Lately I've noticed the same question coming up again and again: are school libraries still necessary? It started the other day on my state's listserv. Someone was asking for ideas because their district is going to have only one certified librarian for the entire district during the next school year. Yesterday, I saw the question being asked on Twitter. When I did a news search on school libraries today, I saw much of the same. School libraries are facing cuts at an alarming frequency.
The idea of cutting school library funding isn't exactly new. When I started working on my Library Media degree several years ago, library advocacy was a huge topic of discussion in every class I took. It's really no mystery how I feel about this subject. I absolutely believe that school libraries are a critical component for schools in the 21st Century.
But everything's online now, right?
Yes. And no. I'd venture to say there's very little information you can't find online. At the risk of revoking my library card (a little librarian humor), I will admit that even I vastly prefer finding factual information online. So if the information is freely available, and kids know how to use computers, research should be a no-brainer, right? Wrong.
Let's think about this logically. When I was a kid, there was a lot of information available in a library. Granted, not as much as what's available online today, but still a lot of information.
What if someone just turned me loose to research a topic without any guidance, just because I knew how to read? I would have no idea where to look for the kind of book I needed, so I would have to wander around browsing every book. That method may be effective, in that I would eventually find what I was looking for, but it is far from efficient.
Think about that in today's terms. Yes, there's a ton of information out there. Yes, most students have a basic understanding of how to use the Internet (although not as proficiently as you might imagine).
Do they know how to distinguish between factual information and someone's opinion? How about acceptable use - citing sources, asking for permission to use someone else's photos, etc.? Not so cut and dry. In my library lesson plans this year, I asked my 4th and 5th grade students to evaluate some websites. I found out that we have a lot of work to do in this area.
Librarians to the Rescue!
These situations are perfectly suited for what librarians have been trained to do. We can help students find and evaluate information, which is a critical skill in the 21st Century. Now you may be thinking, "My librarian doesn't do that." My response to you would be, "It's probably because he/she does not have the opportunity."
As you can see from my crazy schedule, the school librarian's job has evolved into a hodgepodge of responsibilities that may or may not be centered around teaching 21st Century skills to our students. While I'm a team player and very thankful for my job, I'm also very concerned about our students' preparedness for their working world - a place that will likely look much different than we can even imagine.
OK, so we can research in a computer lab. There's no need for fiction books because everyone reads e-books, right?
I found this interesting statistic on the Library Research Service website: only 23% of Americans read an e-book in the past year. Despite the technology all around us, people still enjoy reading paper books. Such reading is particularly important for the youngest students, who are still learning to turn pages, read text from left to right, and look at colorful pictures.
I believe there's a place for hard copy books and a place for e-books. I like to read them both. The idea that everyone is reading e-books is just not realistic.
So I'm still undecided: Are school libraries still necessary?
If you want to train students how to effectively and efficiently use information, yes. If you want to help students fall in love with reading, yes. If you just want to churn out students who can answer more questions correctly on standardized tests... Yes! Check out this infographic on School Libraries and Student Achievement.
Your school librarian is an awesome resource. When given the appropriate time and resources, your school library program can soar. In the words of Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow, "Don't just take my word for it." Check out the comments from real school librarians below.
School librarians, It's your time to shine! If you could share one thing with a principal or administrator who wants to know the answer to the question, "Are school libraries still necessary?", what would you say? Share with us in the comments!