Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Focus on Real Literacy

According to this article, in New Mexico, “Librarians fear schools are turning the page on them.” But that’s probably okay, because then the librarians can just “start a new chapter,” as headlines about retiring librarians often tell us.

It’s all part of the gradual elimination of school librarians in districts around the country amidst budget cuts. Librarians are exotic, like art and music teachers, an addendum to the core curriculum of whatever it is the schools claim to be teaching these days.

There’s definitely money to be saved, if saving money is your priority. According to the article, “n Albuquerque Public Schools…the average salary for a librarian-teacher is about $42,000,… while the average educational assistant salary is about $17,000.”

If you’re an administrator faced with cutting classroom teachers or cutting “teacher librarians,” the choice is always to cut the librarians, and the fact they make 2-3 times more than someone who can sit there checking out library books is a further incentive.

Some librarians certainly seem aware of the dangers. One is quoted as saying that she “believes librarians have to advocate for themselves as they find their jobs in danger of being eliminated.”

This librarian definitely gets it. She also opines about reading, which should be fundamental to the rationale for a school librarian: “Some of these students have 100 books at home that their parents help them read…. Some have none and nobody to read to them. They need to see that [reading] behavior modeled, and a school library allows them to experience that.”

One could argue that public libraries not only can, but in fact do provide that same experience. Literacy for children is a major part of why people still use public libraries, and we know that people’s use of public libraries tends to fall off between the time they’re grown and the time they have children of their own.

However, it’s only in schools that students might be forced to interact with a librarian. The children whose parents take them to storytimes and check out public library books with them are already ahead of the game, because their parents are creating an environment where they’ll get the benefits of reading.

Other children don’t have that, and if they don’t have that, they likely don’t have other socioeconomic advantages, so taking away their school librarian is just one more kick in the socioeconomic head for them, if that metaphor makes any sense.

That’s the good way to argue for school librarians: focus on reading.

I almost wrote, “focus on literacy,” but then there’s also this quote from another librarian: “There’s a lot of talk now about what is ‘fake news….’ And media literacy is what is missing. People don’t have the ability to judge what is accurate information and what is just something that somebody said. With the internet, all information is often treated the same.”

That statement alone probably alienated half the right wing radicals in New Mexico, or at least it would have if them looked up from Breitbart and the Daily Stormer to read the “mainstream media,” because they would just think anything in the regular news was already fake.

Regardless of that, the argument fails on its own merits. If school librarians have actually been teaching people to evaluate information properly, we wouldn’t have any worries about people being tricked by “fake news.”

The argument implies that librarians have failed to teach people to evaluate information critically, so we still need librarians to teach people to evaluate information critically.

Stick to reading, because people do read, sort of.

She does qualify the argument somewhat by saying information is treated differently because of the internet.

The internet has been a thing in people’s lives for 20 years or so, but media illiteracy doesn’t seem confined to people schooled before it was a thing. Younger people are no better.

And besides, the problem of critically evaluating information isn’t new. If school librarians weren’t doing that before the internet, maybe they should have been. And if they were, their success rate, much like that of their classroom colleagues, has been spotty.

We can only speculate as to why it’s been so spotty. My speculation is that people are more devoted to fitting in than to the pursuit of truth, and the criteria for fitting in are a lot clearer. Questioning things accepted by the people you’re surrounded by marks you for social ostracism, whether you’re a Trumpist or a radical librarian.

But I don’t really know, since I prefer to avoid gullible people whenever possible; that way arguments about whether news is fake never come up.

Even though I think focusing on real literacy rather than media literacy makes for a better argument for school librarians, it’s still probably a moot point for the foreseeable future.

In America, you get the education you can pay for, and with increasing class and geographic stratification and the way public schools are funded, that education is rapidly becoming unequal.

Poor kids don’t get as much reading instruction? Then so be it.

We can feel bad about it, and we can make good arguments against it, but that doesn’t mean people will vote more money for schools and librarians.

And if half the public school librarians get eliminated, at least we know that the private schools and better off public schools will have librarians, and those students are the ones that matter.

They must be the ones who matter, because they’re the ones who get the money. Simple economics indicates our social priorities.

On the other hand, if you’re a school librarian in Florida, the legislature has one more idea to keep you relevant: arming you. I still think literacy is a better use of your time.



  1. Peter Ward says:

    We live in a post-truth political culture. The facts don’t matter any more. Our politics has become one appeal to our emotions after another, not our intelligence. Why should we be surprised that school librarians then are expendable in such an anti-intellectual environment. Literacy-of any kind-doesn’t count. Reading is what develops our critical thinking capacity as well as stimulates our imagination. Just what we need to develop rational voters.

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