I attended a small Catholic elementary school. We didn’t have great facilities, but we did have a small library. Every week, I looked forward to that half hour library slot, when I didn’t have to focus on what my teachers wanted me to read, and I could pick out the book I wanted to read. I remember parent volunteers, but I have no memory of a librarian. We stopped in each week, picked out a book to read during quiet time, and left.
My kids attended a large public elementary school. I volunteered in that library one morning each week and I looked forward to that time slot, too. But how the library – and the librarian – had changed.
In my morning time slot, I would watch the librarian interact with kids from ages five through twelve. From kids who couldn’t read at all to kids who were reading on a high school, maybe even college, level. From kids who could calmly listen to kids who couldn’t sit still.
I would listen as she taught older kids how to research, how to organize their research, and how to include their research in their writing. I’d learn a few short cuts as she taught third grade computer skills. I’d laugh when yet another first grader asked her to read Strega Nona, and then laugh again as her brilliant reading make the text come alive for the entire class. And I always kept a notepad handy to write down books she recommended to one kid, then another, based on reading level and interests.
But now, in many school districts across the country, the need for school librarians is questioned. And in the Los Angeles school district, librarians are subjected to interrogation as to their overall and individual value as teachers.
My guess is these Los Angeles attorneys haven’t spent one minute in a school library in recent years. Their memory of school libraries may be the same as mine – a wonderful opportunity to pick out a book, but nothing more. They are clueless as to the important role school libraries and school librarians play today in the overall education of our children.
One of the things that keeps me writing is the image of kids pulling my book from the shelves, wanting to read my words, my stories. But without librarians on the lookout to help turn reluctant readers into avid ones, to help select books that will challenge young readers to the next reading level without them even knowing they’ve been challenged, to help students learn to love the lyricism of well-written words, well, that certainly presents a greater challenge to us as writers.
So let’s learn a lesson from Los Angeles. Follow your school district’s budget. Make sure this doesn’t happen to the kids in your town. Fund libraries. Save librarians.