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Could School Librarians Become Extinct?

Could School Librarians Become Extinct?

In an era of severe cuts to school budgets — an era in which the internet has made information (think Wikipedia and even books (Project Gutenberg and Bartleby readily available– perhaps it’s not a surprise that school districts across the nation are starting “to send school librarians the way of the card catalog,” as the New York Times puts it. The Salem-Keizer school district in Oregon will eliminate all of its 48 elementary and middle school librarians if a budget proposal passes next week. Illinois’s rural and suburban School District 90 has been staffing its school libraries with parent volunteers, and the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, school superintendent decided to save full-day kindergarten by cutting 15 of the 20 librarian positions.

New York city’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, states the problem succinctly:

“The dilemma that schools will face is whether to cut a teacher who has been working with kids all day long in a classroom or cut teachers who are working in a support capacity, like librarians.”

In New York, as in districts across the country, many school officials said they had little choice but to eliminate librarians, having already reduced administrative staff, frozen wages, shed extracurricular activities and trimmed spending on supplies. Technological advances are also changing some officials’ view of librarians: as more classrooms are equipped with laptops, tablets or e-readers, Mr. Polakow-Suransky noted, students can often do research from their desks that previously might have required a library visit.

“It’s the way of the future,” he said.

Membership in the American Association of School Librarians has fallen to 8000 from 10,000 in 2006 says the group’s president, Nancy Everhart. She also notes that living in the age of the Internet actually makes librarians more important in order “to guide students through the basics of searching and analyzing information they find online.”

Indeed, one of the problems, even the curse?, of the Internet is the sheer volume of stuff out there, an excess of information that is simply challenging, not to say daunting, for anyone — let alone a 10-year-old — to work their way through, on the quest for information that is valid, accurate, trustworthy, true.

While some states require that each public school have a certified librarian, others leave the decision up to individual districts. Even though New York requires certified librarians in all middle and high schools (but not in elementary schools), “an analysis of state and city data shows there is one librarian for every 2,146 students this year, compared with 1 per 1,447 in 2005.” Further , says the New York Times , at least 386 schools for students in grades 6 through 12 have no librarian on staff — even with state-mandated rules, school librarians seems to be in danger of becoming extinct.

Even if students can access much of the information on the web, getting information and understanding what to do with it — and how reliable its source is — are quite different matters. Librarians perform a crucial role as gatekeepers, screening materials (of which there are more than ever now, both printed matter and web-based) and guiding students and teachers, too, amid the morass. School libraries themselves are are as important to schools as, well, classroom space and playgrounds. As I remember them, libraries, where a quiet sense of “hush” to students could read and study, were repositories of all kinds of knowledge in the form of those key instruments of learning, books.

Is it a sign of the times that we have come to think librarians dispensable?

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82 comments

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7:35AM PDT on Sep 2, 2011

Better question-- Can library become extinct? They're certainly trying!

6:07PM PDT on Aug 22, 2011

Sad, that it should come to this.

1:29PM PDT on Jul 20, 2011

How sad!

12:00PM PDT on Jul 18, 2011

Hopefully books, libraries and librarians will stay forever and do not vanish because of internet. And hopefully there are more people who like books, who like real paper in their hands with real ink. I love books. And as long as i can think back they have been the only friends i ever had. Books don't hurt (only when thrown) as people can hurt. And they can help to survive some things achild or an adult doe not want to go through... But books don't have a warmth of embrace :(

1:35PM PDT on Jun 30, 2011

So, has anyone stopped to consider the reality that no one besides a librarian can teach a student the value of reading? And for that matter, when will these idiot legislators and budget crunching morons realize they HAVE to leave schools alone. They cannot keep chipping away at the system that prepares the future leaders of this nation!!!!!!!!!

6:08PM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

I have trouble wading through all the info on the internet myself.It gets confusing(or maybe I'm just stupid).I imagine some kids might need some guidance.What difference does it make,really,if the info is in books or on the net?If librarians were useful before,they are now,too.If anything,the students probably need more guidance researching on the net than when they were using books.

8:42AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

P.S. The expression "library studies" is (was?) graduate school jargon for doing secondary literature (scientific papers, etc.) investigations as opposed to primary research (original lab or field work) investigations. I did eight years of both.

8:17AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

Ken M. Apparently I didn't make myself clear. I am not a librarian. By saying that
I had done 8 years of "library studies" after high school I meant that I had studied in
libraries, without the aid of librarians, while obtaining my B.S., M.S. and PhD degrees.

7:01AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

Frankly, we never needed a library in school, but maybe thats because I've never been to a school that seriously supported reading :/
Libraries and books are crucial, but librarians? I'm not so sure.

5:59AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

Sounds like something out of the Twilight Zone...

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