As some Collingswood community members are aware, our elementary schools have been without professional librarians since approximately 2011 when the last of our elementary library services were cut from the district budget.
At the end of the 2017-2018 academic year, one of our elementary schools (Tatem Elementary) lost their school library as per approval of the Board at the May 2018 BOE meeting.
This lack of professional library services at the elementary level sets up apart from neighboring districts which have prioritized the work of school librarians. The Collingswood Educational Advocacy Group (CEAG) is working to redress this issue by advocating for the restatement of a library space at Tatem Elementary, the protection of existing library spaces at our other four elementary schools (Sharp, Newbie, Garfield and Zane North) and the hiring of a shared serviced librarian to rotate between our five elementary schools in the same way that our Art and Spanish teachers currently do.
Here is where our advocacy stands to date:
- On March 18, a number of CEAG members attended the monthly Board of Ed meeting and spoke during public comment in favor of prioritizing school libraries. Board members were also invited to attend the CEAG event held the following day in order to speak with librarians and library advocates about the work they are doing in local public schools. At this same BOE meeting, it was revealed that the Board would be going out to “second question” on the November ballot, asking taxpayers to approve a budget increase of $225,000 for mental health professionals. The increase would be about $48 per average assessed home.
- On March 19, the CEAG held an education and advocacy event, “Libraries in Our Schools: What Make School Libraries So Important & How We Can Save Them.” This event featured a panel of library experts from neighboring community as well as the NJ Association of School Libraries (NJASL) and detailed the in-depth services school librarians provide. This event showcased the work librarians perform in research instruction, teacher support, library curation and social and emotional support of student growth. It was clear to attendees that librarians do much more than just “check out books,” and that we are missing a host of services by not budgeting for school librarians.
- On March 20, the CEAG initiated an online petition which currently has 373 signatures and 100 comments of support. https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/collingswood-elementary-schools-need-libraries
- On March 24, the CEAG requested permission of the Board to give a very brief recap of the material presented at the Library Advocacy Event at the April BOE meeting since none of the current BOE members were at that event that detailed the work done by school librarians. This request was denied by the BOE President.
- On March 27, the CEAG tabled at the Borough’s “Get Up” Volunteer event and garnered more petition signatures as well as signatures on 47 form letters to the Board and Superintendent, asking them to prioritize libraries and librarians in our district.
- On March 29, the CEAG received via Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request the district budget for school libraries and was able to review this some with the assistance of allies at NJASL.
- On April 3, the NJEA Review featured CEAG advocacy ally, Tricina Beebe of NJASL on their front cover and ran an in-depth article on the importance of school librarians and library services in NJ public education. https://www.njea.org/njea-review/
- On April 6, CEAG members had an informal meeting with the Superintendent to discuss the next steps in elementary advocacy. The CEAG requested that the Superintendent and Board consider including elementary librarians in their “second question” request to voters in November, given that the school district can only go out to the community asking for additional funding so often and hope for success. The CEAG also outlined the ways in which librarians can assist in socio-emotional learning by connecting students with resources related to sensitive topics they may want to access in a safe environment and curating lessons and collections around topics important to the school community. The Superintendent agreed to take this idea back to the Board.
- On April 8, the Library Advocacy Committee of the CEAG held a meeting to discuss next steps within the group.
- On April 15, members of the Library Advocacy Committee of the CEAG sat down with staff at the Collingswood Public Library to discuss any advocacy ideas they had in mind, especially in light of the suggestion that Tatem Elementary students travel to the Colls Public Library as a temporary access to library services while the situation is being remediated there.
- On April 16, the Superintendent informed the CEAG that the Board was not interested in including library services in the “second question” to be put to voters in November, citing a concern that the Board would “price themselves out” as well as a “shared concern about the appearance” of adding a librarian to this voter request.
- On April 29, the CEAG spoke during public comment at the BOE meeting, advocating for the importance of elementary libraries and asking again that this item be included in the “second question” going out to voters in November. The wording of the question was approved without the inclusion of libraries/librarians. Editing the wording would require approval from the state.
- On May 21, the CEAG will hold our monthly meeting where we can discuss the next steps in light of these developments. Spring/summer is an ideal time for engaging with the Collingswood community, given the regular events going on in town.