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.
Buffy Hamilton, School Librarian