Professor, Students Respond to School Library Funding Cuts
By Robert Schroeder
One of the first victims of recent austerity measures may be one of the most innocent: school libraries.
After two years of threatening to remove the line item funding for the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, the Department of Education formally zeroed out the budget for the program on May 19, 2011. The program had provided between $12.5-19.8 million annually since its inception in 2001 to help school libraries boost academic achievement by providing students with access to up-to-date school library materials, expanding Internet connections, extending library hours, and providing professional development to media specialists.
The American Library Association called the move an abandonment of school libraries by the Obama administration. National Louis University's Toby Rajput, assistant professor in the University Library, says the funding cuts are not just a blow but a contradictory answer to a complex problem. The state of Illinois requires research skills to be taught as part of language arts curriculum, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards assigns the curriculum requirement for information literacy to school librarians, but the funding cuts will cost many school librarians the resources they need to teach; for others, it may cost their job.
"Teaching kids how to research, how to locate, and how to evaluate information is a skill needed now more than it ever was before, and yet many teachers and principals don't see librarians as colleagues or co-teachers," Rajput said.
In May, the American Library Association asked library educators to write their representatives in Congress asking for continued funding of the Literacy Through School Libraries program. Rajput incorporated that request into her School Library Administration and Advocacy class, asking her students to write to the capitol defending the funding. Her students researched the effects of school libraries on the success of schools. The students' best case focused on the Illinois Study, conducted by the Illinois School Library Media Association, which found that schools with greater library funding also had a greater number of Internet connections. Those same schools included library staff with time to complete professional activities such as teaching research skills. The final result was an increase on standardized test scores in schools with greater funding.
"When it's time to cut the budget, no one stands up for the value of the library," Rajput said. "My opinion is that it's the responsibility of the librarians to educate their colleagues about what they do in the library."
Rajput says librarians should invite parents, teachers and administrators into libraries to communicate their work effectively. She also recommends librarians ingrain themselves in school life by joining committees, contributing to school improvement plans and the budgeting process. Her class at National Louis University is gearing future school librarians to meet these demands; Rajput focuses on web 2.0 technologies, interactivity and social networking as crucial skills for the next generation of school librarians.
The non-stop evolution of the web figures to become a critical cog in the curriculum of school librarians. Rajput says the literature on teaching web skills changes on nearly an annual basis; how schools adapt to meet changing trends without school librarians remains to be seen.