and received a 2017 Service Award.
The Patrick Ness quotation above became part of my school email signature in 2015, the year all the district’s middle school libraries were closed and all the certified elementary librarian positions were eliminated, and it was still there the next year when the district cut the remaining two certified librarians along with the K-12 coordinator of library and media services.
Like so many districts that rely heavily on state and federal funds, Brockton Public Schools was suffering multi-million dollar losses of education funding in a lean and increasingly competitive fiscal environment for urban public schools. Because there are no mandates for school libraries or librarians in Massachusetts, we were an easy cut to make. However, because what we do contributes to student learning in so many ways, whenever I saw an opportunity to advocate and shout for school libraries and librarians during that time period, I took advantage of it.
I was deeply honored to receive a 2017 MSLA Service Award for the work I did in response to all those cuts, and would like to take this opportunity to share some of the advocacy I undertook during that time period and beyond. We will need to continue to fight for library programming for all students, especially now while there’s a push towards more school privatization and deep austerity budgets for low-income school districts. We can all contribute to this fight for equitable access to school library programs, both within our own districts and on behalf of students in districts where there are no librarians left to fight for them.
This past summer the LIT caucus continued our work together at the NEA RA in Boston. We received near unanimous approval from the delegates for almost $100,000 for NEA to mount a media campaign about the value of school libraries and librarians. It’s important that we build and maintain alliances across and within organizations such as NEA that exist outside the library community as we fight to not only preserve but to also reopen and fund school library programs where they’ve been lost. Many NEA educators I spoke with from around the country this summer were dismayed about the loss of school libraries in their schools and states. They support us, and they want to help.
At the state level during that time period, I was active in other ways. For example, I testified at a DESE forum about the diversion of resources and staffing in low-income schools from proven programs like school libraries to technology for standardized testing. I also delivered an “EdTalk” at the Massachusetts Teachers Association 2016 summer conference to raise our colleagues’ awareness about inequitable access to school libraries for low-income students and students of color both here in Massachusetts and nationally. Several people told me after the talk that they were genuinely shocked to see the statistics about the loss of school libraries and librarians in places like Chicago, Philadelphia, NYC, and Boston.
During the Brockton reduction in force seasons of 2015 and 2016, I tried to save librarian positions for students by writing letters to the superintendent and school committee, testifying at school committee meetings, and recruiting others to testify, write letters, and advocate for us. But fighting to save unmandated librarian positions is especially challenging in districts where class sizes approaching forty are common. In the end, despite all efforts, the librarian eliminations remained in place.
Although I could have transferred to a teaching position in Brockton, my heart is in the library, so I was fortunate to be able to secure a new position last year as a school librarian at Pollard Middle School in Needham, an outstanding suburban district that has a well-funded library media program with certified librarians in every school. After having worked in urban systems with limited resources for most of my career, I often tell people I feel like I’ve woken up on another planet. I came into a newly renovated space, and there’s been money for new furniture, for magazines, subscription databases, supplies, plenty of new books, and more. Anyone who says that money doesn’t matter when it comes to educating students is either misguided or lying.
Students who have the good fortune to attend school in districts like mine, with school library programs that provide the staff and resources necessary for developing the type of deep, authentic literacy skills they’ll need for college, career, and life, have a clear advantage over students who don’t have this critical resource. Study after study has shown that students who have access to well-funded school libraries staffed by certified school librarians outperform students who don’t on a range of measurements, and that the positive impact of school library programs is actually increased where there are high concentrations of low-income students and students of color.
Seeing Patrick Ness’s words every day when I was living through the elimination of my department helped give me the courage to keep speaking up and shouting out for all the students who were (and still are) being denied the opportunity to develop the type of deep, authentic literacy and academic research skills that are fostered in schools where students have access to well-funded libraries staffed by professional librarians. And although I have moved districts, that quotation is still part of my email signature because until all students have access to excellent, well-funded library-programs, it reminds me that we all need to keep shouting.