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A Union Closes a Library

Last week I wrote about school librarians in the news. What’s crazy is that no school librarian also makes the news, especially when kids can’t get to books.

Things are a mess when teacher’s unions are trying to keep children from reading, but that’s sort of what’s happening at one elementary school in Chicago.

Because of low enrollment, the Chicago school board made some budget cuts, and one of the cuts was the librarian position at the school.

That might not be the end of the world. It’s not like you really need a library degree to buy books and check them out to school children, no matter how much librarians might protest. Any reasonably intelligent person can be taught to buy books, catalog them, and check them out.

However, it doesn’t sound like the school board made any provision for that, so a couple of parents were volunteering at the library so that it could stay open for the students.

But then the “Chicago Teachers Union filed a grievance, fearing parent volunteers in the library would eventually lead to the permanent elimination in the paid librarian position,” and so the library doesn’t open at all during the school day.

That’s the sort of thing that gives teacher’s unions a bad name. They can justify the grievance however they like, but the only people hurt in this scenario are the children who can no longer use the library.

School boards looking to cut budgets don’t need a reason not to replace the librarian, but if they did the reason probably wouldn’t be that some volunteering parents prove that the librarian position is unnecessary, because only a fool could believe that.

In fact, they already have their reason for cutting the budget: lower than expected enrollment, which doesn’t make any more sense than “volunteering parents” unless public school students are now paying tuition. Given the sorry state of educational funding, that wouldn’t surprise me these days.

So if the school board has already got a lame excuse for cutting the librarian position, why would they need another one? It’s not like piling them on top of each other makes them stronger.

If the enrollment increased and then the school board refused to return the librarian position, the union would have something legitimate to gripe about. Instead, they’re using their own lame excuse to keep children away from the library.

It’s great that the teachers are showing solidarity with the librarians, but it would be better if they were more concerned about the students’ access to the library than with projecting their own power for little reason.

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Comments

  1. anonymous coward says:

    Unions are about serving their members and leadership- and often are shortsighted in what they feel serves their interests. Teachers’ Unions are not, and I’m not sure if they claim to be, about the benefit of the students and children. They are about improving the pay and “working” conditions of their employees. This is the same way that an autoworkers’ union isn’t about selling more and better cars.

    This is not surprising.

    • Robin Henry says:

      Here’s the thing. The argument that teachers and school librarians should always do what is in the best interest of the students is perfectly reasonable until they are continually taken advantage of in the name of same. When the police officers go on strike, or threaten to, I don’t always hear about how they should care more about public safety and should go to work without benefits, without a decent contract, without the few perks they get being taken away and eroded. I would submit that is because police officer is seen as a masculine occupation and it is culturally acceptable for them to ask for fair treatment. School librarians and teachers are 76% women, and the occupation is seen as largely feminine, so they are not. They are just supposed to take whatever meager crumbs are offered. Of course teachers and school librarians should care about students, but someone (in this case the union) should also care about them and they way they are treated.

      And, as an aside, school librarianship is about more than buying books and checking them out. There are instructional duties, technology integration, and other duties that are not being done by those volunteers. I get that tough budget years mean tough decisions and I applaud the parents for being willing to help, but parent volunteers and a good school librarian are not equivalent.

    • Robin Henry, that is so harsh. If you had a kid in school there, I guarantee you not say what you did.

      Everyone knows there’s a problem. Everyone knows parent volunteers cannot replace real librarians for long. The teacher’s union looks really bad, and it is really bad. Those kids do not need all those professional services all the time. During a budget crunch, volunteer parents can keep the libraries open and the kids reading, even if new books are not being bought and old ones are not being weeded and technology is not being integrated.

      The school district should tell the union to, on this particular issue, take a flying leap. Let the unions try to walk out because parent volunteers where keeping school libraries open.

      Those kids brains are expanding fast at this age and they need to be reading. It borders on child cruelty to intentionally stunt their intellectual growth for any reason, let alone pecuniary gain.

      Isn’t there a law requiring a good education for students? Aren’t school libraries are part of that? Unions think they can just ignore that and say screw you to growing children? Aren’t schools violating the law if they allow the unions to bully them into stupefying their own children? Hello?

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      @Robin Henry: You are exactly and completely right. I’m profoundly sick of the argument that we should all basically work for free to serve the public good. Of course we want to serve the public, or we wouldn’t be in public service, but being able to feed, clothe and house ourselves would be a nice bonus too.

      It’s a classic neo-con political maneuver to gut public funding to the point where public institutions are collapsing, then scapegoat the public servants they’ve just screwed over, because no one is making the sacrifice to save them. If someone is going to worry about the kids, perhaps it should start with the school board.

    • @Frumious.

      It’s obvious that you are not a public services worker because if you were, especially in CT (my home state) you would sing a different tune. We are being scapegoated because our guv’nor, a Democrat who is pro labor and yet anti-union at the same time, as well anti-business) has no qualms in attempting to balance the budget, which is bleeding gobs of red ink, on the backs of state employees simply because he can’t control his spending. He’s already laid off 1200+k and he’s looking for more.

      So please, use a little common sense before you attempt to scapegoat an entire sector of workers.

      And yes, I think what the union did in Chicago is despicable, even if they’re trying to prove a point against the mayor, who is a Democrat by the way and who also can’t control his spending, even with the alderman rubber stamping his budgets.

    • Frumious Bandersnatch says:

      @G.B. Miller.

      Actually… been in public service over 20 years. Also not talking about Connecticut, but about the situation in the above blog post. Also wasn’t blaming the workers. I stated that it is a typical neo-con political ploy to gut the budget for public service, then trying to make the public service workers look bad for not sacrificing a decent livelihood in the name of “the public good”. This is blaming the politicians for screwing over the workers, not vice versa.

  2. @ Dan Kleinman
    Do you really think this is a temporary “budget crunch”? Once those librarian positions are gone, they are gone forever. And if there’s a “law” requiring a good education for students (please provide the citation) then it’s the school district and not the union violating it. And it’s the politicians who are “stunting” intellectual growth so let’s place the blame where it belongs. Hello?

    @Frumious
    Totally agree with you

    @G.B. Miller
    Frumious is NOT scapegoating an entire sector of workers; instead, the neocons or whatever are doing the scapegoating. Typical class warfare tactic.

  3. What school boards, administrators, etc. forget is that the students are our customer base. We should be serving the needs of the students. Are we not, in fact, a profit center? Every student who can and does read with comprehension, can speak with clarity, isn’t duped by fake news counts as a profit for the school. When these students come back as functioning adults who can hold a conversation, discuss an issue without going ballistic, this is the profit from our jumping through hoops to get students to read. Cutting budgets is for the dim witted who are so not creative they cannot find another way to raise money. Probably because they never learned to read for comprehension and for developing those highly “critical” to success, critical thinking skills.

  4. Bob Holley says:

    If the librarians are considered teachers in Chicago with requirements for certification, they have the same professional status. Would it be OK to use parent volunteers to teach English, History, or Biology classes? Some of them might do an excellent job, but I doubt that any administrator would allow this to happen, union or no union. For this reason, I believe that many of the comments above implicitly devalue school librarians as being different and somehow inferior to other teachers whose classes wouldn’t be taught if they were let go.

  5. MJ Spear says:

    I agree with the comment above. Either certification means something or it doesn’t. Either education classes mean something or they don’t. Certification is our measure to define the teacher and his/her training. If we abandon that standard, we give up any illusion of quality control and instructional excellence. Already there are those who believe that because once upon a time they were in a classroom they are fit to teach. Others believe that because they like “to read” or like “computers” they can run a school library. Anyone in the field, myself included, can attest to the fact that it takes much more than that to run an effective library media program.

    • I hate to say it but I used to think it was easy to run a library or be a librarian. I didn’t see any joy in it. Until I became a librarian myself. I see how it’s a lot more tedious and difficult than people think. I don’t even get much time to read anymore, let alone on the job. And I’ve watched my mother and friends become teachers. I wouldn’t dare try to become a teacher without the proper training. I was a sub for a while, and though that’s different than actual teaching, and saw how crazy it could be!

      You are so right about having certifications. Otherwise anyone could teach or do whatever with just their word they can do it. And I’d rather not have that.

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