Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fund Libraries. Save Librarians.

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.


  1. Judy

    Librarians do help children learn to read, become confident with books, and introduce them to computer skills, web access and responsibility, and open their lives.

    Town libraries are an important link also. I loved the Chatham library when growing up. My sister and I would spend hours browsing and choosing our books there. The Madison library where our writers group used to meet is also a great spot for children, as are so many wonderful libraries around the country.

  2. A post that both warms and chills my librarian heart. Oh, how I wish I could have helped them "defend" their jobs!

    By the time I left the elementary school library to write full time, I was not only the traditional reference/research skills teacher, story-teller, book-talker, match-maker between kids and books, reading contest referee, and curriculum team teacher, but also taught a computer lab and was the person teachers called when their computers misbehaved.

    Vote them out of a budget? The districts will be mucho sorry!

  3. Eileen:

    Yes, I love and use my public library every week. And funding for public libraries is also on the chopping block.


    I thought of you too, as I wrote this post. And I forgot that other job. At our elementary school, the librarian was also the tech geek, in charge of every equipment rental for every teacher.

  4. I'm visiting an elementary school in Newton next week, all arranged by the school librarian! Yet another job put on their plates.

  5. To this day I remember the first time I went to the library and picked out something other than Nancy Drew. It was 1949 and I was nine and in a new school and lonely. The book was "Auntie Robbo," by Anna Scott Montcrief, and it was red. I was instantly transported to Scotland and the problems of poor Hector and his mad aunt. I've probably read that book 50 times to my children and grandchildren. It is a classic in our family. Thank goodness it's still available on the internet. Probably not in libraries, though.

  6. Judy,

    My experience with school libraries has pretty much mirrored yours! We had a tiny library in my Catholic school and honestly - I don't think we even went on a regular basis. And I'm sure we didn't have a librarian.

    The library at my daughter's school is so different, a vital part of the school and the libarian is a rock star.

    It's a shame that the powers that be truly don't understand the significant role libarians play in education.

  7. I can relate to this post. This year, one of the many budget cuts in my town including cutting out the wonderful librarian from my kids' elementary school, and around seven others from schools townwide. There was a huge uproar from the parents. The good news is, the librarian came back to work (though I belive it was in a diminished capacity). I'm glad the parents in my town know the value of a librarian--even if the town board doesn't seem to.

  8. So true! In 34 years as a teacher and 4 years as a children's author, I've met and worked with many librarians. The really good ones change lives and touch the hearts of kids like nobody else can.