Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

School librarians on the budget chopping block

By DANIEL OPSOMMER
Capital News Service

LANSING – School boards and administrators are considering cutting librarians as public schools face the prospect of additional losses of state aid in 2011.

The number of certified librarians in Michigan public schools is already at a 10-year low, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Alpena, Grand Ledge and Traverse City are among those districts considering eliminating librarians or similar steps to balance their budgets.

“As collapsing budgets prompt school boards and administrators to consider the unthinkable, libraries – and, most important, students – appear to be losing,” said Karen Schulz, communications managing editor for the Michigan Education Association. The MEA is the state’s largest union of school personnel.

In 2008, Michigan public schools employed fewer than 1,100 media specialists, one per 1,556 students. That represented a 31 percent decline from 1998 when there was one specialist for every 1,077 students.

The national average improv ed slightly over the same period. In 1998, there was one media specialist for every 939 students, dropping to one for every 906 students in 2008.

Moreover, the number of media support staff in school libraries has plummeted.

In 1998, there were 1,848 media support staffs in Michigan school libraries, while in 2008 there were only 667, down 64 percent.

Experts say the decline is particularly troubling because media specialists and the resources they man age can directly benefit classroom achievement.

For instance, a study by the Library of Michigan examining the relationship between school library services and student achievement found higher reading scores on Michigan Educational Assessment Program exams in schools with qualified librarians.

The difference was greatest at the elementary level, where 66 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or above on the reading test in schools with librarians, compared to 49 percent in schools without librarians.

Alpena Public Schools has reduced its elementary library hours, said Diane Block, assistant superintendent for operations.

The district has also proposed consolidating its middle and high school librarians into one position for next year. Block said the consolidation is probable, but the district hasn’t resolved a scheduling conflict yet.

Tom Goodwin, Grand Ledge Public Schools chief financial officer, said his district has changed its staffing in elementary libraries by replacing certified librarians with ‘non instructional remedial secretaries.’

“We’re still staffing the libraries, but they’re not certified educators,” Goodwin said. “From a public policy perspective, what’s the standard that the state needs to apply in terms of how school districts staff their libraries? Should they have to staff their libraries with certified teachers, or is it acceptable to use secretaries?”

Grand Ledge used to have two librarians at each of its two middle schools and one at the high school. Due to budget cuts, the district consolidated to one librarian at each school.

“Grand Ledge is down at the bottom of the funding continuum and we’re having to make these kinds of decisions all the time,” Goodwin said. “Obviously this isn’t something we wanted to do, but in the interest of trying to save money we had to put our scarce resources in front of our students.”

Schulz of the MEA said the loss of certified teachers and support staff in libraries is especially trou bling.

“Who will teach children like mine how to select the right books, to employ good research practices or to use the latest media technology?” Schulz said. “Who will keep track of library materials or make sure the doors open on time? Or read to children who have no one to read to them or no books at home?”

Schulz said Traverse City Area Public Schools is considering its elementary libraries as a possible solution to a looming deficit.

Todd Neibauer, director of technology for the Traverse City district, said closing the libraries was proposed, but no decision has been made.

Christine Jenkins, a former librarian for Ann Arbor Public Schools, said the “sad story” of librarians’ positions being eliminated has occurred in a number of schools across the state.

“Who ensures that new library materials support the curriculum and engage young readers?” said Jenkins, currently an associate professor at the University of Illinois. “Who helps students develop the informa tion literacy skills they will need for their future education and employment?”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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