An article in the Huffington Post reports that almost half of Washington DC’s public schools will open without a librarian. 58 of 124 schools will be librarianless, 24 more than last year.
One group protesting the lack of librarians complains that the lack of librarians at the poorer schools creates an unfair advantage. Unlike one school in Chevy Chase, the parents in the poor schools can’t come up with $10,000 a year for the school library.
“Schools should be an equalizer,” he said, not a “have-and-have-not divide.” When it comes to American schools, “should be” and “are” are very far apart.
The American Association of School Librarians president “said she worries that children’s future opportunities are at risk if they fail to learn basic research and Internet skills.
‘It’s going to take a terrible toll on our students’ ability to be competitive in college and in the workplace, and we are very concerned.’”
The question is whether having librarians in schools is really going to make any difference. Oh, I know there are studies that claim librarians make huge amounts of difference, and I was told of at least one study commissioned and then suppressed by a state library association that they make little difference at all. Let’s split the difference.
It doesn’t matter much here, though, because the librarians aren’t the important factor in this debate, even though the debate is about librarians. If we’re comparing inner-city urban schools in DC to the schools in Chevy Chase, one school having a librarian and one school not having one is almost literally the least important thing about the difference.
The differences between public schools in poor neighborhoods and public schools in rich neighborhoods are so enormous that they dwarf the question of school librarians entirely.
This is so obvious that it shouldn’t be worth mentioning. Children with affluent parents in affluent neighborhoods have so many advantages over children in poor neighborhoods that it’s hard to count them all.
Some kids grow up bored whining about life in upper-middle class neighborhoods with their boring parents, but they’re just spoiled. Put them in a neighborhood where walking on the street at night is an invitation to get shot, and they would soil their designer knickers in a hurry.
Regardless of what happens to the librarians at their school, they’re not going to need help learning basic research skills or how to use the Internet, and they’re being bred to be competitive in college and in the workplace, just like their successful parents have been.
This has nothing to do with the librarians, and not even that much to do with the schools. It’s a sociocultural phenomenon where well off parents push their well off kids to do well and have the resources to do it.
Even if the librarians don’t matter that much, the decision of how to place the librarians pretty much says, “screw the poor.” The poor in every country are pretty easily screwed over anyway because they can rarely fight back.
According to the article, the librarian “job is now a ‘flexible funding’ position rather than a ‘core’ one at schools of all sizes, meaning librarians’ salaries will be drawn from a general pool of money that the school must disperse for many needs.”
If the budget allocation isn’t designed to screw over the poor who can’t fight back, the answer is simple. Take all the library resources away from schools in place like Chevy Chase and give them all to the poorest schools. The kids in Chevy Chase will do fine anyway.
Do that and study the effects over time. That’s the only way anyone could actually prove the DC school librarians make a meaningful difference. The worst case scenario is that it won’t help the students much, but then again it certainly couldn’t hurt.
The best case scenario, it gives the kids a fighting chance at success. Even something in between might be worth aiming for.