and a 2016 winner of the MSLA Service Award
Our first efforts were aimed at getting school libraries explicitly added to the Chapter 70 law that specified how state funds could be used for education. This went nowhere. Then we heard about Pennsylvania. At an ALA summer conference in Anaheim, CA, Valerie Diggs and I met with PSLA President Eileen Kern, who described how they successfully set up a state commission that gathered data from the entire state. With help from the University of Pittsburgh, PSLA was able to correlate their data against the state test and prove that a school library program had a positive impact on student learning. The state was convinced, and appointed a person to oversee library programs for the state Department of Education and set standards for programs—and librarians began to be in demand.
With Eileen’s encouragement, we set about replicating their plan in Massachusetts, but we needed a legislator to champion our cause. And then Nancy Everhart, President of AASL, announced she wanted to see “an exemplary program” in every state. MSLA President Gerri Fegan asked if I would represent Massachusetts. My district did have a strong program, and I understood the need to use this as an opportunity for advocacy. Working with my program director, we decided it would make sense to invite everyone who might help school libraries to come and watch me teach a class. I invited my state representative Sean Garballey to come. Rep. Garballey wanted to know if kids in Arlington had a program like mine. They did not. He wanted to help, and we were ready for him!
Working with Julie Farrell and then Kendall Boninti, we put together a bill that set up a commission to evaluate school libraries in Massachusetts. Rep. Garballey filed the legislation for us, and with much support from MSLA members and our contacts at AASL, we were able to pass the bill in 2014. Again, things led to things. Kathy Lowe knew that Professor Carol Gordon had just retired from the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) at Rutgers and was living in Massachusetts. She would help. MSLA board member Robin Cicchetti was awarded her PhD as we were starting to develop the study, and she helped too. Rep. Garballey and Senator Ken Donnelly, our bill’s sponsors were appointed to lead our commission and worked closely with us to support our work. DESE was required to participate in our commission, and they helped us get the support of the Commissioner of Education. Carol got Todd Ross at CISSL to agree to do the data analysis when our survey is complete.
This spring all this work comes together. After 12 years, and the efforts of dozens of people, we finally have librarians across Massachusetts providing us with reams of data so that we can finally take a hard look at the current status of library programs in Massachusetts. With CISSL’s help, we expect to be able to make the case that our students do not have equitable access to library programs in all our schools. It’s been an exciting effort, filled with luck, work and some amazing people. And, I’m no longer outraged. Now I’m inspired.