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The Rodney Dangerfields of Librarianship

School librarians are fast becoming the Rodney Dangerfields of librarianship. I used to think that dubious honor went to children’s librarians, but they’ve been out disrespected by school librarians.

Some school districts have been reclassifying librarians so that they’re no longer considered teachers, and thus not protected by union contracts or whatever school librarians are protected by.

Regardless of where you fall on school librarians as teachers, it’s not hard to make the case that they’re not doing exactly the same thing as regular classroom teachers, just like in academic libraries the librarians can call themselves “faculty” all they want, but they’ll never be considered quite the same as the teaching faculty.

But now it seems some places don’t even want them as librarians.

The largest school system I’ve found trying to get rid of its librarians is New York City.

There are state regulations dictating whether and how many librarians schools must have. According to the WSJ article, “A middle or high school with 100 to 300 students is required to have a certified librarian who spends at least two periods each day on library work. Schools with 700 or more students must have full-time librarians.”

However, the NYC Department of Education is asking the state to waive those requirements so that schools don’t need librarians at all. And they’re only doing that because unions complained that many schools were already in violation of the regulations. Before they were perfectly happy to not have the librarians and just not tell anyone about it.

Then there’s the even shiftier move where NYC closes high schools, then opens many smaller high schools in the same building. Same location, same number of students, but since they’re all technically different high schools they don’t require librarians.

Or something like that. I can’t quite figure out why large schools need librarians but small schools don’t. Maybe the small schools don’t even have libraries. And why should they when we know that everything’s on the Internet. That must be true, because I read it on the Internet, and it’s believed by all the people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Expect more of that kind of thinking from kids who grow up without the resources available only through libraries.

It could get worse, though, and now has. In Harrisburg, PA, the school librarians get even less respect. They opened their public schools this year with no librarians at all.

Instead, “Officials say they plan to engage volunteers trained to check out and organize books and other materials.” Librarians replaced by volunteers. Wow.

Last year they closed most of the school libraries because the district laid off all but one school librarian. Harrisburg isn’t the size of NYC, I assume, but the schools must need more than one librarian in the whole city.

Except that they don’t need librarians when they can’t even keep the libraries open. A lot of kids can’t even get into the libraries now.

“While some students didn’t seem to care because they don’t use them, others cited frustration Monday over their inability to freely use the computers and study space afforded by the facilities.” They don’t so much mind the lack of librarians as the lack of libraries. And they can’t do book reports, because they can’t get to the books. Good plan!

School librarians like to trot out statistics about various positive student learning indicators that come with having school librarians. For whatever reason – bad budgets, low tax revenues, or just a lack of interest in providing public education anymore – it’s obvious that no one’s listening.

That’s the biggest sign that school librarians are getting no respect. The schools aren’t even bothering to justify getting rid of them anymore. They’re just doing it.

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Comments

  1. anonymous says:

    One step closer to Idiocracy

  2. will manley says:

    AL…good and timely post. In my retirement, I volunteer one afternoon a week at a local elementary school library. This experience has been an eye opener for me. What I have learned is that school librarians have the opportunity to do more good than almost any other type of librarian. At the school where I volunteer I work with first graders and fifth graders each week. I have each group for an hour and a half. As a consequence, I get to know each student and their reading interests and library needs in depth. It really provides the opportunity for excellent one on one service. I like to think I have made a difference in their lives, but this I know: they have greatly enhanced my life. Of course this leads to another issue: by volunteering am I contributing to the staffing problem at the library? Am I doing bad by trying to do good?

  3. Katie says:

    I must say I am not overly surprised at this one. During my first semester in library school, I volunteered at a local elementary school library, both for experience and to help decide where I wanted to go with the degree. The librarian I worked with was amazing and the kids really seemed to like her. The issues that made me run screaming from school librarian with all haste was that while the kids liked her, they didn’t respect her the way they would a teacher and that the administration also treated her with no respect. She was told to empty out her entire back storage area in day because the VP needed that as a secure testing space. I wonder how anyone is supposed to prove that they are important when those they serve don’t seem to think so?

    • me says:

      My wife is a school librarian and I would equate the level of respect to that of a P.E. teacher, art teacher, or anyone who teaches what they call in her school district a “special”. The classroom teachers treat that class time with less respect (although they’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure that their students get that time so they can grade papers and have prep time) and that rubs off on the students.

      On the positive side she makes the salary of a classroom teacher which is more than your typical children’s librarian. That’s a moot point though if school districts continue to eliminate the position.

  4. Lauren says:

    If anyone would like to help, we are kicking up a fuss over here: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/librarians-belong-in.

    And there is a rally at 52 Chambers St. in Manhattan on Wednesday at 10am.

  5. Mandy says:

    As an elementary school librarian, this is my worst fear. I love my job.

  6. Zeke says:

    I propose that we create a Hall of Shame for vacuous statements that catch on and spread like wildfire, watering down our public discourse with a pernicious sort of semi-plausibility that has always appealed to the middle mind. One of them is: “Libraries are becoming less relevant now because everything’s on the Internet.” This would join: “Washington is so screwed up because both sides are locked in ideological rigidity and refuse to compromise.” “Degrees that provide no job training or real-world experience are a waste of time.” Etc.

  7. Terri R. says:

    As a school librarian in a NYC public elementary school, I wish to comment on your statement that we are “not doing exactly the same thing as regular classroom teachers.” While I am granted an extra 2-3 free periods per week for shelving and other clerical matters, consulting with teachers, providing open access, etc., my schedule is frequently changed with minimal notice to cover staff shortages. I spend the rest of my time teaching my regularly-scheduled classes. My responsibilities are identical to those of the real teachers. Before the advent of the CCSS, the NYC Information Fluency Standards (now adopted by New York State) were even, in many respects, more challenging than the state ELA standards. I want to be known as a librarian, but, please do not think that I am not a teacher, as well.