Reprinted here with permission of the author. Originally appeared in the April MEMOrandom newsletter.
We did everything right and failed to save our libraries!
Last year the media specialists in ISD 622, the North St. Paul, Maplewood, Oakdale school district, put together a presentation for our curriculum committees and school board. We had video clips of programs we created, pictures of students at work, grants we won, all the facts and figures from school library research, and a new curriculum for research in the district. As the school board adopted the new research curriculum, we learned that budget cuts would cause the loss of central media services, including our coordinator. At the time, I thought that the new curriculum and the fact that elementary media specialists covered prep time would save the rest of our program.
In the fall of this year, I made an appointment with our Superintendent of schools. I wanted to talk to her about the research results from school library studies and the implementation of our new research scope and sequence. I sent two highlighted articles for her to read before we met. Superintendent Phillips was easy to talk to. She proclaimed to be a library lover. She seemed to understand how important it is to have licensed media specialists to teach vital 21st century information literacy. I left her office feeling really good about the future for our libraries.
Turns out the demise of central media was just the first salvo. Toward the end of February this year, we learned that the media department was once again on the chopping block. The powers that be had given a list of proposed budget cuts to the school board. Those cuts included this item; “Restructure district media and elementary specialist time -- $275,500.” This cut was listed along side other proposals such as; eliminate 5th grade band (2 FTE); Reduce nurses (2.4 FTE). It was obvious to me that the district was trying to hide the fact that 10 of our 14 media specialist would be cut. Once again all of the media people in district 622 rallied. We put together arguments to combat the media cuts and contacted supporters to write and speak to the school board. [MEMO leaders] Lars Steltzner and Lisa Finsness came to speak at the budget hearings and made good arguments against cutting libraries. Parents, students and teachers also came forward to talk the board out of the destruction of our program. All to no avail. Our argument seems to have fallen on deaf ears. At the final meeting, the board brought back all after school sports for middle schools, half of the 5th grade band, two high school counselors, etc., but nothing for libraries. The final wording from the board was:
“District media services will be restructured, with a skilled paraprofessional or education assistant in charge of the daily operation of each site’s media center. Ten media specialist positions will be eliminated. Four licensed librarians or media specialists will manage the district’s 14 media centers. Media as a prep-time specialty would be replaced with a subject currently taught by the regular classroom teacher, thereby increasing time available for reading and/or math instruction. This recommendation does NOT mean school libraries will be closed – libraries will remain open and maintained.”
Are you feeling angry? I sure am. I am angry that the media specialists in the North St. Paul, Maplewood, Oakdale school district worked hard and followed all of the suggestions from ALA and MEMO, but still failed to save our program. I am angry with the board of education, why are we required to earn a license in media when schools are allowed to keep libraries open with paraprofessionals and education assistants? Would the department of education allow paraprofessionals to keep math, language arts, or science classrooms open? What is going on? I have only been a media specialist for 7 years and have now been cut from two districts.
Okay folks, what do we do now? How do we make the public as outraged about the loss of library teachers as they are about the loss of after school sports? What will it take to make people as angry about losing 9 elementary libraries as they would be if they lost the entire elementary math curriculum? Something has to change or we all might as well go back to school and learn to do something that people value. It seems to me that we don’t have a leg to stand on as long as the state is not behind us. No wonder there is a shortage of media specialists. We can’t survive the way things are now.
Tori Jensen, Media Specialist
John Glenn Middle School
Yes, Tori, I'm angry - and sad and frustrated. And out of ideas on how we keep this from happening in other schools in Minnesota and around the country/world.
Or do we sadly accept the fact that society today does not value what libraries represent - the love of learning, the joy of reading, the exploration of personal interests, the variety of views, the search for real knowledge, the reverence for the accumulated wisdom? I hope not - but I worry.