California school libraries: dead last

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North Dakota has one for every 312; Arkansas, one for 437; Oregon, one for 451—but California has one library media teacher for every 4,363 students, making our state last in school library media staffing. Nationally, 20 states mandate a certificated library media teacher in their schools: Georgia for all schools over 251 students, Virginia for every 300 students and Oklahoma for every 500 students.

California does not require any level of staffing for its library media centers. This, despite the numerous research studies that show the positive impact on student learning in schools that have a certificated library media teacher.

Not only is there disparity in school library service between California and the nation, there is also great inequity within California. Some schools offer their students exemplary library programs, while just a few miles away students may attend a school where the library program would be classified as “at risk,” according to the California School Library Association’s Standards and Guidelines for Strong School Libraries (2004).

California was once recognized for having one of the best educational systems in the nation. Unfortunately, we can no longer boast this distinction. And nowhere is this more evident than in the school library programs. Despite the fact that this could be the least expensive and most easily remedied of conditions, we continue to under-staff and under-fund our school libraries. It would, in truth, be most cost effective to fully staff and stock a school library.

Hiring a library media teacher would be sort of like getting four teachers for the price of one, since library media teachers perform four separate, but overlapping, roles: teacher, instructional partner, information specialist and program administrator. They are proficient in developing lifelong readers, leading others in the responsible use of technology and assuring that students and staff are effective users of information

The world demands that students learn to identify a problem, then efficiently access, analyze, synthesize and use information to solve that problem. Sifting through the vast array of data to assess authentic and relevant information is challenging. Students in their early grades should begin to learn to become analytical and responsible users of information. Those who possess these skills will eschew plagiarism and be successful at university and/or in whatever profession they choose. Library media teachers, using the Internet, print resources and digital technologies and working with classroom teachers, are the teachers on campus who teach this proficiency.

Reading scores continue to stay flat or decline. And yet research, and common sense, tells us that reading skills are developed when they are practiced. Students will read when they find that special book that opens their eyes to the wonders of reading. The likelihood of a young person finding that extraordinary book is increased ten-fold when he/she can choose from a wide array of books. A school library filled with carefully selected materials in different formats and on a variety of topics offers students an opportunity to develop into life-long readers and seekers of knowledge.

A great tragedy is that the students least likely to have a wide array of reading materials at home often go to schools with limited libraries. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of people in poverty increased to 37 million in 2004. Tragically, our nation’s children are the hardest hit, with a poverty rate of 17.8 percent. Chances are that these children are doomed to suffer a dearth of reading materials. An abundantly stocked school library would help prevent this poverty of the minds.

California can begin to equalize the education of its young people by upgrading all school libraries to effectively meet the needs of all students. This can be accomplished by providing a school library media program consisting of appropriate and adequate staffing along with a robust collection of print and digital resources. California could move from the bottom to the top of the list of students-to-library-media-teacher ratio and once again be a leader in education.

Jo Ellen Priest Misakian directs the school library media program and is interim dean of the Fresno Pacific University School. Before coming to FPU, she was a library technician and library media teacher in public schools.

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  • Adrian Zayas

    Make your neighboring teacher your best friend, and ask a lot of questions about school policies, copy machine, paperwork, and meetings. If your next neighboring teacher is one of those that complain all the time then you need to stay away as far as possible and find yourself a friendly teacher.