Letter to the Editor: Amer. Library Assn. Urges SOMSD to Maintain Librarians

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Editor’s note: The mission of the American Library Association (ALA) is “to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.” For more about the SOMSD budget, see this article.

The American Library Association and American Association of School Librarians are concerned to learn that the South Orange Maplewood School District proposes to cut school librarian positions from the 2016-2017 budget. Now, more than ever, school librarians play a vital role in preparing students for success in an increasingly complex information landscape.

School librarians are the heart of vibrant learning communities and wear many hats. A school librarian is a certified teacher who provides a continuum of information literacy instruction; an information expert who curates a collection of resources that are tailored to a school’s learning objectives and its students’ unique needs; and a technology specialist who develops ethical and capable digital citizens. School librarians are also essential partners to their colleagues, bringing instructional resources, technology and literacy tools to the curriculum, as well as professional development to teachers and staff.

Classroom libraries are not the answer. School librarians develop collections that address a diverse range of student academic needs, abilities, and personal interests, and the resources available through the school library are equitably available to all students. It would be prohibitively expensive and spatially impossible to replicate this depth and range in a classroom library. With classroom libraries, students have less access to the resources they need to succeed as students; and they have less opportunity to develop their passion for reading, ignite their curiosities, and blossom as lifelong learners.

The newly reauthorized federal education statute, The Every Student Succeeds Act, includes provisions that specifically support school library programs, school librarians and the role they play in academic achievement, literacy and digital citizenship. This legislation recognizes the value that strong school library programs bring to student learning.

SOMSD librarians have received national recognition from such organizations as code.org, the International Society for Technology in Education, and the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. In addition, two SOMSD libraries have received School Library Media Program of the Year awards from the New Jersey Association of School Libraries. With a track record of strong library programs, your school librarians are well-positioned as partners in developing ESSA-aligned plans for the district’s literacy, digital literacy, and community learning initiatives.

Numerous studies from across the nation—including a 2010 study of New Jersey School Libraries conducted by Rutgers University—show that student achievement is higher in schools with certified teacher librarians. As Rutgers lead researcher Dr. Ross Todd stated, “New Jersey school libraries and school librarians contribute in rich and diverse ways to the intellectual life of a school, and to the development of students who can function in a complex and increasingly digital information environment.”
The return on investment in school libraries is clear. While the elimination of school librarian positions might seem like the answer to current budget challenges, the long term cost to the students and your district will outweigh any short term savings. We urge the South Orange Maplewood Board of Education to reconsider the proposed cuts.

Feldman is president of the American Library Association, the oldest and largest library association in the world. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. Preddy is president of the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association.

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