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No Good Guys Here

Here’s a depressing library story. Dozens of schools across Los Angeles have closed up their libraries. It’s a story where it seems easy to divide everyone into good guys and bad guys, only there aren’t any good guys.

First of all is the school district itself. It seems that the school district used to pay for library workers, but stopped doing that in 2011, which meant that the schools then had to pay for library workers from their own discretionary funds.

That of course means that if they kept the librarians, then something else had to go. The school nurse or the librarian? The school counselor or the librarian? What to choose?

I’d probably get rid of the counselor, because if the kids can’t read well they probably won’t need much guidance or get into college anyway.

The worst hit schools are middle schools, “83 percent of them are without a librarian, according to district staffing numbers.” Wow, that’s a big proportion of schools without librarians, which also means that’s a big proportion of schools without open and usable libraries.

Surely someone could do something about that, right? Most of the people using any sort of library have no idea who anyone is, whether they’re a certified librarian or a volunteer.

So get some volunteers in there! There must be some parents who could show up and help middle schoolers get books. It’s not like they’ll be doing advanced library research or anything.

Then there were some volunteers, the closest we come in this sad saga to the good guys. People volunteered at some libraries, which then managed to stay open.

But it turns out that California has a law that librarians and library aides are necessary to run a school library, so if there aren’t any librarians or library aides, there’s no library, even if all the books are just sitting locked up.

Some libraries got volunteers anyway. “Classroom aides, teachers and parents had been filling in at dozens of schools.” But then, “the union filed a grievance, naming 47 schools as non-compliant,” thus shutting down the libraries.

So the union would rather have children go without school libraries than have libraries open with volunteers. It makes sense. The union is there to protect the librarians, not the students. They would probably say it’s for the good of the students in the long run, but in the long run these students will all be gone.

If the students have a problem with that, maybe they should start a union so they could have someone looking after their self-interest. Except of course, students don’t have money so they wouldn’t pay dues, and if you can’t pay dues nobody cares whether your interests are served.

Lots of them will probably never make enough money to pay worthwhile dues anyway. Unions these days are most effective among relatively educated and skilled workers, especially in the public sector.

How many of these students will ever become relatively well educated? The article ends: “According to the California Department of Education, only about half of elementary and middle schools students in L.A. Unified can read at grade level.”

Getting rid of their libraries isn’t going to help any.

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Comments

  1. Zagrobelny says:

    A library is so much more than just a room full of books. Without competent and trained librarians, those kids didnt have libraries anyway, regardless of whether or not those rooms were open.

  2. Andrew says:

    I wonder how the athletics budget is doing at those schools.

    • Minks says:

      I don’t know about California, but in some states (mainly southern states) the sports programs are shamefully well funded. YeeHaaawwww!

    • Andrew says:

      Same in the rural midwest. The fighting Mascots might not’ve had a winning record since back in the ’70s but you can’t cut the budget on tradition!

    • Belinda Gomez says:

      Not well funded in LA. This is the district that gave kids ipads and was surprised when they looked at porn.

  3. feldspar says:

    Another choice is for school administrators to simply not spend the extra money on anything.- school counselors or librarians.

  4. noutopianlibrarian says:

    I work at a public library but volunteer once a week in my daughter’s middle school library where a highly experienced and certified library aide manages the library. There is no way that volunteers could competently manage a middle school library, or even an elementary school library, without a good deal of training and a substantial time commitment. Volunteers might handle circulation and shelve books but even as a librarian with 35 years of library experience, I would be incompetent to conduct appropriate level bibliographic instruction to students, support curriculum and staff in a thoughtful way, or bring much beyond cursory knowledge and student recommendations to collection development, much less maintain the collection, the catalog, and the facilities. I’ve also volunteered in a private school elementary library with no librarian or aide – it was little better than a pile of books.

  5. Zeke says:

    Your argument that this law is being enforced purely in the librarians’ self-interest is an ad hominem one that doesn’t address this argument on its own terms: Having no library is preferable to having a library without a librarian.

  6. Lisa says:

    Unfortunately, it’s not just the libraries that are woefully underfunded (or closed) in California public school. I’m a librarian at a private school, but my husband works at a public high school. They have a clerk checking out books in the library and that’s it. For those who say that the athletic budgets get all the money… it’s just not true. My husband is also the Varsity Football coach, and his measly coaching stipend works out to about $0.30 /hour after taxes. Yes, that’s 30 CENTS. He has to fund raise for all travel, uniforms, and even the lights for the night games. It’s not just libraries- entire districts are broke because they’re funded on a per pupil / attendance basis. Meanwhile, the district 2 miles away is filthy rich with a brand new performing arts center and starting teacher salaries $20K higher because they’re funded based on property taxes and it’s one of the most expensive land areas in the state. California is the picture of inequality.

  7. Jane says:

    I was one of those parent volunteers who ran an elementary school library in Los Angeles when the school’s librarian (really, a paraprofessional librarian, as am I) went on extended medical leave (three months) and the library was to be closed. After two weeks of volunteering, the librarian hobbled in on her walker every afternoon after school to check on my work. Two weeks later, she was back part time, and after 1.5 months, she was back nearly full time. When the district later stopped funding her position, the union threatened to sue if the school used any volunteers to staff the library. Luckily, the school received Title I funds and was able to use them to pay for the position. Other schools were less fortunate. I understand the union’s position, I really do, but it enraged me that students would have no access to the library for nearly a semester. On the other hand, I seem to have worked a healing miracle, so I guess there was a silver lining.

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