While putting together resounding “meets and exceeds expectations” evaluations this week – I realized again that the scope of the 21st Century library is HUGE. Here is a couple of minutes worth of review on what a typical K-12 Librarian/Media Specialist/Teacher-Librarian is expected to do…
· Encourage reading as life-long passion
· Assist students in information access, retrieval, evaluation and use
· Collaborate, support, team teach with classroom teachers
· Maintain, purchase and use technologies such as personal computing devices, e-Readers, video cameras, wireless networks and copy machines
· Maintain a physical collection of print resources reflective of multiple perspectives, reading levels and school mission
· Understand architectural theory of space use and design
· Understand adolescent development
· Develop, submit and manage budgets and grant proposals that support 21st Century Learning
· Develop, submit and manage a definition of what the heck 21st Century Learning means
· Create websites, signage, bulletin boards and displays that promote all the above
· Know every trending vampire, werewolf, post-apocalyptic, dystopian series by heart AND yet engage in intimate dialogue regarding the merits of Keats vs. Thoreau’s images of nature (and where to find the definitive concordance of both).
· Oh… and run a library automation system (yes, that might include checking out books) that rivals anything the NASA has
(This is not exhaustive… I left out all the stories of when, as a pre-K-6 Media Specialist, I had to deal with bodily fluids.)
In light of all this… and in light of all the information literacy discussions held every minute in educational circles, I am disheartened to watch neighboring school districts eliminate their Media Specialists positions. One large, urban district in these parts is zoning the elementary schools – 1 Media Specialist per zone with the total number of zones being 5. There are roughly 35 non-magnet elementary schools to that’s one specialist per 7 schools:
7 schools X 400 students per school = about a 1:2800 specialist: student ratio… add in teachers in the building and heaven help us parents and the number is probably more like 1:4000.
I hypothesis that while some books may get checked out and stories read, there is no access, evaluation, use discussions taking place or technology rich learning happening in this structure. Brebeuf has roughly a 1:400 ratio. Compare that to 1:2800... wonder how we perpetuate the Digital Divide? Cutting Media Specialists in public schools is an excellent way.
In 2011, the AASL (American Association of School Libraries) division of ALA surveyed Urban Media Specialists (full report) finding these individuals serve populations with high poverty and English language learners as well as high dropout rates. Students had low access to technology in the home and little support in how to effectively use technology to support their learning. The study also found that the Media Specialist was often the only adult in the building who worked with students across grade levels and curriculum. Only 37% of those surveyed had a full-time Media Specialist in the building. Yet, the schools were under pressure to ensure “college readiness” and career skills. Read the study, it will break your heart.
So where are students learning the skills we claim they need to know to be productive, 21st century citizens? Where are they learning how to access, evaluate and use information in the tidal wave of data found on the Internet? Where do we create spaces of equitable access to digital tools and resources? I can tell you as information literacy is not tested in Indiana standardized tests and in light of new pay-for-results salary schedule these skills are not being taught in the classroom. (I don’t fault classroom teachers, they have enough to cover). And trust me, children do not magically show up in kindergarten knowing how to conduct a productive online search, evaluating results to support their research question. Direct contact, direct support… if we truly believe every child deserves a college-ready education then we’d better support Media Centers in our public schools.
(And for those of you out there who say the book is dead and therefore the library is dead… when was the last time you were in a library? Even Alexandria had more than just scrolls…)