reading bugI was recently given the latest statistics regarding school librarians in California. We have 1,255 of them in a State with approximately 9,800 schools . Meaning that roughly 15% of our schools have a credentialed librarian.

It is true that I am a former teacher librarian (aka, school librarian, library media teacher…a rose by any other name…) I worked in the K-12 schools for over 10 years. During those years I was increasingly frustrated with the lack of knowledge regarding what a teacher librarian should be doing in those hallowed halls. Do you know what a school librarian does? (The answer is NOT check-out books). Unless you are one you probably don’t know either. This is what I have found to be an unfortunate truth. The fact that people do not know does not mean it is not an important position to maintain on campus. Heavens, does anyone really know what a vice principal does? And yet we know we need them.

My current position is as an academic librarian at a community college in California. If I were to put my finger on the one refrain that I hear most often from the widest gamut of undergrad professors it is “these students have no idea how to do research!” (Often followed by “and they can’t write!”). Somehow California students are able to graduate from high school without the ability to answer the most basic research question with any authority. And I mean basic, say, does this website come from a credible source? Forget real academic research, if it is not a natural language question they can put in a Google search box there is no way they can retrieve it or analyze it. Let’s take a step back and start with narrowing a topic. Just having the ability to get a topic down to a size that is manageable for a short research paper is very difficult for a majority of our newest college students. These are not skills to be taught in college these are skills that should have been taught in K-12 by a teacher with a librarian. Of course, the teacher librarian also deals with the purchasing and pushing of books and we know that the more a student reads the better they write.

What happens when you replace the teacher librarian with a volunteer or a clerk? You get no instruction. The teacher librarian often has the most teaching credentials and education of anyone on campus and knows what projects are going on in every classroom. This person is an instructors instructor and has their hand in, potentially, every students education. There is plenty of research there that proves a well staffed and funded library raises achievement . And if test scores are all we care about anymore than there is your proof on that front that the teacher librarian is a necessary part of the equation.

But no, instead we pink slip these teachers because they do not have a classroom of specific students assigned to them. And those that do get to keep their jobs become text book administrators because the schools can’t come up with clerks to handle them (and librarians are supposed to handle books, right?…oy!). Textbooks have become such a big issue for teacher librarians that they are finding their jobs being questioned because they have no time to do the work of a librarian what with 2,000 students who need 6 to 8 textbooks each and some that switch every few weeks and let’s not forget the billing for loss, theft and damage…oh and the transient students who need books throughout the school year. It is ridiculous.

If you ask me this would be another large reason that California is so poorly represented academically. Just ask any Freshman English teacher what their students lack. Solving this problem is only rocket science for those who make the decisions in the K-12 system. Shame on them.

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