Iowa Restores School Librarians’ Value

April 30, 2014

The Iowa Association of School Librarians (IASL) righted a legislative wrong this session by persuading state lawmakers to reverse a provision in a 2013 law that increased the per-pupil funding formula for school districts that shared a single librarian rather than employing their own.

Enacted in 2013, HF 472 provided a financial incentive for sharing resources between school districts that were considering consolidation with each other, IASL President Christine Sturgeon tells American Libraries. However, the new law “put teacher-librarians (TLs) onto the ‘operational functions’ list,” which increased the count of 1.0 for each student to 1.02 for each student in districts that employed one librarian between them. The unintended consequence was that “school districts that had no intention of consolidating shared librarians, even districts quite large for Iowa—2,000 students and five buildings, for example.”

Sturgeon says that “after the law passed, IASL Past President Becky Johnson spoke to our Iowa Library Association/IASL lobbyists and let them know that we really wanted to be involved in any talks that affected TLs.” Johnson and Sturgeon were “in constant communication” with lobbyists Craig Patterson and Amy Campbell and met repeatedly with legislators. Additionally, IASL members peppered state legislators about the importance of teacher-librarians to student achievement and sent links to an advocacy video (9:07) created by IASL Advocacy Chair Chelsea Sims in 2013.

The multipronged strategy worked. In the 2014 session, Iowa has removed school librarians from the operational functions list by enacting HF 2271. “Obviously, schools can still share librarians and save money, but the state shouldn’t be encouraging it with extra funding,” Sturgeon says.

After the 2014 bill passed, one legislator told Patterson, “Make sure that you tell the teacher-librarians.” Sturgeon interprets that as a plea for a letup in librarians’ advocacy messaging. But there’s more work to be done, says Sturgeon. “We’re looking to the future and how we can strengthen these bonds with legislators and perhaps mandate a full-time librarian in each district. We’ll see on that.”