Why I Am Not Signing The “Save Libraries” Petition

A steady barrage of listserv messages, tweets, Facebook postings, and blog entries have been making the rounds in recent weeks urging people to sign a petition that states the following:

“Any school receiving Federal funds should be required to have a credentialed School Librarian on staff full time with a library that contains a minimum of 18 books per student. Failure to have a school library open to all students and/or failure to have a credentialed School Librarian to run that library should be punishable by a immediate withdrawal of all Federal monies.

Study after study has shown that well-stocked, well-funded, well-organized school libraries staffed by a “highly qualified” School Librarian, or other similarly qualified credentialed individual, improve student reading scores, test scores, and literacy rates. All children have the right to read and to have access to materials that will help them grow as learners and as people. No Library = No Freedom to Learn.”

While I know the intent was noble and well-intended in creating this petition, petitions like these are often a slippery slope, so I’m going to be politically incorrect and offer a dissenting perspective.  We need to advocate for more than  being “properly staffed, open, and available for children every day” because truly effective school librarians and programs go beyond staffing, accessibility, and materials.  I assert that a “credentialed” school librarian and 18 books won’t guarantee an effective or relevant library program.  These criteria are a gross and superficial oversimplification of the complexity of cultivating meaningful library programs and the possibilities for school libraries in a learning community.  Plenty of schools have “credentialed” school librarians who are ineffective on many levels—pinning language to such a narrow term that unfortunately can’t equate “credentialed” with highly qualified is problematic.

It’s also a false premise  that either of those requirements will guarantee or help deliver an effective library program that is worth a public school losing federal monies/funding.  Here in Georgia, we have a state requirement that calls for every school library to be staffed by a certified school library media specialist [see specific rules requiring media center staffing here and here as well as state of Georgia code], but some school districts participating in the state IE Squared program (which among other things, gives districts more spending flexibility), like our neighboring Forsyth County District, have received waivers from the state that gave them permission to eliminate school librarians from a number of their elementary schools.  This example illustrates how districts will find ways to circumvent mandates when it serves their economic challenges or educational philosophy.  I hate to sound cynical, but in these economically-challenged times, I think it’s realistic to expect many states or school districts would seek waivers to such mandates or even worse, lower the bar for what it takes to be “credentialed” as a school library media specialist in that state.

I’d also rather have seen language in the petition that emphasized tools and mediums for learning, not just books—by privileging a requirement of 18 books, we continue to perpetuate and privilege the stereotype (or what grains of truth are in that stereotype, I wonder?) of the library as a book warehouse rather than the library as a place of learning.  As many of you know from your own state and regional accreditation agency mandates, requiring a certain number of books rarely results in funding for a rich, current collection (which should be more than just print for learners of all ages).  At my last high school, we met the now-defunct requirement for 10 books on paper, but guess what?  Because previous library staff was afraid to weed the collection regularly due to insufficient funding to purchase new and timely materials to replace the weeded materials, we had a collection with an average copyright date in the 1970s; this  phenomenon is sadly commonplace across the country.

Additionally, studies referenced in the language of the petition don’t actually show a definitive cause and effect between a “well-stocked, well-funded, well-organized school libraries staffed by a ‘highly qualified’ school librarian or other similarly qualified credentialed individual”  [what does “other similarly qualified credentialed individual” mean?], and the  improvement of “student reading scores, test scores, and literacy rates”.  While these popular and oft-referenced studies show correlation between the two, they do not show an direct actual cause and effect; to actually prove such would be exceedingly difficult as there are many variables in what contributes to academic achievement, and defining what counts as excellence  in these areas can even be debated.   While the reference of many of the popular studies has proven effective as a form of library advocacy in some states and districts, on the whole they have failed to convincingly sway stakeholders on a national scale.  Perhaps the time has come to concede that while these studies do yield useful data with important implications, they don’t have the definitive data decision makers are seeking.  As a profession, I hope we will  point to more data (qualitative) in addition to standardized test scores as a measure of the impact of school libraries on teaching and learning.  If there are quantitative or qualitative studies that show direct, unequivocal cause and effect of school library programs and student achievement, I would appreciate any links or publication information for such studies.

I do not mean any disrespect to those who think this petition will make a difference, but I would encourage us a profession to unpack the language and assumptions laden in the wording of this petition before we write off lack of participation in this petition as apathy or indifference.  I’d encourage each of us to contemplate what exactly this petition actually means and the values about school libraries implied before we market this petition as something that will actually ensure the highest quality of school library services because it most certainly doesn’t guarantee that.   We would all love a simple fix to the challenges our profession is facing, but the reality is that it’s going to take more than being federally mandated on paper for us to gain real and meaningful traction in being regarded as a relevant and necessary component of a successful school–that is the real elephant in the little red schoolhouse.  The challenge of changing perceptions about the role and value of school librarians and school library programs is not an easy endeavor as we try to position ourselves as learning specialists and teachers who are as valuable as any content area teacher–I think our time may be better spent engaging in some honest dialogue and open, candid critique about what is working and what is not as a profession in taking on this challenge rather than counting on a federal mandate to “save” us or our programs.  The mandate that will yield the most powerful and authentic impact we need to grow and sustain effective school library programs that contribute to school learning communities must ultimately come from the administrators, school board members, teachers, students, and parents we serve as that is where the true power of “buy in” lies, not in a federal mandate forced upon schools.

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.


Buffy Hamilton,  School Librarian


GLA Legislative Center to Oppose HB 278

Many thanks to GLMA President and friend Susan Grigsby for sharing this information with me;  let your voice be heard!

If you believe in the value of school libraries in Georgia you need to Take
Action Now!<http://capwiz.com/ala/ga/utr/1/OVEGKBXVJX/IFYRKBZBQV/3072016891>

Georgia House Bill 278, now being reviewed by the Senate Education and Youth
Committee, will decimate funding for school libraries and media centers
across Georgia by rolling dedicated funding for school libraries into
general operating budgets of school systems.

Georgia House Bill 278 is summarized as follows: “[T]o be entitled an Act to
amend Article 6 of Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia
Annotated, relating to the “Quality Basic Education Act,” so as to
temporarily waive certain expenditure controls relating to funds earned for
direct instructional costs, media center costs, staff and professional
development costs, and additional days of instruction; to provide for
automatic repeal; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting
laws; and for other purposes.”

What this means for Georgia school libraries:

– This dedicated funding has already dropped from $19.54 in 2003 per
student FTE to $15 FTE for elementary and $13 for middle and high schools.
– These dedicated funds have already been diverted in many cases and will
disappear entirely if HB 278 passes, leaving school libraries with no
– Library orders have already been cancelled in mid-process as systems
take back dedicated funds already delivered since HB 278 has language making
it retroactive to July 2008.
– Kids who read and learn 21st century literacy skills succeed. School
libraries make it happen.
– Studies from across the country show that funded and staffed school
libraries improve students test scores.

Please contact your Senator immediately to urge the defeat of this bill!

We hope you will be able to take a few minutes to respond, and to forward
this alert to your friends, to have them let their representatives know the
value of school libraries.

Thanks for being receptive to receiving these messages, and for your help!


Susan Grigsby
Georgia Library Media Association

Jim Cooper
Georgia Library Association

Support Georgia’s School Libraries: Say NO to HB 278


Used Under a Creative Common License: http://www.flickr.com/photos/adobemac/294078052/

Right now a little piece of legislation known as HB 278 ( http://www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2009_10/sum/hb278.htm )  threatens the health  of Georgia’s school libraries.  Why is HB 278 potentially detrimental?  The GLMA page provides a succinct explanation:

“Expenditure Controls and Funding for Georgia’s School Libraries”

Our main legislative issue for 2009 is expenditure controls. Governor Perdue is proposing legislation that would temporarily waive media center expenditure controls until June 30, 2010. This legislation would mean that school systems could redirect any unspent library media money for this school year as well as state funding for school libraries until fiscal year 2010 to other areas leaving school libraries with reduced or little funding. GLMA opposes this legislation and asks school librarians and parents to contact their legislators to explain how this legislation would hurt school libraries and students’ access to library books and technology.

From Governor Sonny Perdue:

“In January 2009, I will introduce as part of my legislative package temporary waivers of the expenditure controls found in OCGA §§ 20-2-167 (site-based direct instruction, media center, and staff development controls) and 20-2-184.1 (additional days of instruction controls). The legislation would make the waivers effective July 1, 2008 and would continue in force until June 30, 2010.”

Please look at the following listing of House and Senate Appropriations Education Subcommittee members. We need everyone to email the following committee members. If you live in their district, PLEASE let them know that you are their constituent and oppose this legislation. Provide a brief, but polite email giving an example of why library funding is important to your students (tell your library story).

The House Appropriations Education Subcommittee members are as follows:

Rep. Edward Lindsey (R), Chair – Atlanta; edward.lindsey@house.ga.gov
Rep. Terry England (R), Secretary – Auburn; englandhomeport2@alltel.net
Rep. Amos Amerson (R) – Dahlonega; amos.amerson@house.ga.gov
Rep. Amy Carter (D) – Valdosta; amy.carter@house.ga.gov
Rep. David Casas (R) – Lilburn; david.casas@house.ga.gov
Rep. Mike Keown (R) – Coolidge; mkfnbc@rose.net
Rep. Jan Jones (R) – Alpharetta; jan.jones@house.ga.gov
Rep. Howard Maxwell (R) – Dallas; howard.maxwell@house.ga.gov
Rep. Jay Neal (R) – LaFayette; P 404.656.0152 jay.neal@house.ga.gov
Rep. DuBose Porter (D) – Dublin; P 404.656.5058; F 404-656-0114 dubose.porter@house.ga.gov

The Senate Appropriations Education Subcommittee members are as follows:

Sen. Dan Moody (R), Chair – Alpharetta; dan.moody@senate.ga.gov
Sen. Horacena Tate (D), Vice Chair – Atlanta; horacena.tate@senate.ga.gov
Sen. John Bulloch (R) – Ochlocknee; john.bulloch@senate.ga.gov
Sen. Jack Murphy (R) – Cumming; jack.murphy@senate.ga.gov
Sen. Tommie Williams (R), Senate President Pro Tempore – Lyons; tommie@tommiewilliams.com

Contact these committee members (it is now in the Senate) and your own reps (go to http://sos.georgia.gov/misc/districts.htm )  to let them know you support funding for Georgia’s school libraries and that you oppose HB 278.

I also encourage you to read GLMA President Susan Grigsby’s speech to our legislators:  http://glma.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/presidents-message-march/ .   She does a terrific job outlining our current situation and why school libraries matter (not that you don’t already know!).

Thank you,
Buffy Hamilton
The Unquiet Library

Why Don’t They Want to Play in Our Sandbox? Exploring Why Teachers May Not Use the Media Center

Playing in the Sandbox

Used with permission under Creative Common License from http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreverphoto/2467694199/

A little over a month ago, I read a fascinating blog post by the inimitable Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet. In his post, he argued that we as librarians should be advocating for a significant change or end to the testing tidal wave generated by a little piece of federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind. Why? Read his post and you will see how he outlines the impact of the pressures of standardized testing on classroom instruction and how the testing movement is marginalizing the role of school libraries and librarians in contemporary public schools.

In his post, this fearless librarian asserts:

“Under the present educational paradigm, which worships at the altar of testing with all the zeal of a new convert, school librarians aren’t needed because few teachers have time to come to the library and still “cover” all the standards needed for the almighty AYP garnering or losing TEST (cue ominous music).

Now I know that people out there can bury me in copies of Information Power and the vaunted Colorado Study by Keith Curry Lance and I’m not going to argue. I’m not going to change my point of view, but I’m not going to argue either. See, we all want to believe that libraries are essential to the school. We all want to believe that we librarians can help improve test scores. We want to believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. Unfortunately, belief counts for nothing in education.

Fire will burn you whether you believe it or not. Water will drown you whether you believe it or not. Stand in front of a train and shout “I don’t believe in you” and they will bury what they can find of you in a Ziploc baggie. The hard fact is that, once again, under the present educational regime, testing is king. Specifically, testing in ELA is king and testing in Math is the co-regent. Libraries don’t contribute MEASURABLY to either discipline. Sure, we can teach phenomenal lessons in research skills, information literacy, and comparing information sources. Unfortunately, none of that is on THE TEST (cue the Vader music.)”

This provocative post, which hits a little closer to home than most of us might like to admit, has resonated with me for many weeks. Like BBAGS and other librarians, I have a bird’s eye view of how the emphasis on testing is impacting my library program.

Core area teachers in my school frequently lament in private conversations that they just don’t have time for research or project based learning because of pressures to produce exceptional test scores and to follow curriculum maps and timelines.   That is no news flash to most of you—the ominous cloud of testing that always seems to be on the horizon is everpresent in most public school settings.

I pretty much try anything within my means to lure teachers to the library and lose a lot of sleep over the ones I can’t seem to win over.   I won’t really be content until I see teachers across every subject area, not just English, using the media center on a regular basis.   While we have what I would call “acceptable” usage of the library and collaboration with our teachers, I know more is needed in order for us to be integrated into schoolwide learning.

While I celebrate the many successes of the program and the joys of helping our teachers and students, I often beat myself up and feel like an absolute failure when I look at how many teachers are not taking advantage of the resources I have to offer and feel it is too low, or when teachers don’t respond or even acknowledge my efforts to personally invite them to the library or to show them the cool resources I have to offer them and their students. I wonder, “Why don’t they use the library?” or “Why don’t they use the library more?”

After reading the blog post from Books, Bytes, and Grocery Store Feet, I once again began trying to unravel the mystery of the library world called “collaboration” and wanted to explore barriers to library use and collaboration.   I decided to actually pose this question to our faculty a few weeks ago via an anonymous PollDaddy poll.

What did the surveys say? The first question posed asked, “What is the most significant obstacle to your using the media center more for research projects?” 46 teachers out of 100 faculty members responded to this survey, and here is how they voted:


Just as I hypothesized, a large number of teachers indicated testing pressure and time constraints were major reasons for not coming to the media center more often.  There were eleven responses marked as “other”; of those eleven, three actually typed comments. One teacher stated there were no obstacles; another stated, “My students do not behave in a manner which lends itself to using the media center”; a third responded, “Just get stuck in habitual lessons in the classroom.”  As I anticipated, the majority indicated that testing and challenges related to testing were barriers to using the media center. It does bother me that three people indicated they did not see research as meaningful to their course; I am also concerned that two teachers do not feel comfortable using the resources in the library. I will  redouble my efforts to help our faculty see the relevance of information fluency in all subject areas, to try and energize them with the excitement I feel to encourage them to step outside of their teaching comfort zone,  and to continue to help our faculty members feel at ease using the technology and materials in our library.

The second poll question asked, “If the pressures of No Child Left Behind and improving test scores were removed, would you use our library more for research and project based learning?” 36 out of 100 teachers responded to this second question; here are the results of that vote.


The results of this poll were a bit unnerving to me—a total of 16 teachers voted that they either were not sure or were definitely sure that they would not use the media center more if the pressures of testing were removed. I am now wondering why these teachers feel this way—why might they feel reluctant to use the media center if testing pressure is no longer a barrier?   Is this a blip on the radar, or does the feeling that library usage isn’t particularly important a growing trend?

The answers I received in this poll have provided some insightful data that can inform my practice and efforts to cultivate collaborative relationships/partnerships with faculty members. While it would be helpful to know the subject area and degree of experience for the teachers who voted, the polls have provided me enough information to see that testing does impact teacher usage of the library and that many teachers may not see the library as a relevant resource to their curriculum and instruction.    That data alone is enough to let me and my staff know we will need to continue to find creative and nonthreatening ways to reach out to our faculty and help them see that we all have a role in cultivating information fluent learners.

The silence echoing from this poll also speaks volumes—why did nearly half the faculty not vote in either poll? Too busy? Indifferent? Unsure? I have no answers to my questions at this time, but the silence does bothers me since the polls were short and simple—they were not the kind of polls that taken 30 minutes to complete.

What I do know is that Ruth Fleet, my fellow media specialist, and I go all out to promote our media center and our resources. We extend the offer of help; we have a presence all over the web, including multiple blogs, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, a SharePoint page, and a wiki that houses our pathfinders at http://theunquietlibrary.wikispaces.com ; we provide print copies of our promotional materials to teachers who may not be as “techie” as others. We send personal invitations to teachers with whom we have not collaborated, showing them examples of what we can do for their classes and offering to do as much as we can to support their classroom instruction.  Our Instructional Technology Specialist, Phil Dodge, offers trainings for our faculty in both small group and one on one settings.

My next plan of action is to work with our administration and department heads on action steps for helping our faculty members feel more comfortable using the library and to provide concrete ideas for ways to incorporate research without sacrificing large amounts of time or feeling overwhelmed by research projects.   I will also continue to look to my wonderful personal learning network of colleagues as we all try to figure out more effective ways of collaborating with our teachers and positioning our media center programs right in the heart of all learning in our schools.

As Ruth and I hopefully discover some new and inventive ways of tackling these challenges, we will keep you posted in upcoming blog posts.  In the meantime, please feel free to chime in with any pearls of wisdom you may have to share!