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EdTech Update




« Recycling day, 2012 | Main | Core beliefs of extraordinary bosses »

School librarians gone missing - why?

School Librarian Numbers Decline from 2004-2005 to 2010-2011, Fast Facts, July 30, 2012 (..."positions nationwide declined by 8 percent from 2007-08 to 2010-11, while the total number of students increased by 2 percent.")

So, nearly one in ten school librarian in the U.S. have disappeared in the past three years. Sobering, to say the least. 

In looking at these figures, Stephen Abrams comments and asks:

Yep, this is just stupid.  Virtually all the research points to the positive impact of school librarians on students especially higher standardized testing scores and yet too many administrators and politicians ignore the research.  Why?  IS there some problem with their learning and decision making abilities or with our advocacy efforts . . .  or both?  Stephen's Lighthouse

Or some combination of both? Or some other cause or causes?

I have a tough time pointing the finger at those administrators making "stupid" descisons, Stephen. (See "Who doesn't get it?") While I see politicians setting broad policy, I don't believe they have librarians in particular in their sights. (Although my cyncial side wonders if educational policy makers really want schools producing critical thinkers.) I am not sure how helpful it is to simply point the finger at others. 

While I cannot speak for decision-makers nationally or internationally, I get a good sense of what is happening in my own backyard when it comes to staffing (or not staffing) school libraries since I find myself as a library supervisor defending positions every year. As cliche as it sounds, there is nearly a perfect storm of conditions working against librarians. These include:

  • Budget realities. Our school budgets have declined or remained flat for many years. Special education costs are soaring. Class sizes are rising. Elective class offerings are being reduced. Textbook, maintenance, and extra-curricular dollars are declining. Technology demands are growing. Administrators are facing very, very difficult budgeting decisions and will cut any area they do not see as having direct value in meeting student needs.
  • Test score importance. Politicians have made test score performance the sole measure of public school quality. Love of reading and learning, 21st century skills, and school climate are taking a back seat to this. Unless a program demonstrably helps keep schools off the dreaded AYP list, funds used to support it will be cut.
  • Ubiquitous information access. Libraries are being Netflixed. Why do we need to buy, house, replace, and teach WorldBook when we have Wikipedia? There is not yet an accepted definition of "teacher" in the Internet age.*
  • Monkey see; monkey do. When every other school district in one's region cuts librarians. administrators question the need for their own librarians. Ineffective, reactionary librarians are driving out good librarians. Period.

I like none of this, but I believe it is accurate and we as a profession need to face the hard facts and deal with the situation, not just cry in our beer. I do not believe the majority of school librarians have yet recognized the need for individual accountability for their programs - communicating effectively with teachers, administrators, and parents how their work directly supports school goals and why information literacy is more important than ever in the digital age.

The fight to stem the decline of school library positions will be fought one building, one district at a time. 

* Pamela Hieronymi in Don't Confuse Technology With College Teaching, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2102, writes:

Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.

Educators are coaches, personal trainers in intellectual fitness. The value we add to the media extravaganza is like the value the trainer adds to the gym or the coach adds to the equipment. We provide individualized instruction in how to evaluate and make use of information and ideas, teaching people how to think for themselves.


Unusual tweet of the day:

If I could choose my library dream parents they would be Toni Buzzeo for my mom and Doug Johnson @BlueSkunkBlog for my dad!  by Okle_Miller (Okle Miller)

Okie, that's very flattering. But if you want your allowance, you'll need to keep your room clean and do the dishes. And there is a screen time limit in our house too. 

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Reader Comments (7)

Hi Doug. With this said there seems to be a deficit in those choosing to be school librarians! When I have more time, I'll do some research, however we've had a terrible time finding someone for my district's HS. Finally found someone today, yeah! Thinking we need to advocate our positions with High School and College students so that they too realize how important we are; although that should be an automatic outcome of a strong school librarian and program! However, if hiring stats go down it may be an endless cycle. More the reason to advocate what we already feel passionately about.

August 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Schiano

A major reason behind the demise of TLs in schools can also be attributed to the all-pervasive myth that this generation don't need information specialists and managers in schools or even libraries because everything is on the Internet. And of course this incredibly tech-savvy generation know how to use technology intuitively. Implied in the term tech-savvy is the notion that this generation can also use technology effectively, efficiently and appropriately. Since this is the case schools and teachers don't teach them, the assumption being that they already have these information skills. In an education environment that is increasingly cash strapped and more closely following a business model, the inclusion of technology is seen as a solution to education's woes. It will motivate students, make it easier for them to learn and even take the place of teachers. Unfortuately for the advocates of these arguments the technology is complementary not compensatory. Students who are illiterate can't use technology either and education is way more than pressing buttons and passively watching a screen. In an information landscape that is fast becoming impenetrable, it is really mind boggling that polictians and systemic educators haven't got the message yet that technology is only a tool. There is plenty of emerging research and evidence that we haven't really thought about the integration of technology in schools. Of course the association of the TL with the word library and books in this environment is viewed negatively and as schools adopt a business model the library and books are also viewed in this light. As in all professions, there are some bad apples. However,, there are also plenty of examples where TLs have made a hyge difference to the teaching-learning in their schools, but have still lost their jobs due to what can only be descrobed as ignorance on the part of Principals and bureaucrats.

August 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterB Combes

Unfortunately, student enrollment was the only deciding factor when the district decided to cut the 2nd full time librarian position from four of the six high schools (this is after every school lost its library clerk two years ago) this past spring. It's very disappointing to put your data out there for the world to see and then for district personnel to not even take that into consideration when making staffing decisions.

Best, Buffy

August 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Hamilton

Hi Deb,

We've experienced a paucity of good new librarians as well. I think in part is because I am pretty fussy. I want an experienced classroom teacher with a library degree who knows both lit and technology. And walks on water.

Are good people shying away from librarianship or finding that technology integration jobs are more attractive???


Hi B,

I am sure you are right about there being ignorance on the part of some principals leading to the demise of library positions. Happily ignorance is a condition (unlike stupidity) that can be changed. And I would argue that librarians need to do this at a building level - not wait for universities to change their administration programs.

Thanks for your comments.



Hi Buffy,

If it is declining enrollment alone that is causing a reduction in staff, is your district experiencing losses of other professional positions as well - or are library services being targeted? I cannot imagine a better spokesperson for a better program than you, Buffy. Are we in a game that is impossible to win? Is the storm too perfect?


August 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

No, we actually have record enrollment in our district this year. The magic cut off number was 2000 at each high school---as of the end of May, we were only 200 students off that number. So no, we are not having dramatic declines in student population like some schools. In the past, Georgia schools earned a 2nd full time librarian position for every 1000 students. While some teaching positions have been cut, the cuts to four of the six high schools (which include the last two winners of the state high school exemplary media program I might add---be excellent, get your staff cut!) are particularly hurtful since every school lost its clerk 2 years ago.

So I'd say it is a matter of priorities and/or indifference to obvious facts? It's a symptom of a bigger problem in public education at large that doesn't reward excellence or quality in teaching and instead, uses shallow, arbitrary benchmarks or criteria for staffing decisions.

August 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Hamilton

And Doug, I apologize--I didn't address your two final questions. I honestly don't know at this point, but I will say I don't have a good feeling about it all when you see this kind of decision making happening with increasing frequency.

August 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Hamilton

Hi Buffy,

Thanks for the reply. Every states is different, I expect. At least GA has a requirement for media specialists, unlike here in MN. I beat my head against the wall as state legislative chair for 10 years trying to get mandated staffing here, only to hear "local control" and "unfunded mandates." (Interesting how "local control" is selectively used.

Wish I knew the answer. In so many ways, this generation of students is getting short-changed on their education.


August 19, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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