Yesterday's New York Times Room for Debate
featured six essays on the changing role and possible elimination of school librarians. There were several important educational connections especially in one “anti-librarian” piece, the segment
written by tech exec and policymaker Ze'ev Wurman. He argues that promoting access to library collections should not be a priority even in the poorest schools where collection development initiatives have not shown significant increases in library circulation. He suggests that money is better spent on classroom teachers who are able to provide some of the same information literacy services and teaching methods which ensure that students become literate. Wurman cites the Second Evaluation of the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program
, defenders of school library impact often cite the Colorado Studies
which do find significant improvements in standardized testing with the application of funds to library media center's collections and staff.
Lib-tech blogger Jessamyn West suggests in her pro-school librarian essay
, that simply because the benefits and tasks of school librarians are changing and largely unknown does not mean that they can be eliminated without consequence. She states that, “My concern, as someone who works with people who lack technological access and education, is that removing school librarians and media specialists from the educational environment will have the largest effect on those whose information access is already hampered by the same pressures that are affecting our schools.” All participants seem to be in agreement that some entity should provide free access to books for young people and that we should also provide training in information literacy, web skills, and search techniques, but many are divided when it comes to which institution should fund and support these initiatives. What I see as the most compelling aspect of these arguments is the divide between those who accessed public v. school library services as children.
I tend to think that when librarians are eliminated from schools, public libraries will rush to fill the gap. Most public libraries prioritize children's services. As recently as 1993
, children's and youth librarians made up 30% of all public librarians and programming for and circulation of materials for young people have been increasing
. Librarians are able to do more, teach further and reach larger groups of people. Is this ideal? No, but it's likely to be the reality for many information professionals in the future. We simply cannot afford to provide as many information professionals as we would like, redundancies will be eliminated and more passion will go unpaid. I also believe that it will become more and more important to create technologies which are able to amplify the voices of literacy to fill the gaps in service created by these eliminations. Could this be a job for EdLab?