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:
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.