The school library world has been abuzz over the last week due to an article published in the Los Angeles Times about the almost surreal treatment of school librarians (“The Disgraceful Interrogation of L.A. School Librarians“). The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is, like many school districts across the country, facing budget cuts. On the chopping block are all of the school librarian positions in the district (85 in total).
The American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians make clear in their response to the LAUSD what is at stake should these cuts go ahead, and it’s sobering to say the least:
If the elimination moves forward, only 32 of approximately 700 schools will have full-time school librarians and only 10 will have part-time school librarians. This means that approximately 600,000 students will be deprived of one of the most valuable educational resources needed for students to compete in today’s 21st century workforce – a school librarian
That’s bad enough for reasons I will get to in another post some day, but what’s worse is what’s being done to the school librarians as working professionals. If these librarians get fired, they obviously no longer earn any money. However, if they can prove that they have taught students in the last five years, a necessary credential for teaching in California, then they can find employment elsewhere in the system.
The LAUSD, which is attempting to save money by firing these librarians, does not want this to happen. More people on payroll somewhere or other means the money hasn’t really been saved. So what have they done? Well, logically, they’ve hired attorneys to interrogate the librarians and prove, legally, in front of a judge, that they are not teachers and thus must be fired.
Yes, you read that right. The LAUSD is using state attorneys to try and fire the librarians by claiming they are not teachers.
“When was the last time you taught a course for which your librarian credential was not required?” an LAUSD attorney asked Laura Graff, the librarian at Sun Valley High School, at a court session on Monday.
“I’m not sure what you’re asking,” Graff said. “I teach all subjects, all day. In the library.”
“Do you take attendance?” the attorney insisted. “Do you issue grades?”
Are school librarians teachers in the traditional sense, that they teach English, or Social Studies, or Math? No. Are they teachers? Absolutely. To try and insist otherwise is a complete sham, and the fact that lawyers have had to get involved is beyond disgraceful.
You might well be wondering “how is it that Ms. Graff teaches all subjects all day long in the library?” The simple answer is, she’s doing her job as a librarian. To be an excellent school librarian involves collaborating with subject teachers to find resources to help them enhance their lessons. It means teaching your colleagues about the latest technologies that can support student learning and achievement. It means teaching students skills like keyword searches, note-taking, summarization, and how to think critically. It means fostering student learning through collaboration, the support of independent inquiry, and yes, teaching lessons.
In my teaching strategies class this semester, a major part of our coursework was writing lesson plans that correlated with a subject teacher’s goals. The middle school lesson we had to teach concerned learning about the solar system. Now, I’m not training to be a science teacher, so I didn’t teach about Jupiter or why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. What I did teach was how to read two different paragraphs with similar information, how to compare and contrast the information in each paragraph, and how to organize those comparisons using a graphic organizer. The skills taught in this lesson were applicable not only to science, but to any academic subject and even to standardized tests.
I may not be giving tests or taking attendance, but I am most certainly training to be an educator. If I weren’t, it certainly begs the question why I’m paying thousands of dollars and taking standardized tests to obtain a license in my state. When I get a job as a library teacher, I will be using my librarian credentials day in and day out to be an effective administrator, teacher, educator, and collaborator. To think that my teaching skills might one day be questioned by a zealous attorney looking to achieve budget cut goals is like a slap in the face.
Luckily, the LA. schools affected value their school librarians, and many are scrambling to find alternative funding to pay their salaries for the next year, but the situation is ludicrous. It’s another example of how far off the right path we as a country are going in our attacks against teachers and education. We’re actively harming our future through our actions, and the devaluation of the teaching profession, school librarians included, is a truly disheartening indication of just how bad things have become.