Urban School Libraries

I stumbled across an article: Are We in Danger of Losing Sight of Urban Schools and their Libraries? as I was sitting in my urban school library. I say “my” as if it is mine, but I’m not the librarian on staff. We are lucky here to have a full time librarian as well as part-time interns/associates like myself. There are three part-time paid associates including myself (plus I’m doing my student librarian teaching here), one intern who is here for school credit, and five volunteers. We’re all in grad school to become librarians of some sort.

We clearly are a lucky library.

Now, the article linked above talks about two libraries in urban schools that were not as lucky, but I feel that the author of the article places an unfair level of blame on the library and not the administration.

I feel the need to address just a few of the statements made:

  1. “During my final year teaching, 2011-2012, the school’s librarian was let go.”  
    School librarians struggle to keep positions when budgets get cut. No matter how many library impact studies are done (reports show that a school library helps raise reading and writing scores on tests), we’re considered a luxury, not a necessity. This is not the library’s fault. This is squarely on admin and budget people. 
  2. “Late fines, even minor ones, became significant barriers for students as they could not continue to use library services until these nominal fees were covered.”
    Shocking! This likely is the library’s fault unless higher ups demanded that the library collect all late fines. Where I work, we don’t charge late fees. We do send out reminders to students with late fees listed, but we have never collected a late fee. It isn’t fair to students who can’t afford to pay. We do charge for lost books, but we also allow students to purchase a copy of the lost book in order to replace it. Therefore, if a book was lost that we paid $25 for,  and a student can find it in good condition online for $5, we’ll accept that. If a student really cannot afford to pay for a lost book, and asks nicely, we have waived the replacement cost.
    I’m shocked that any school library refuses to allow students to use library services when they have late fees. Even public libraries allow patrons to use services and check out books when they have small fines, usually under $10.
  3. “Further, the staff in the library often frightened and harassed students.”
    I can’t even imagine this being true. If the staff was the “various campus aides” that the school was able to “cobble together” to keep the library open, then maybe. But they clearly were not trained librarians. We don’t take on a job like school librarian, especially at an urban school, so we can sit around all day and read. We take on positions like this to help students.

From the school librarians that I know, and the classmates of mine who are working on Masters degrees to become school librarians, we are a very driven bunch. We know that libraries are often the last to be thought about when a budget is created and usually we’re the first to be cut (right along with the art teacher, music teacher, and foreign languages). We fight for our students, and every kid in that school is OUR student. We fight for budgets, we apply for grants, we volunteer for boards, we do everything we can to make sure our students have the resources and the staff they need to succeed.

The author of the article states that he spent $8000 one year on books for his students. That is an amazing sum and I applaud him for getting books for his students. But could that drive and that money been put into his school library? Could he have applied for a grant to purchase those books in the name of the school library? Could those books have been donated to the library after his students were done with them? It takes a few dedicated volunteers to keep a library running at the bare minimum (i.e. check out books, check in books, shelve books,  barcode donated titles, and keep an eye on the space so students can be allowed in for resources).

We, the school librarians, need teachers on our side. We can’t fight alone.  Collaborate with us, bring your students into the library, ask if you can run tutoring after school in the library. The more you include us, the better an asset we can be to you and your students.

Honestly, I can’t wait until I have a school library of my own. I want to do so much to help my future students. I’m the type of person who would be happy to help every teacher.  A science class needs to know APA citations? Yes, let me show you two websites and a PowerPoint! A 3rd grade class is learning about fairy tales? I’m there, and I can help them write their own! Fifth graders doing their first research papers and need sources? Happily, let me grab some books!  Need an extra adult on the chemistry class field trip? Sure, let me grab a lab coat and safety glasses!  (I’ve done it all and am excited to do more in the future).

So teachers, come to the library. Talk to your librarians. We welcome you and your classes with open arms.

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2 Comments

Filed under library, politics, school

2 responses to “Urban School Libraries

  1. I really appreciated your response. Thank you. I agree with almost all of your important critiques of my post. I do want to stress that this wasn’t something written to place blame on librarians as much as on the administrative systems that staff urban schools (when the librarian was let go, I was frustrated with the poor vision of my school district, for instance).

    The one thing I do need to clarify: the person who frightened and harassed students that you note in #3: that person was our school’s librarian. Yes, with an MLIS degree. This is not a condemnation of school librarians but a recognition that this librarian may not have gotten the support needed to grow professionally or was not in an environment that was ideal for his or her circumstances (I’m being intentionally vague with the librarian’s identity). I’ve never met a teacher that intended to poorly handle students’ education. However, when educational support drops out and class sizes are overwhelming I have seen more than a few express burn out in ways that are not ideal for students. Perhaps the same can be said for an occasional librarian who take on “positions like this to help students.”

    Thank you again.

    • Thank you for your reply!

      I’m deeply saddened that the librarian who harassed students was, in fact, the school librarian and not someone just filling in. I can’t imagine anyone acting that way towards students. Even when budgets are tight and support is nil, it is never the students’ fault.

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