Recently, there was a wave of frustration that swept through our community. It was based on the fifteen million dollars of budget cuts that our school district needed to make in order to catch up to a shortfall created by the previous superintendent. The initial focus was on those responsible, but that did not generate a lot of satisfaction. Those to blame had already moved on to a new school district with budgets of their own to mismanage.
And now there is a petition circulating to get all those school libraries that have been closed open again. A local news channel did an "investigative report" on the state of school libraries in the district, and they discovered that thirty percent of those school libraries have been closed because the district could not afford to staff them. Dirty little secret, right?
Well, not exactly. The library at our school has lacked a librarian for most of the years that I have worked here, and that was a result of budget priorities set more than a dozen years ago. Our library is not closed as much as it is unused. As a library anyway. It has been used for all manner of parent education, staff training and meetings, and daycare for those parents who are attending our English as a Second Language classes. It also gets a good deal of use as a quiet testing center or a place to take small groups to practice reading. There are a lot of books in there, after all. At different points throughout recent history, we have been able to check books out to students when we have been able to find time to train teachers how and to create a schedule that allows kids a chance to come and browse as well as read, and still manage to get all those state-mandated minutes of instruction in, while keeping that schedule equitable for all grades and classrooms.
On top of this, stack the leveled libraries that are found in each classroom, as well as the walking field trips to the public library just a few blocks away, and we discover that access to books is not the core issue. The way we provide access has evolved. I treasure the time I spent wandering the stacks of my elementary school library, and the comforting presence of Ms. Benson, the lady I could trust more than the Dewey Decimal System. She knew where to find Curious George and that book on World War Two. It was her job. It was her joy.
Some fifty years later, when we are regularly reminded that print is dying as we glance up from our smart phones long enough to acknowledge it, we are being urged to open and staff all the school libraries in our district. Petitioned. Nowhere in the petition is there a discussion of how to fund this measure, but it has been suggested that five million dollars from another measure that requires class size reduction be used to pay for this. Without a suggestion as to how that missing five million dollars might impact class size.
Would I like to have a librarian at my school? Yes. Would I like to have kids visiting our school library and creating their own love of books? Yes. I would also prefer not to have to do an annual contortion based on the trickle of funds that find their way to public education. It makes the district and those who work there look guilty of keeping libraries closed. Priorities change and choices have to be made. Sometimes right in the middle of a school year.
Maybe we can agree to hold a bake sale the next time we need a new aircraft carrier or a Wall someplace. Then maybe we can afford to open the door to the library.