directly into easy student “reach” (access); that is by placing these books inside of high school English subject classrooms. Yes, classroom libraries in high school ELA classrooms! My experience is that students actually end of reading more fiction books for fun and enjoyment; particularly when you combine these classroom libraries with a reward producing school-wide reading for fun program/competition; in my case that program was “Readers to Leaders”.
School librarian’s extinction is the students learning destruction…
Finally, it should be said that K-12 school libraries are not just “throw-away-spaces” in the school building; whose sole purpose is to provide schools with “coverages” for teacher lunch and prep periods. Rather the school library program should be thought of by a smart and strategic principal, as a core component of their raising and maintaining academic achievement plan.
Therefore, a F/T skilled, talented and certified librarian, is required to manage this important school resource. And they are also critical and essential to helping the school to realize the maximum contributions of the school library to the school-wide academic mission; and no school (that calls itself a school), should be without a librarian!