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Face Time: School librarian worries about cutbacks’ effects

Mon., June 13, 2011

Trish Henry, library media specialist at Prairie View Elementary School, works with fifth-grade students exploring on school computers. (Dan Pelle)
Trish Henry, library media specialist at Prairie View Elementary School, works with fifth-grade students exploring on school computers. (Dan Pelle)

Mead School District officials decided shifting its 12 librarians out of the library and into a traditional classroom was the best way to help solve its $1 million budget deficit.

The district will save $660,000 by moving the librarians, who all have teaching endorsements, because they won’t have to hire new teachers.

School librarians teach students how to do research, where to find the most accurate information, how to use reference materials, how to use any library – skills that help students navigate classes throughout their primary and secondary education.

Mead’s libraries will remain open, but will be staffed in some other way, officials say. The details are still being worked out.

Trish Henry, a librarian at Prairie View Elementary School in the Mead School District, explained the duties of her current job and what might be missing if trained librarians are no longer there.

Q. What do school librarians do?

A. We teach information literacy. That’s more than books, more than print. It’s teaching students how to read information off computers, from databases, how to get information from audio sources, like iPods, CDs, e-books and audio books. It’s a different set of skills for students.

I also teach search strategies. In some cases, you end up teaching technology, such as Garage Band – an audio program – Google Earth or how to make a movie.

Q. Why is it important for the students to learn the various ways to find information?

A. With the work my students are doing, they need basic research skills. For example, the sixth-graders study ancient civilization and third-graders learn about Native Americans.

The classroom teachers bring the content into the learning. I show them how to find the information.

Navigating information is a good way to explain why what we teach is important, whether it’s finding information in the library or finding information on the Internet.

Q. Do students still learn the basics about using a library?

A. Yes. The idea is for students to be able to go from this library to a public library or a university library or any library and use it.

Q. What will students be missing without having trained librarians in the library?

A. Schools without trained librarians tend to have lower scores on standardized tests as well as lower reading skills, according to several studies. They will be missing the most basic research skills. I know Mead School District teachers are trying to make sure kids still get those skills some other way.

Another piece that will be missing: We’ve been trained to select materials that match teachers’ curriculum.

Q. Do you assess reading skills?

A. Teachers assess reading levels, but I do different stuff with the students to help with that, such as administer some online reading tests. It’s truly a partnership with the teacher.

But I have kids who come in and ask me if I can find them a book at their reading level, and now a librarian won’t be available to do that.

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