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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."





canary.jpgHope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all, E. Dickinson

Hope has been getting a good deal of press lately. And in looking at the work we have ahead of us here in Minnesota trying to pass our bill requiring a librarian in every school, we will need a lot of it.

Seth Godin writes “It’s too easy to criticize hope. And in the end, cynicism is a lousy strategy.”  (See Carolyn Foote's fine post on this line as well.)

From Leonard Pitts' column this morning: “Americans do not move because they are told to move; they move because they are inspired to.” 

Are hope and inspiration our missing ingredients in educational change? Seems like we have the work part nailed!

On a side note, as the world's-worst English teacher back in the mid-70s, I required my HS students memorize Emily's small stanza above. I'm not sure it helped any of them, but it probably didn't do them any harm either.


Talking points for Wednesday

This Wednesday is our state's Library Legislative Day when librarians from all types of libraries throughout the state descend on St. Paul to visit with their senators and house members about our organization's platform. This will also be the day when our "media specialist in every building" bill gets it first hearing. Below are our talking points for that bill, written with the help of Linda Wise, Leslie Yoder and Lisa Finsness.

Talking Points for MEMO/MLA Platform Plank

In order for a student to have the regular service of a licensed library media specialist throughout the school day, a school district must employ at least one licensed library media specialist for each school building in the district. The licensed library media specialist must build age and developmentally appropriate collections of both print and electronic resources, collaborate in teaching the embedded information and technology literacy standards, according to the requirements of section 120B.023, subdivision 2, and develop learning activities that improve student achievement.

POSITION:    Every Minnesota student needs the services of an on-site licensed library media specialist.

  1) Over 18 studies, replicated in states across the country, show student achievement increases an average of 10%-20% when school library media centers are staffed with certified library media specialists.
    2) All Minnesota students are entitled to an equitable education.

Professional School Librarians provide these critical services for children and young adults:

  • They build age and developmentally appropriate collections of reading and research materials that promote independent, life-long learning.
  • They collaboratively plan, teach and evaluate research units with students at all age levels that stress critical thinking skills.
  • They teach critical information skills that all students need in order to be successful in both academic and life settings. (health care, job searches, post sec education)
  • They help students learn and teachers integrate technology into lessons and units.
  • They promote the use of high quality print and electronic resources – book, databases and technologies.
  • They work with their school site teams (or administration?) to leverage assets to insure that the financial investments of technology are fully realized.
  • Most importantly, they level the playing field by promoting digital equity in regard to access and skills, thus helping to reduce the growing achievement gap.

Students and teachers without the services of a qualified school library media specialist are at a significant educational disadvantage. They are less likely to learn and practice 21st century skills of information and technology literacy, to be able to participate in the global economy, and to understand the importance of digital citizenship in today’s world.


  • Minnesota Public Schools have reduced or eliminated the school media specialist position in over 375 public schools, from 2001 to 2004.  [indications are that] the data weren’t any better for 2005 and 2006. Deborah Jesseman, Ph.D, MLS, professor, Minnesota State University, Mankato
  • In Minnesota schools:
    • With above-average student scores on the grade 3, 5, and 8 MCA reading tests, 66.8% were schools where the library media specialist worked full-time.
    • Twice as many schools with above-average scores had full-time library media specialists.
    • 93% of 5-Star Schools in reading and math have library media specialists. (Baxter and Smalley, 2003)
  • "Advocate for and support the role of school library media centers as a foundation for increasing student achievement through information/technology literacy, promotion of reading skills, and curriculum support." Minnesota Department of Education's 2005-2008 State Plan for Technology
  • "School libraries are a stronger indicator of student success than class size, experience of teacher, number of computers, or location of school." Facts at a Glance…Student Achievement and the School Library Media Program (Updated 2006)
  • Nationwide data supporting the correlation between student achievement and professionally-staffed libraries can be found at: Library Research Service's Research and Statistics About Libraries,"Impact Studies."

These are but three of 28 stories of cuts in library professional staff from districts across the state. All Minnesota children need access to good library programs run by trained library media specialists.

  • Bemidji Middle School…[has] one para to serve about 1200 students.
  • "When the [Moundsview] media specialist retired at the end of 04-05 the position was cut to .5.  There are 1,100 students at our  school and we circulate 19,000 books every year…."
  • Of 66 [SPPS schools], only 22 have full-time library media specialists, 14 have part-time library media specialists and 30 have either parent volunteers, education assistants, teaching assistants or no one staffing the library media centers. Students are arriving at the secondary level with no familiarity with libraries and no information seeking skills."


Look out, St. Paul, here we come!