School Librarians: Towards History Books?

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School librarians across the state are being sidelined.

Librarians have become a popular target as school administrators look for ways to cut budgets. A quarter of the state’s librarians have lost their jobs in the past decade, with 767 remaining to serve the state’s 1,992 public schools. Some of the larger districts in the state illustrate the situation best:

• Anoka-Hennepin has 29 librarians for its 35 schools with 40,000 students.

• St. Paul has 14 librarians for its 64 schools and 38,000 students.

• Minneapolis has 56 librarians for its 65 schools and 34,000 students.

Media centers – formerly known as libraries – have come a long way since the Dewey Decimal system. The cuts come at a time when information overload is the rule and, according to librarians, while their jobs have changed, their need is greater than ever. Navigating through the information in a report on Frederick Douglass, for example, can be dizzying for a 10-year-old.

“I think we need help exploring all that is out there in the world,” said Mai Moua, a 15-year-old sophomore at Harding High School, who has a librarian. “Most of my friends think they know everything because they have the computer to use, but I think we need librarians to give us a hand.”

Rosemary Olatunbo Sun, 14, who was also at the Harding Library on Thursday morning, agrees: “Although the internet is full of information, I wouldn’t know where to start,” she said.

“It’s all been impacted by technology,” said Nancy Walton, director of Minnesota State Library Services. “Students need to know how to go online to use it safely, use it appropriately, and understand intellectual freedom and copyright issues. Kids assume that because it’s on the internet it’s free and they can use it however they want. “

Librarians say media centers are often run by parent volunteers, who are not certified and rarely get involved in tasks such as updating book collections or teaching students research skills.

“We have to cut somewhere”

Librarians, once a staple in schools, don’t come cheap. Most have two, sometimes three, master’s degrees. Their average annual salaries can generally range from $ 50,000 to $ 70,000.

The exodus has been constant since Minnesota lawmakers in 1996 got rid of a law requiring districts to have at least one librarian per school. It has accelerated over the past five years as schools tightened their budgets.

Librarians are funded by discretionary funds – or whatever money is left over after paying teachers, administrators, secretaries, and literacy coaches.

“It’s usually not much if it’s rubbish,” said Marilyn Baker, director of curriculum education and professional development for St. Paul Public Schools.

“Schools have to look for key people to keep. They look at the media specialists and they say, ‘This is an important job but we have to cut somewhere.'”

The bakers said their district realizes that not all work disappears, so St. Paul has trained their textbook coordinators to ensure that there is also research material available that supports the program and the textbooks. school.

Minnesota is not alone in its cuts, said Nancy Everhart, president of the American Association of School Librarians, which will host its 2011 national convention in Minneapolis. The majority of states no longer mandate librarians, she said.

“Lawmakers believe decisions are best made at the local level when resources are scarce,” Everhart said. “Anything that is untested these days and things that administrators don’t see directly affect test scores such as math and English… everyone is very vulnerable. “

No one knows the state’s library shortage better than Tori Jensen, librarian at Spring Lake Park High School and president of the Minnesota Educational Media Organization.

Jensen is not your stereotypical librarian. She has tattoos that run up her arms and back, dyes her hair bright red, and drives a sleek black convertible Mustang to work.

“We do a lot more than just silence people,” she said. “This is where groups of kids come together to talk about real world problems and find real world solutions.”

In 2006, Jensen, with the help of a federal grant, successfully campaigned to get boys to read more books. She teaches a course in research techniques and works with teachers to find books that improve the curriculum.

These are essential skills, she said.

But she admits that, given the financial constraints, the future is not bright for school librarians.

“It is an exciting and painful time for librarians,” Jensen said. “I think we’re going to step back a bit and then they’re going to say, ‘Oops. “

“They will be fine for three years and then find that there is no one there to teach children the skills that we are experts in. It’s not about giving them the resources, it’s about teaching them how to use them. use.”

His biggest concern, however, is that school libraries could disappear altogether.

The Minnesota Department of Libraries, founded in 1899, predates the Department of Education, which eventually absorbed the Department of Libraries. In 2002, the Ministry of Education got rid of its physical library. Because schools are not required to have libraries, some fear they will be the next to leave as authorities seek to build smaller, cheaper schools.

“I already see charter schools doing this,” Jensen said. “I just hope public schools aren’t next.”

Daarel Burnette II • 651-735-1695

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