School Librarians Matter: A Call to Action for Parents and Stakeholders [Opinion]

The Collingswood housing market is listed as “hot” on Zillow.com, we’re earning accolades for our excellent restaurant scene and our many street festivals, and people of all ages seem to be flocking to our town from Philly, New York, and the surrounding suburbs. All of this is wonderful. There’s no question that our walkable town is a great place to live, but can you live here without worrying about the quality of your child’s education? The answer to that, in my opinion, is complex.

If the quality of an education is measured by test data, Collingswood schools rank somewhere in the middle for ELA, with 49% of high school students proficient in reading and rank lower for math, with 21% of high school students at proficiency. According to the most recent rankings from the US News and World Report (2018). If the quality of an education is measured according to service of the whole child, with a curriculum that is designed to prepare students for success in both school and life, then some might say, including this parent, that Collingswood falls short.

If, as Carl Sagan eloquently reminds us, “the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture, and our concern for our future, can all be tested by how well we support libraries,” what are the vitals inside our town’s schools?

What do we lose when we cut librarians at the elementary level, as our district did in 2011? The answer to that question, in my opinion, is a lot.

A recent report from the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) revealed grim statistics about the ability of American young people to critically evaluate online information, a skill set that SHEG defines as “civic online reasoning.” The report used qualitative methods to assess
students’ ability to analyze a homepage, identify native advertisements (ads masquerading as content) analyze claims on social media and evaluate evidence.

The authors of the Executive Summary communicated their findings: “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.” (SHEG, 2016) Information Literacy and Civic Online Reasoning are learned on a continuum, with the upper elementary grades being an ideal time to begin exposing students to the critical evaluation of online content.

Librarians are equipped to do this. We are educated to do this. We are expected to do this, and we have a passion for it. We also do it well.

According to a report from Phi Delta Kappan, school librarians improve the standardized ELA test scores of all students; but especially the most vulnerable: those with special needs or living in poverty. The school library impact study, a body of research that has collected data since 1992 (Lance & Katchel, 2018), identifies a strong correlation between the presence of a certified school librarian and an improvement in English Language Arts test scores.

“Studies conducted over the past two decades…show that students in schools with endorsed librarians score better on standardized achievement tests in reading, compared with students in schools without endorsed librarians.” (LRS, 2013)

It is clear that librarians and dedicated library spaces make a difference. While classroom libraries are a vital component of a well-balanced literacy program, self-contained school libraries staffed with certified librarians not only improve reading scores but enrich the whole child and encourage a lifelong love of reading.

The elimination of school librarians is often justified as a cost-saving measure in the face of budgets cuts. When the state cut Collingswood’s district budget in 2010 by approximately 1 million dollars, Dr. Scott Oswald, superintendent of Collingswood Schools, had a difficult decision to make. “We chose to focus on direct services to
students in the classroom,” Dr. Oswald said when asked why librarians were among those cut from the district at the elementary level.

While the town and the district had no control over the cuts, our students were put at a disadvantage when school librarians lost their positions in the elementary schools. So what can we do?

This parent and librarian asks you to consider advocating for a bond referendum that contributes to the enrichment of our children by reinstating the positions that were deemed “optional” during the 2010-2011 cuts. By understanding the critical need for certified school librarians in all of our schools, we can work together to prepare our children for practical civic online reasoning, a love of reading in a time of aliteracy, and the research skills necessary to succeed in today’s information-saturated society.

 

Resources:

Collingswood high school. (2018). Retrieved July 10, 2018, from US News and World Report

website:https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/new-jersey/districts/collingswood-public-schools/collingswood-high-school-12513.

 

Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning. (2016, November). Retrieved from Stanford History Education Group website:

https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:fv751yt5934/SHEG%20Evaluating%20Information%20Online.pdf.

 

Lance, K. C., & Kachel, D. E. (2018). Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(7), 15-20.

 

Library Research Services (2013). https://www.lrs.org/data-tools/school-libraries/impact-studies. Accessed:  July 7, 2018.

Jenny Wilder

Jenny Wilder is a parent, educator, and librarian. Jenny is a member of the Collingswood Educational Advocacy Group and a blog contributor.