By Meagan Walters
Librarian - Avondale & Oakdale Elementary School, Amarillo ISD
Recently, I was contacted by a local high school principal who was hiring for a teaching position. He showed interest in me not so much because of my Librarian certification, but because I was qualified for the teaching position he needed to fill. His plan was to hire me to teach two levels of English as well as being the “Librarian” on campus. Mind you, I would be Librarian in title only, as he’d have a paraprofessional actually running the library. I was taken aback, to say the least...and my reply was that it would be impossible to do both. But my curiosity, and maybe my ego, had been roused so I had to know where this crazy idea of “pseudo-librarian position” had originated. As expected, it had been an administrative decision due to budget constraints. After my encounter with him ended, I started thinking, What would happen if these “professional replacements” began to become the norm when money gets too tight? I imagine it would go something like this...
It’s mid-October; Sarah trudges through her front door hoping Mom isn’t home yet. She knows the conversation will turn bleak as soon as she’s asked to show her report card. It won’t matter that she got all A’s and B’s in most of her classes; the failing grade in Language Arts will overshadow any other victory. Her head’s been swimming with trepidation ever since she saw the foreign “F”. How did this happen? Sarah has never before struggled in reading class like she does now, nor does she understand Ms. Jones who half the time confuses her more than she explains. Sarah had no idea she was doing so poorly because she never gets her work back, and she tried three different times to get after school help, but Ms. Jones was never there. It’s only the first six weeks, and Sarah already feels like a failure and wants to give up…
What Sarah doesn’t know is that the failure is not hers - this failure belongs on the shoulders of administrators who consciously chose to give Sarah an under-qualified teacher in the name of budget constraints. Rather than filling the English position with a highly-qualified and experienced teacher, they hired a substitute teacher for the job. Ms. Jones, who has only completed two-years of post-secondary education, has neither the intellectual expertise nor the classroom experience to provide her students with the level of instruction they need to be prepared for success.
Surely this would never happen, right? Or only in “desperate situations?” On the contrary, this happens regularly in schools throughout the country who choose to staff their school libraries with paraprofessionals. There is a prevailing - and INVALID - mindset in many school districts that the role of Librarian is so unimportant that essentially anyone can do the job. In actuality, Librarians are the main factor to unlocking and discovering students’ achievement potential.
[The TASLTalks Editor wants to ensure that the last two sentences cannot be easily quoted out of context by administrators- so added the INVALID.]
Literacy is the single biggest indicator of student success; students’ ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate texts is vital. Its importance is no more evident than on the array of benchmark assessments used to promote students onto the next grade. In Colorado, professors from the University of Denver performed three different studies to determine the difference of standardized test performance between schools who had highly-qualified Librarians on staff vs. those that didn’t. Among the findings were the following discoveries:
- Schools with Librarians showed a 6% increase of students performing at satisfactory levels
- Schools without Librarians averaged 12-13% unsatisfactory
- A 17-27% proportional difference was seen when the library employed both a Certified Media Specialist and at least one support staff (Francis, Lance & Lietzau, 2010, p. 5)
These results are a direct impact of a highly-qualified Librarian who knows how to effectively manage all the components necessary for a strong library program including:
- Flexible scheduling which allows the Librarian to meet user needs when they occur
- Collaboration with other teachers in designing lessons and methods of delivery
- Professional Development to keep up with collection trends in literature, technology, and media (Francis, Lance & Lietzau, 2010, p.11)
I penned this article and sent it to the administrator of said high school. Will it change their decision regarding employing a certified Librarian? Maybe not. Will it even be read? Who knows. But I know that I didn’t sell my profession short. I know that the Librarians who’ve gone before me are smiling down on my efforts to proudly proclaim the power of our profession. Since this incident, I’ve been blessed with an Elementary Librarian job. This learning experience will go before me as a reminder of how URGENT it is that I show the administrators, staff, students and parents how important the Library is. It is not enough that I know it. I must make others believe it as well.
Francis, B, Lance, K, and Lietzau, Z.2010. School Librarians Continue to Help Students Achieve Standards: The Third Colorado Study. Retrieved from https://www.lrs.org/documents/closer_look/CO3_2010_Closer_Look_Report.pdf
Trilling, B. 2010. “From Libraries to Learning Libratories: The New ABC’s of 21st-Century School
Libraries.” School Library Monthly, 29(1), 43. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslissues/advocacy/AASL_infographic.pdf.