Friday, February 5, 2010

Thank you in advance

If you care about school libraries at all--and if you're friends with me, you better care at least a little, or we're in a fight--please take the time to write President Obama and your Congresspeople to ask them to restore funding for school libraries to the FY2011 Budget. You can read more about the story here: President Obama Proposes Eliminating Federal School Library Funds

Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian, responds quiet eloquently here: An Indecent Proposal

My letter to President Obama (which I adapted from Hamilton's letter) is below.

Not sure what to write? Feel free to copy either my letter or Buffy Hamilton's.

Not sure where to send your letter? Find out here: Contact Elected Officials


Dear Mr. President:

Recently 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.

When you delivered the keynote at the ALA Conference in Chicago in 2005 you said, "At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It's an enormous force for good." For many children the library that "hooks" them is the school library. Many young children don't have ready access to their public libraries, for any number of reasons--and often those libraries are also inadequately funded, or may not have programs that specifically meet the needs of younger children. School libraries, however, are always accessible to the students they serve, and are designed to instill in them a love of learning and reading. Without well-funded, professionally staffed school libraries, those students may never have that transformative moment you spoke of.

In October of 2009 I was heartened to read your official proclamation for National Information Literacy Awareness Month. I, and many other school librarians, cheered your recognition of the importance of information literacy--and what seemed to be your recognition of the crucial role libraries and librarians play in teaching students to how to find and evaluate information. 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?

As an independent school librarian, I am less directly affected by these funding decisions. But making students--students who will one day join the work force, and vote, and run for public office, and are the next generation of this country's leaders--information literate citizens is in everyone's best interest. Finding information and separating, as you said in your proclamation, "truth from fiction and signal from noise" will become an increasingly more complex skill. But the life decisions we make using that information will become no less crucial. We need citizens who can find and evaluate the information needed to make those decisions.

I became a school librarian because I believe, passionately, that these skills are vital to both our individual and collective success. These skills have the most resonance when taught in the overall context of the school curriculum, and driven by students' own inquiry and desire for knowledge. 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.

We are already dealing with the aftermath of a financial crisis that was brought about, at least in part, by an inability to effectively evaluate information, to separate truth from fiction and signal from noise. Our collective ability to avoid and navigate future crises--of all kinds--will depend upon our having the skills that school librarians teach.

There is still time to restore and increase funding for school libraries. We will pay to prepare students to answer the questions of tomorrow, or we will pay when they don't have the answers. And the price tag for the latter is much, much larger.

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