School Librarians = Valuable Instructional Partners

I applaud the Canandaigua City School District administration for, in the face of challenging financial obstacles, developing a budget that maintains many of the instructional programs essential to meeting the district’s goals of academic success and positive character development for all students (“State Aid Hike Helps Canandaigua School District,” MPNnow, 6 April 2012).

I am concerned, however, that the latest budget proposal does not include provisions for a school library media specialist available to any student or staff in grades K-5. Next school year, as proposed, Canandaigua Primary and Elementary Schools will be two of eight schools (out of 75) in the Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES district whose students have no access to a school librarian (W-FL BOCES School Library System Member Libraries).

As a librarian, I am often reminded of the (inaccurate) perception some people have of the skills a school librarian brings to the school – that of shelving and shushing.

While an organized collection is certainly a part of the library program, a librarian whose primary responsibility is shelving books is not a good value to the district. And while a (somewhat) orderly and respectful environment is a benefit to all library users, an exemplary library should also be an active, dynamic place that encourages the free (and sometimes noisy) exchange of ideas and information. Visit the Academy Library and you could hear a pin drop – if the pin weighed 20 pounds and was dropped on a concrete surface. Otherwise, not so much.

The primary responsibility of a school librarian is to serve as a collaborative instructional partner in the school. This involves identifying target information literacy skills, working with other teachers to develop meaningful lessons that teach, model and assess these skills, delivering instruction in the classroom setting, helping students make their own connections to information literacy, and evaluating the process to determine student growth.

Another responsibility of the school librarian is to ensure resources needed to support instruction are available. Through collection development, librarians build book, media and electronic collections that are current, relevant, balanced and varied enough to meet the needs of all students and staff.

New York State provides $6.25 per student per year in aid to help purchase library materials: books, DVDs, CDs and other instructional media. For Canandaigua, that’s about $24,000 a year. Out of the tens of thousands of books and other media published every year, who decides what should be purchased? School librarians know the students and they know the school curriculum, and they are well-prepared to develop library collections that both  support the instructional needs of the school and the independent reading needs of individual students.

But library collections extend far beyond what’s available on the shelves. Americans have access to more information today than ever before – and not all of this information is accessible through a simple Google search. For example, every New York resident has access to thousands of magazines, newspapers, research and reference e-books through NOVELny, an initiative of the New York State Library.

Access to NOVELny is available through your public library card number or, in the case of K-12 students and staff, through the school library. But using these resources requires navigation skills, taught and integrated by school librarians. Librarians are the GPS, helping users find their way in a complex network of information pathways.

The Common Core Standards in Writing include independent research as early as Grade 3: “Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic (Grade 3), gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources (Grade 4), and draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research (Grade 4)” (Common Core State Standards for ELA & Literacy in Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects).

In addition, our information literacy curriculum, Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, includes over 200 benchmark skills to be achieved by the end of grade 5, skills that help students become “critical thinkers, skillful researchers, enthusiastic readers and ethical users of information” (from the library mission statement).

These are all things that are currently being taught by a certified librarian at the Elementary School; next year, as proposed for grades K-5, they will not. Information literacy instruction does not begin in Grade 6; it begins in Kindergarten and lasts a lifetime.

If you, too, are concerned, I invite you to share a message with the Board of Education.

I also encourage you to take advantage of your right to vote on your local school budget by registering to vote and exercising your right on May 15th. Find out how at the CCSD Voter Information page.

Message from Laurie Halse Anderson on School Library Month!

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