An Indecent Proposal

Dear Mr. President:

Today I learned through the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians that your FY 2011 education budget does not include any additional specific funding for school libraries, additional school librarians, or statues mandating certified school librarians for every state.  Equally disappointing is the news that the Improving Literacy for School Libraries grant program has been all but put out of reach for school libraries with the FY 2011 budget proposal that will absorb this grant program into a variety of other Department of Education programs.

In October of 2009, you issued an official proclamation celebrating and affirming the importance of information literacy with the declaration of National Information Literacy Awareness Month.  In this proclamation, you stated,

Our Nation’s educators and institutions of learning must be aware of — and adjust to — these new realities. In addition to the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, it is equally important that our students are given the tools required to take advantage of the information available to them. The ability to seek, find, and decipher information can be applied to countless life decisions, whether financial, medical, educational, or technical.

In your proclamation, you privilege information literacy as being equally important to the  traditional literacies and mathematics, yet you are providing no additional funding to provide all schools the primary teachers of information literacy, school librarians.  Why are you providing funding for additional resources and teachers to support reading, writing, and mathematics, yet you ignore funding for the experts who are most ready, willing, and able to teach information literacy to our nation’s students in grades K-12:  school librarians.  Are you aware that not all states legally mandate a fully certified school librarian?  Did you know that many school libraries do not have a full time certified school librarian?  Do you think students can become informationally fluent in the absence of rich, current,  and diverse collections in their school libraries or appropriate access to digital content?  How can we as a nation provide students the instruction needed to help students cultivate “the ability to seek, find, and decipher information” without fully funded libraries staffed by highly qualified, certified school librarians?

In this same proclamation, you assert:

Though we may know how to find the information we need, we must also know how to evaluate it. Over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge. We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace. At the same time, Americans have unprecedented access to the diverse and independent sources of information, as well as institutions such as libraries and universities, that can help separate truth from fiction and signal from noise.

Information evaluation.  Authority.  Social scholarship.  Digital citizenship.  Content creation.   Self-filtering.   Mr. President, I teach these concepts and skills regularly in my school library.  School librarians are your go-to team for teaching these valuable life skills, skills that today’s students need to grow into citizens who can fully participate in today’s society?  Do you think we wait until they are age eighteen or older to suddenly explore these concepts of information fluency, the very ones you declared to be of national importance?  Is this charge left only to our public and academic librarians?   While our public libraries certainly do an outstanding job in teaching these skills, our most disadvantaged learners often do not have physical or virtual access to a public library, nor can a public library provide ongoing instruction in these skills on a regular basis as part of a child’s daily learning environment like the school library.  Ultimately, I feel the instruction of these skills has the most value when taught in the context of the school curriculum and when driven by student’s own inquiry.  If you say you support information literacy as the cornerstone of a democratic society and informed citizenry, then you must not marginalize school libraries and librarians, and consequently, the students we serve.  The very fact that the words “library, libraries, and librarians” are missing from the Department of Education budget speaks volumes about how you perceive our role in educating today’s youth and that you do not have an authentic commitment to helping today’s young people acquire this form of literacy capital so vitally needed for today’s world.

I find it demeaning and insulting that within a span of less than six months, your actions and your budget betray the very values you purported to support through your presidential proclamation.   Change we can believe in?

I think not, Mr. President.

Sincerely,

Buffy Hamilton,  School Librarian

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84 comments

  1. AWESOME letter Buffy! I just sent out an e-mail to all the Gwinnett Media Specialist for them to come here and take a look at your letter. It is VERY well said. I think we also need to invite President Obama to come and see what is going on in our school libraries – like most people, I am sure he has NO IDEA!

    1. Kathy:

      Wow—I appreciate your sharing this with your fellow librarians in Gwinnett! I hope everyone will feel encouraged to write their own letters, and I agree—we need to actively invite all of our stakeholders and legislators to come be part of our world so they can have a better understanding. Thank you for the inspiration!

      Best,
      Buffy

  2. Perfectly stated, Buffy. As we know within our school buildings, a top-down approach that supports information literacy instruction is vital. If the man at the top does not support this crucial skill then how can we convince our local legislators that adequate funding of public school libraries is a necessary part of any educational reform. How do we actually get to Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan to spread this word? How are we going to “Race to the Top” if our students have no idea how to evaluate information? Very backward thinking, indeed.

    1. Susan:

      Thank you so much for your thoughts! I know you are a strong advocate who regularly shares with our state reps. I like Kathy’s idea of inviting our president and Mr. Duncan to come spend a day with us—I think it would be most informative!

      Best,
      Buffy

  3. Amen, Buffy! Thank you for taking the time to express what every Teacher/Library Media Specialist takes to heart each and every day that we are striving to make a difference in a student’s life!
    (Gwinnett County High School Media Specialist)

    1. Paige:

      Thank you so much for your kind note and taking time to read my blog! Let’s flood our decision makers with our thoughts and ideas—together, I believe we can make a collective difference!

      Best,
      Buffy

  4. Thank you Buffy for taking the time to thoroughly think about the impact of President Obama’s decision and to put your thoughts into action. We do make a difference, in many ways, in the lives of students.

    1. Leslie:

      Thank you so much for taking time to read my blog and to share your thoughts. I have mailed this via snail mail to our president…if we all can express our sentiments and get our students and parents involved in sharing their thoughts, too, they will have to take notice!

      Buffy

  5. “I always overlooked the “teacher” aspect of my job. I guess that’s probably because the last thing I ever wanted to be was a teacher. However, you (Buffy) showed me that we’ve all got to be teachers to some degree”

    This post reaffirms that. Thanks for the inspiration Buffy.

    1. Justin:

      You are always an inspiration to me—I hope that I can always be as open-minded and optimistic as you. Thank YOU for all your encouragement and helping me believe I can be a true change agent.

      Best,
      Buffy

  6. Buffy,
    You are so very very good at putting my gut reaction into words that are well thought out. I myself just want to punch someone into submission!

    1. Tori:

      Thank you so much! It took several hours to compose the final draft of that response…hopefully, words of persuasion from all of us will help our decision makers to see the light!

      Best,
      Buffy

    1. Cathy:

      Thank you so much, and I agree with you totally about writing our reps as well. I am hoping to get some new videos from our students and teachers to share with our reps, too—bring on the Flip cameras, right?!?!

      Best,
      Buffy

    1. Alice:

      Thank you so much—mentors like you have helped me to learn how to compose such words! Oh yes, we need to take this message to as many people and places as possible….let’s get it started!

      Best,
      Buffy

  7. Buffy,
    Thank you for taking the time to write this letter. I am very disapointed that the President of the United States has made the same serious error that many of our governors and school officals have made. You have certainly pointed out that error in your message! Without the mention of library, libraries, and especially school librarians, a budget for education is very lacking and has little credibility when it comes to preparing the future electorate with 21st skills. Please let me know if you get a response to your message…

    1. Ilene:

      I so appreciate your reading my letter and sharing your insights/reflections. I am hopeful that if we (librarians, parents, teachers, students, community members) all voice our opinion, then the decision makers will have to think twice! I will keep you all posted.

      Best,
      Buffy

  8. Thank you – I am frustrated every day – now anticipated cuts in my state of NJ with our new Governor have started a new rash of rumors about jobs being cut, including school librarian positions.

    1. Lyn:

      Thank you for reading the letter and sharing with others the situation in NJ. I know you all have had it rough for sometime now, and I hope the rumors of more cuts will not come to pass. If I can help advocate for you and your peers in any way, please let me know—we are all in this fight together!

      Best,
      Buffy

    1. Linda:

      Thank you so much for your support! I am brainstorming ways to expand the message…let’s all join the chorus of voices who are in support of the power of libraries everywhere!

      Best,
      Buffy

  9. Buffy! I hope the President reads this and adds an addendium to his proclamation! I think he is for us, but in all that he has been fighting, I think we were lost in the shuffle. I agree that he probably doesn’t realize all that we do for the students and the other teachers as well as administrators. With the cuts our state is making, the school corporations are doing the same. And of course ‘extras’ are going. I have heard that several districts have decided that they will be running their media centers/ libraries with instructional assistants instead of certified school librarians or media specialists. If this comes to pass, we are going to have a difficult time getting back into the schools as many feel digital means internet means they don’t need us. We definately need to bond together and do something and your letter is a terrific start! Thank you from Indiana!

    1. Kris:

      I appreciate your taking time to read my blog/letter and to share your ideas here! I agree we have our work cut out and that there is strength in numbers—working together, I truly believe we can make a difference. Thank you for your support, and I am happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in this campaign!

      Best,
      Buffy

  10. You did a nice job Buffy. However; I think people are reacting to this news as they did with Orsen Wells’ radio broadcast over fifty years ago. Of couse libraries are a part of education. Did the president mention shop programs, music programs? Does anyone recall what happened when President Obama went into great deatial with health care reform? Yes, Laura Bush, a former librarian herself swore this and that and did we get it? We need to think about that.

    1. Mary Beth:

      Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts here! I disagree, though, that people are overreacting—while cuts may not be happening in your area, our profession as a whole is suffering a frightening degree of attrition. You cannot take for granted that funding for libraries is part of an education budget at the state, federal, or local level.

      I am not a member of the Democrat or Republican party, so I feel I am not being partisan when I say this, but Laura Bush was the First Lady, not the actual President who was in charge of leading the way for federal policy. However, she was the one who was the driving force behind the library literacy grant that is now being eliminated as part of this budget proposal.

      I think what everyone should be focused on is the reality of libraries, especially school libraries, being marginalized in terms of funding at a time when they are more important than ever.

      Best,
      Buffy

  11. Couldn’t have been put much better. Pass this on to all who will listen and read. Here the idea of librarians in schools is also an equity issue: the have’s have while the have nots haven’t and the gap between the two grows wider. Your letter reiterates the article re reading programs where kids learn everything about reading except how to evaluate, synthesize, and appreciate reading and information.

    1. Thank you so much for reading the letter and taking time to write. The equity issue in terms of human resources is most important, and I thank you for pointing this out!

      I appreciate your time and support!

      Best,
      Buffy

    1. Kay:

      Thank you! Now I want to find ways to express the hope, optimism, and faith I have in the power of libraries (school, academic, public) to make a difference in the lives of people. I hope you will join me in this chorus of voices who are speaking out and on behalf of libraries and those we serve.

      Thank you again for reading and sharing!

      Best,
      Buffy

  12. So did you send this to the President or are you preaching to the converted? Librarians talk a lot to each other and wonder why no one hears.

    1. Hi Meg!

      Yes, I actually mailed the letter today to the President and my representatives, but I think it is also important to share our ideas through virtual means as well. Although I am a librarian, there are more than just our peers who actually read this blog. My letter was not intended to be a sermon to the “converted” but rather a public way to share my thoughts.

      Best,
      Buffy

  13. Didn’t you know we are seeing change? It’s just going in the wrong direction, as your entry so very well puts it. A time-worn battle we always will fight…but what great strides we have overcome, thanks to you and those like you who post what needs to be said.

  14. This is the best letter of advocacy I have seen in a LONG time! Inspired, reasoned, and reinforced by the President’s own words — your passion shows in a respectful but firm way. Thank you! Please let us know what, if any, response you receive. I second the idea to invite Obama & Duncan to your unquiet library for a real look at how school libraries impact student learning every day.

  15. I want to thank everyone who has taken time to read and/or respond in this space—I am truly overwhelmed by the outpouring of sharing.

    Now we must all speak out and share our concerns in a constructive and thoughtful way to our stakeholders through multiple formats. Let us seize this moment to become a force our lawmakers must reckon with and to speak out on behalf of all libraries (school, academic, public) everywhere. Let us also encourage those we serve to be active citizens who are participating in this conversation with our lawmakers as well.

    I will follow up in this space with any response I receive and additional steps I take to further as an advocate for our libraries, whether they be school, academic, or public.

    Again, I am very grateful for your time and active discussion here!

    Best,
    Buffy

  16. Oh Buffy. Thank you. i know i’m emotional about all this but i was moved to proud tears to read this. you are a true leader in our profession. your words should be heard by all….will fwd this to my PLN and my county teacher-librarians. thank you again for verbalizing much of what has been in my heart and in my head.
    ~Gwyneth

  17. Buffy,

    thank you so much for articulating beautifully what so many of us feel. I have shared your post with my colleagues in Vermont on the school librarian list up here. You’re such an inspiring colleague in the profession — thanks for all of your dedication to literacy and kids!

  18. Your response to this oversight by the our president, our legislators, and our school administrators in a time when more is demanded of us every day in the support of project-based learning initiatives and unique charter programs is an important FIRST STEP. We need to all forward this letter on to collegues, administrators, legislators, parents…via email, twitter…adding to it our unique views. THANKS so much for getting the ball rolling!

  19. Swift’s “A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland
    From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public” suggested selling and consuming excess children. That might be a kinder solution than stripping away the resources that could help them achieve success in life.

    1. Diane, your thoughts will be appreciated by our AP Comp students who recently read (and predictably reacted) to this Swift piece. Isn’t it ironic that much of our teaching is focused on helping children to NOT buy into everything their being “sold” online, being more critical “consumers” of the excess of “information” that is out there.

  20. Very passionately and intellegently articulated, Buffy. Kudos! Teacher-librarians and our programs are lucky to have your voice speaking out on our behalf. Thanks for your efforts.

  21. I’m not a librarian, but as a teacher I know how important librarians are to schools and curriculum! I have learned so much from Joyce Valenza and taken her ideas to my classroom. Your comments to the president are incredible. I hope he reacts to your letter.

  22. Buffy, let your students tell their stories: if the focus of education is truly (and rightfully) on them, then their voices should weigh heavily in government policy.

    Once again, you’ve articulated the concerns of our profession. Thank you.

  23. Thank you for writing eloquently and for retaining your hope that your word will be heard.

    The change we seek? Understanding, knowledge, creativity, and innovation through the use of information.

    So where do they assume that will come from? NOT testing as usual, but projects, problem-based learning and support for passionate curiosity that can only be satisfied through information.

    The change we seek? The kind of education that is normally the prerogative of the few!

    Will the President listen? We’ll see.

  24. Buffy, well written and straight to the point. Your post will be shared with others I know within and outside of the field.
    Also, I too was in Chicago when Obama spoke to us in 2005. I certaintly hope both he and Duncan will read your letter and react positively.

    KC in Chicago

  25. Well written and I am glad you included Obama’s own proclamations. I think the government also needs to look at how much money school libraries save school districts since items are shared rather then warehoused with one teacher or department. Then there is the fact that with the dwindling economy many families have had to give up their internet service so, where are students supposed to go to use computers and the internet?

  26. Well said!! We must take up this cause for all of us. It is so important to try to be loud, when many of us are more comfortable being quiet. Thanks for your “loudness.”
    BGC

  27. Fantastic letter! We need to do more to get the President’s attention. This country needs school librarians now more than ever. Do a detect a march on Washington? Demand a meeting with school library advocates and the president? How do we organize? How do we do more? How do we make change happen?

  28. I will add my words of praise to this long list. Thanks Buffy. I will share widely and I will write to my state senators and representatives. School librarians and the resources that we provide in the libraries, both physical and virtual are critical to the success of all our students, the future adult population in our democratic society.

  29. The most important part of Buffy’s message is that people interested in literacy, learning, and children, need to act. Contact your lawmakers, write letters, and spread the word! Federal funding needs to be designated specifically for school libraries. All children deserve a well stocked, fully funded school library!

  30. atta girl, buffy! you expressed my sentiments exactly. it’s a ridiculous proposal but your response is right-on! thank you for it and for all you do on behalf of people like us. :)

  31. Buffy,

    Your letter is perfect. I apologize if my suggestion (following) has already been mentioned, since I didn’t read all of the comments.

    It is NOT enough for any of us to simply share this message with our friends or co-opt your language into letters to our senators, although these are all commendable steps.

    I would like to see your letter take the form of a large scale online petition. It is time for our profession to take a stand and make our voices heard.

    Thank you,
    Jenny

  32. Thank you, Buffy, for your very eloquent response to the President’s ommission of funding for school libraries. You say so well what so many of us would like to express. I’ll try to take your words on to the power players in Nebraska!

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