SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver Speaks Out For School Librarians
- Thursday, May 26, 2011
In these times of world-wide recession, everyone---from families to state and federal governments---has to tighten belts and cut spending. In our field, a heart-breaking casualty of this enforced budget slashing is the demise of public and school libraries. Across America, and in fact around much of the developed world, library budgets are being slashed resulting in shortened hours, forced closings, and personnel layoffs. Authors, teachers, community activists are speaking out in support of library funding. Notably, in Oxfordshire, England, where the local community is facing the closure of 20 of its 43 libraries and staff is being replaced with volunteers and automated kiosks, noted children’s author Philip Pullman earlier this year made a plea to save libraries and librarians, citing their crucial value in a democratic society.
“I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult,” he said in an impassioned speech. “l love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.”
Fine words. Who among us wouldn’t agree? Yet the budget slashing continues, and in what the SCBWI leadership and Board of Advisors view as a case of misguided priorities, libraries continue to be compromised by the hundreds. The public and school library system is failing, and with it, its librarians.
Take for example, the case of the approximately eighty five middle and upper school librarians in Los Angeles Unified School District. As part of the district budget cutting, they all received pink slips within the past several months. In order to get them off the payroll, the district is arguing that librarians don’t teach and therefore don’t qualify for the seniority protections given to teachers. One by one, these librarians were called into a basement room and interrogated. “Do you take attendance?” they were asked by school district attorneys, with armed guards standing by. The point of the questioning was to discredit them as teachers, as if taking attendance is proof that one is fit for the classroom.
The SCBWI leadership believes that all librarians are indeed teachers, including and especially those in school libraries. For many children, the school library is their first, and often only, exposure to what a library has to offer. Certainly, the school library of the 21st century will look different. It will offer children not only books but computers, downloads, internet access, and many other platforms yet to come. But its basic function of leading children to reading remains the same, no matter what the format. School librarians are teachers and the library is their classroom. They minister to the individual needs of students, and although they may not teach specific subjects or take attendance on a daily basis, they teach the most important skill of all---learning how to learn. They teach their students how to gather information, to synthesize from multiple sources, and hopefully to form their own conclusions based on what they have read. They lead each new generation to the thoughts and words of previous generations, enabling them to stand on the shoulders of the great thinkers who have come before. In addition, and no small matter this…school librarians notice what kids are reading, and hand them the next book they might enjoy, point them to the right internet site, encourage them to take the next step on the path to knowledge, education, and the immense joy that comes from reading.
One commonly proposed solution to reducing library budgets is to replace librarians with volunteers and inventory managing software. In this scenario, a kiosk would replace a librarian. How tragic this would be. The human hand of a trained librarian, a person who has cultivated the specialty of helping another person seek knowledge, would be lost. The humiliating interrogation of librarians in Los Angeles is an attempt to remove school librarians from the payroll. Surely, we can find ways to reduce spending other than to eliminate the keepers of the key to knowledge. A library without a librarian is a building. A library with a motivated, trained, interested librarian is a source of light and inspiration.
It has been said that closing libraries in a time of recession is like closing hospitals in a time of plague. Join SCBWI in support of funding for public and school libraries, and especially now in support of school librarians whose jobs are in jeopardy.
Executive Director, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators