Marci Merola, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Library Advocacy, spoke on the importance of school librarians at an open hearing of the Chicago Board of Education June 25. Merola testified that “Around the country, school boards, principals, legislators, and parents are realizing that the school librarian is uniquely positioned to prepare students for the future.”
However, the proposed Chicago Public Schools budget for 2014–2015 will leave school librarians in only half of Chicago’s 523 schools. “The good news,” Merola added, “is that it’s not too late to make Chicago a leader in education. I urge you to reinvest in school libraries and restore certified school librarian positions. We owe the students of Chicago every opportunity to succeed.”
At the meeting, Merola presented the following letter by ALA President Barbara Stripling and American Association of School Librarians President Gail Dickinson to Board of Education President David Vitale:
As presidents of the American Library Association (ALA) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of ALA, we are deeply concerned about the systemic cuts in school librarian positions occurring throughout the Chicago Public Schools system. As leaders of national associations, we have a rare national perspective of what’s happening in schools around the country, and we know that you, as Board President to the third largest school district in the country, are not alone in the struggle to provide your students with a quality education in times of diminishing funding.
However, we also have seen what works. We firmly believe that without certified school librarians in your schools, Chicago Public Schools cannot reach its goal of providing “a high quality, world-class education for the 21st century that prepares our students for success in college, work and life.”
A school library without a librarian is the equivalent of a classroom without a teacher. School librarians are teachers first and foremost, and the focus of their education and training is to prepare students for the future. They teach the fundamental skills that will enable young minds to become lifelong learners and they arm students with the crucial skills necessary for them to be college and career-ready in a 21st century marketplace: critical thinking skills, 21st-century digital literacy skills, and research skills.
The provision of a quality school library program has been identified as a critical variable in student achievement as noted in a variety of impact studies conducted in 22 states and one Canadian province.
The school librarian is an indispensable leader who develops, coordinates, and evaluates the delivery of school library services, teaches critical information skills, builds a school-wide culture of independent reading, integrates technology into the teaching and learning process, collaborates with other teachers, provides school-wide instructional leadership, and partners with the entire educational community to support student learning and achievement.
School librarians often wear many hats, serving as co-teachers in your classrooms, professional development designers in schools throughout the district, and specialists effectively implementing technology among both staff and students. They provide students access to computers, technology, and research assistance before, during, and after school. It is in the library, under the guidance of the school librarian, that students gain a rare commodity: they learn how to learn—and they learn that they love learning.
What could be more important to the students of Chicago Public Schools? On behalf of them, we urge you to reinvest in your school libraries and restore school librarian positions to your schools. The future of your students depends on it.
American Library Association
American Association of School Librarians