Seattle’s iPad-loving librarian omitted the words “reading” and “books” from a list of service priorities. And the craziness won’t stop. In Omaha, a standalone makerspace is missing out on opportunities to make book-lovers of young techies.
Now, in the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas, book-loving traditionalists and techies are fighting yet another battle. The district is replacing libraries in elementary schools with makerspaces, warns Jan Bombeck, a librarian there, in commenting on an article appearing in eSchool News and the Kansas City Star. “Those hired do not have library certification, and are being told not to teach any library curriculum, check out books or even read stories to the children. We would welcome the maker space bandwagon with open arms and are more than capable of doing both! The librarians in the district were not advised or even consulted about this change.”
Replacing licensed librarians are teachers with technology training. But that is not the same skillset. Certified librarians don’t just encourage reading—they also teach sophisticated research skills. Alas, in the Shawnee Mission district, the school board seems less interested in addressing the needs of the students than in weaseling its way out of the state requirement that trained librarians should staff school libraries.
“All the technology in the world can’t help if you don’t know how to evaluate a website as a source,” notes library advocate Jennifer J. Lehocky Coovert.
Her words would jibe well with the philosophy behind the TeleRead-LibraryCity proposal for a national digital library endowment. Technology in schools should encourage, not replace, traditional learning and literacy.
“Love or hate the testing associated with the common core,” librarian Jim Duncan and I wrote in Education Week. “But who can dispute such goals as encouraging ‘critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life’? And school librarians could work with teachers to teach good research skills, using a rich array of electronic resources that typical classroom instructors lack time on their own to keep up with. The librarians could help tie together different curricula. So an English paper could be about the science a student is learning at the same time, an example given by the American Association of School Librarians.
“Yes, qualified school librarians can significantly boost student achievement. Check out studies, especially a January 2012 one from the Library Research Service. It allows for the fact that affluent school districts with well-read parents can more easily afford to hire enough librarians.”
If nothing else, we need well-trained librarians to teach kids how to read ebooks properly (not the same as reading paper books).
Most of all, however, we want them to impart a passion for knowledge and the book culture. It is false economy to phase out the people in schools who most care about books.
Instead of getting rid of certified school librarians, let’s keep in mind that so many also care about tech and are capable of developing their skills further in this area.
Image: Apache Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission District.