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Local control and other educational myths

  • Hope didn't do it.
  • Logic and research didn't do it.
  • Testimony from librarians, students and parents didn't do it.
  • Over 50 school library supporters crowding the hearing room didn't do it.

Our state school library/technology association's bill that would have given all Minnesota students access to the services of a professional library media specialist throughout the school day didn't make it out of yesterday's Senate Education committee yesterday.

We lost.

If this blog post sounds like sour grapes, it probably is. Even after 50+ years of rejection of one type or another, I still can't find a way to take losing very well. Sorry.

Here are some of the major reasons given by senators for not supporting our bill:

1. Local control. Legislators felt the decision whether to have a good school library program is best left to local school boards. Despite taking away control over little things like the length of the school year, testing, number of credits needed for graduation, transportation, special education, and a host of other big ticket items, one senator stated he did not want the legislature to act like a "super school board."

Counter: We still need to convince our legislators that good library services are an essential core program for every student in the state, not just in the wealthy districts. While good math skills are see as a necessity, I guess little things like information and technology literacy and life-long reading skills are not - yet. Do we need signs that can be hung on closed school libraries in this state saying, "Closed - but at least we have local control." I am sure we can make those third graders who can't find a good book or Internet guidance understand how important this principle is. (OK, sarcasm isn't becoming.)

2. Unfunded mandates. In the past, I have not been a fan of mandates. I've changed my mind. We can't have a system in which some aspects of education are mandated and others are not. My sense is that 95% of our education dollars are locked into requirements set down by the state with 5% left to be divided among the "extras" like technology, libraries, guidance counselors, elective courses, etc. If nothing was mandated, we could compete for dollars. When most of what schools can do with state dollars IS mandated, our programs need to be mandated as well. As one legislator put it, "as the waterhole dries up, the animals around it start looking at each other differently." And given today's expected budget forecast for Minnesota of about a billion dollars, the waterhole will continue to shrink.

Counter: If there are any state mandates, all important services need to be mandated. Or sufficient educational dollars need to given to all schools to provide basic service. Our waterhole can't continue to shrink. 

3. "Protected class" of employee. One legislator felt this was a bill to protect library jobs and make librarians a "protected class" of employee. But by requiring three years of math for all Minnesota students, haven't we created a "protected class" ofmath teachers? I can see how our bill might look like job protectionism by school librarians.

Counter: I see this bill as "service protectionism" - assuring all kids have available to them access to programs and professionals who will teach them essential skills. We can't frame this as a problem of fewer librarians. We really need better data about school library programs as well. We could not answer the simple question, "How many schools don't have professional librarians in them." We can't complain when we are asked to submit state library program surveys.

I am sadder than I thought I would be. I knew this would be an uphill battle. I wasn't even sure we should have taken this on, given its odds of passage.  But yesterday convinced me that is a necessary fight and we can't surrender. As the Blues Brothers would put it, our profession needs to be on "a mission from God."


Thanks to all who testified and all who showed up yesterday in St. Paul. 

To paraphrase another famous movie line, "We'll be back."



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Reader Comments (15)

I was glad to lend my physical support to the issue and thank those who spoke well on their feet and took a turn at the microphone. Next year I believe we need to voice some of the specific facts, such as which other programs are mandated; how many schools are without professionals; statistics gleaned from studies showing the improved rate of student achievement when a professional is present; who will teach approved literacy skills? It was great to have the students speak of their needs, so that we adults don't seem to be just protecting our jobs. I believe we need to keep bringing this issue/goal to the table annually. As an aside, in the recent book, "A Noble Task, The Saint Paul Public Library Celebrates 125!" by B. Young, other than during the Depression, the only time during its history that the St. Paul library was not progessive and growing, was during a period when it was not led by a professionally trained librarian.

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret Tabar

I know its hard to get support and money for teachers and education. I do, however, know a site that wants to make it free for educators to use technology in the classroom:

Check it out.

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

This came in response to a thank you I sent to the Senator who sponsored our bill:


I, too, was disappointed by the outcome, but even more so by the tone of the comments. If we do this again, perhaps we approach the issue as what kinds of professional expertise should be available to students in our schools. In other words, what skills, expertise and knowledge do media specialists specifically bring to greater student achievement.

That would be a good debate and discussion.

All the best,


Kathy Saltzman

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Your last 2 posts made me actually write a post that I've been writing in my mind for quite awhile now. No answers - just some words of encouragement:

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie Henry

Thanks, Jacquie, Wonderful post and thank you for the words of encouragement.

Blue Skunk readers, click over to Wanderings!


February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Keep up the fight, but do keep in mind that your final quote came from our CA "Govenator" who has slashed our school budgets and is causing school librarians throughout our state to be let go. Best to find yourself another mantra. :-(

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJB

Hi Jamie,

I don't much like Arnold's politics (he seems OK on environmental issues), but I still love the line. But we've had our celebrity governor here in MN too with Jesse, so I know what you mean.

Thanks for the comment,


February 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson


Having been through these battles in our own school district in the past, and in our state, I empathize.

It often seems to me that the "local control" argument is used when seeking a reason to not do something.

I don't know when your legislature meets again, but perhaps what you did this year was the first step towards raising awareness.

Maybe it'd be a good year to have librarians all over the state invite their local legislators into their schools for these kinds of conversations and to see what happens in a 21st century library?

And maybe it'd help everyone understand the point of view of the legislators as well.

I was thinking about the book, Made to Stick, and what would make something "sticky" for them. One thing they talk about in the book is belonging to a group, and you feel like "this is what that group does."

If legislators feel that they are proud representatives of a proud state, and states that are proud about education are courageous enough to support it, then maybe that is an inroad.

Texas has had similar problems, but our state library association has finally found some effective inroads and has made headway. It's frustrating to realize that no matter how much we try to tell our story, it seems hard for people to understand sometimes what a modern library "looks" like and the support we give to the curriculum.

I know I'm sitting here trying to fix it and offer solutions and this probably isn't the time for that. Maybe it's just the hope in me ;)

Sorry that it didn't go the way you all wanted and deserve. Hang in there.

February 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote

I posted this to the AASLForum discussion list in response to Ann Dutton Ewbanks' post about this blog posting:

To Minnesota and others...please keep trying...start now for the next legislative session. This was important action even if unsuccessful...

My suggestions? It's IMPORTANT for school librarians to show up and they did in Minnesota. That's big. Good job, Minnesota. But to be even more visible and loud and get legislators' attention, work with parents as advocates. Take a look at forming Friends of the Library USA School groups, for instance: <>

AASL is targeting working with parent groups first as a result of our strategic plan mega issue discussion with the AASL Board and Affiliate Assembly at Midwinter in Philly; they are POWERFUL advocates for your program. The Spokane Moms are ready and willing to help other parents organize in support of school libraries: <>

If your school or school library organization has had success with parent groups as advocates, AASL would like to know. There is a Board subcommittee currently developing strategies and it would be very helpful to learn of successes.

Needed discussion,'s a setback but on to 2009 with super suggestions on this post. Hang in there. DON"T lose hope...

March 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSara Kelly Johns

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for the thoughtful post. We do indeed see this as a "consciousness-raising" year. Both for legislators AND for our own profession.

For example, I will NOT go back to the legislature until I have a much better understanding of how our libraries are currently staffed. Other than many anecdotal examples about cuts, I don't know the extent of the library services provided to students in our state currently. It could be going UP for all I know! We will be completing the first state-wide survey this spring. Won't help with longitudinal data, but it will be a start.

I liked your Made to Stick post. <> I tried to make "Library programs are a core service" the simple message, but I guess I need more glue!

States need to do a better job of sharing their success stories in this area.

Oh, and I am a loooong way from giving up.

All the best,


March 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

And thank you, President Sara, for your ideas. All good suggestions.

All the best,


March 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Keep up the good fight.

We in Illinois are going through the same thing with trying to improve the library media rules with our state board of education. Using our language, the Illinois State Board of Education put the proposed language out for public comment with our Statewide School Managment Alliance coming at us like we were the devil.

"Unfunded mandate" is their mantra. Their first memo to members called library media programs a "luxury." They received many negative comments from the education community and took that out of their subsequent memos.

We are awaiting the ISBE to forward the language to the General Assembly Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for their approval. That is made up of members of the House and Senate. NO DOUBT we will be hearing many of the same comments as you folks heard in Minnesota. We have quite a task since the management folks are well organized and financed and have professional lobbyists.

This is not going to be easy in any of our states trying to ensure that our students get real library media services in the present financial climate. But, we have to continue with that effort. If it is educating the politicians then we have to do that even if they need remediation and more relearning opportunities.

If it requires becoming another unfunded mandate then so be it.

March 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLou Ann Jacobs


Aside from not having the data in front of you to provide a look across the Minnesota landscape, to what other factors would you attribute an inability to move people on this issue?

I would think that other states which are considering making a legislative push would want to do so with some veteran advice from you.

How did you perceive the climate of the discussion? Was there a consistent skepticism to begin with, or did it turn at a certain point (and if so, what precipitated that turn of events?)


March 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

Hi Lou Ann,

Thanks for your words of encouragement and the information on what's happening in the Land of Lincoln.

As I stated in my blog post, so long as a state has ANY mandates, library programs will need to be mandated as well.

I hope our experience here may give you some ideas of counter arguments when you present your bill.

YOU keep up the good fight too!

All the very best,


March 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Joel,

My sense is that the legislators:

1. Were preoccupied with the impending budget forecast with its big shortfall and not in a generous mood.

2. Pretty much had opinions drawn up on issues like this. (We heard that guidance counselors ask for something similar on a regular basis.)

3. Did not get a good enough argument from us. We (I!) did not do a good enough job coordinating the testimony. We should have hit harder what media specialists do. I was very worried about the length of the testimony, but should have spent more time on it.

I think we learn from this and do better next year. I appreciate your being there to show support and your visits with the individual legislators during the day too.

All the best,


March 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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