Having attended the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference and Library Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, this past week, I was disheartened to read a recent AP story on my return home by Donna Gordon Blankenship, “Libraries Fading as School Budget Crisis Deepens.” She describes in detail how school systems all over the country are cutting school library media positions in an effort to balance budgets. Many districts have dismantled their libraries, eliminated book budgets, database budgets and put librarians back in the classroom since many of us were teachers first. While I concede that money is lacking across the board, the media positions are the last that should be cut when current standards are calling for 21st Century Skills to be implemented. For many children below the poverty line, a growing population, there is little hope that sophisticated technology skills will reach them simply through osmosis. As the middle class shrinks and their buying power diminishes, technology skills will be a valuable commodity that few can afford unless administrators and school boards begin to understand the expertise of school librarians, how they and school libraries help to implement these skills, and that equal access is essential.
The American Association of School Librarians, which I am a member of, states in their Standards for the 21st Century Learner, that students must be able to think critically, draw conclusions, make informed decisions and create new knowledge. They must participate ethically and productively as members in a democratic society, share that knowledge and be able to pursue personal and aesthetic growth. Who are we kidding? These standards aren’t worth the digital software program they are written in. The numerous studies that have been conducted in the last 20 years that unequivocally support having school libraries are being ignored. Forget that studies done in 2000, by Keith Curry Lance and others, prove that the highest achieving students come from schools with good library media centers. Forget that the public spends nine times more on video games and entertainment software than they do on books and other printed formats (2004). Sadly, even the U.S Department of Education conceded in 2004 that libraries are the heart and soul of the public schools experience, but the federal government has done little to support its own findings, or reverse the national trend that seems hell bent on destroying this sacred vestige of public education.
I am asking Ohio educators to contact their Congressional representatives to fund the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program at $100 million so that students all across the country can obtain the 21st century skills they will need to succeed in college and the workplace. We also need to fund the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) at $300 million for FY 2011. LSTA funding is distributed to states by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through population-based grants and is the only source of federal funding for public libraries. Our democracy depends on our libraries and the services they provide. In a global economy, our future depends on our youth and how much they know. You can call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to ask for your member of Congress.
Instead of dismantling our libraries and getting rid of school librarians, our administrators and school boards should ask a librarian to find more information on their importance, since the results of these studies mentioned have been on the internet for years and are easy to find, that is, if you know where to look.
By Susan Ridgeway, Streetsboro Education Association