Scroogish politicians in Chicago have rid school libraries of scores and scores of librarians in recent years. A basketball arena has been a bigger priority for Mayor Emanuel, at least in the past, than schools in Chicago. Shades of Miami and cruise ship subsidies!
Speak up via EveryLibrary, no matter where you live
Check out EveryLibrary‘s advocacy site for more details on the Chicago horrors—and how to protest via email. What’s wrong with the Mayor Emanuel and the school board? Just why are they acting like Donald Trump, our would-be Non-Reader in Chief? Some might say “book-apathetic” fits better than “book-hostile.” But the effect is the same.
So use EveryLibrary’s form even if you don’t live in Chicago. Let Mayor Emanuel and the rest of Chicago know that this is a black eye on the city’s global reputation. Mayor, you’re dissing the ghosts of Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, Nelson Algren, James Farrell, Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, and other literary greats who lived out their lives mostly or partly in Chicago.
The ugly numbers out of Chicago
A few facts from EveryLibrary: Just one in four schools has “a school librarian to help non-traditional learners or to help kids cultivate their own learning and discovery. It’s almost unimaginable that in a city like Chicago, 3 out of 4 schools don’t have instructional support for technology and school librarians to teach digital literacy. It’s certainly outrageous that only 2 of the 28 historically African-American high schools in the city—two—have a certified librarian any more.” More numbers for Chicago schools:
2013: 454 librarians
2014: 313.3 librarians
2015: 251.8 librarians
2016: 216.5 librarians
Alas, Chicago isn’t alone in its shortsightedness. Other cities have been cheating their young people in the same way. It is true that test scores have gone up somewhat in Chicago. But that isn’t the same as critical thinking skills and other positives that books, including those read for fun, can foster with encouragement from school librarians.
The excuse in Chicago is that school librarians are simply being reassigned to English classrooms, world-language classes and so on. That won’t cut it. Even in a digital era, students think of school libraries as where the books are—and what better location for well-trained librarians to guide the kids to the right ones or organize cell phone book clubs? Or teach the students research skills for the real world, not just the structured K-12 world of standardized tests and rote memorization?
Of course, dumbed-down schools will mean dumbed-down voters more likely to elect dumbed-down politicians.
Embarrassingly, Emanuel is an Obama chum who once served as White House chief of staff and earlier was a fund-raiser for Bill Clinton. The Obama administration has made progress with Open eBooks initiative to bring digital books to students from low-income families. Bottom line, you might think of the Chicago strategy for school libraries as Open eBooks in reverse.
While Chicago’s public libraries enjoy a good reputation, they are no substitute for the libraries most conveniently located for students, those in school buildings. Keep in mind, too, that the libraries have been able to build on good work before Emanuel became mayor in 2011. What’s more, they have drawn contributions from philanthropists. Like the Obama Administration and Chicago officials, I’m a big believer in early childhood learning, and I wildly approve of the “Early Learning Centers” in Chicago libraries, but they are not the same as ongoing exposure to the book culture. We need both decent school libraries and first-rate public libraries with learning centers. If anything, ebooks make librarians even more essential. They do not have a physical presence. School librarians, along with posters, videos, media spots and other strategies, can help keep digital books on students’ minds.
Not a deliberate attack on the book culture—but it might as well be
Granted, students can still go to the school libraries for books checked out by clerks and volunteers. But without trained librarians there, the experience just is not going to be the same. This is not a deliberate attack on the book culture, but it might as well be.
The mayor’s budget priorities for school librarians are indeed book-hostile.
In fairness to Emanuel: His policy toward school librarians is backwards. The man himself is not; he actually majored in the liberal arts, and I doubt he was as book-hostile in raising his own three children as he is toward other people’s. Ideally he’ll change his mind. I’ll be a fast forgiver if he does. But, meanwhile, yes, Chicago is cheating its students of the full benefits of books. Beyond other damage, the quality of future voters will decline—paving the way for Trumpish trogs in public office who truly detest reading and readers.
Image credit: Here.