Thursday, November 18, 2010

Where Have All the Librarians Gone?

Public school librarians seem to be disappearing. Librarians who retire are not always replaced. Librarians are often pulled from their traditional duties to be testing monitors, or sometimes to simply watch (babysit) classes as teachers are involved in activities like collaborative planning time.

Public schools have traditionally implemented one of two models for use of librarians. The older model, probably the one most of remember from our own school days, is the Flexibly Scheduled Model. In this model classes make use of the library as needed with the teacher and librarian working together with the students on a project. Additionally, the librarian responds to walk-in needs of students and teachers. Flexibly Scheduled Models are in decline. The alternative is the Fixed Scheduled Model. This is equivalent to "library as a class". The librarian teaches classes about library science and research in 45 minute blocks throughout the day. Some librarians on this model do as many as 7 of these classes in a day.

In the Flexibly Scheduled scenario librarians act as a resource for every subject and grade level for teacher and student. The librarian maintains the collection of books, technology, and periodicals; as well as running an orderly lending and use system for those materials. Increasingly, librarians are technology experts, training students and teachers in the use of the latest education and research tools. The reprieve from a constant onslaught of classes allows for such duties.

The Fixed Schedule Model serves two primary needs. First, it teaches students use of the library and technology. However, because the classes are not tied to a project, the knowledge retained from these classes may be limited. Second, the classes free up teacher time for the 1,001 duties that now challenge class time. It should be noted that the Fixed Schedule has another serious weakness. Operating a serious lending program requires time, for supervision of browsing time and for cataloguing the check outs and ins. Libraries with librarians on the Fixed Schedule do not do much lending. They reduce the open library time.

Some observers of the decline of school libraries may not be alarmed. After all, with the Internet, everyone is their own librarian. Also, if kids want to read their parents take them to the public library or to Borders' Books. First, the Internet is a maze of information, some accurate and some inaccurate and much of it hard to find. Furthermore, there is more to technology than the Internet and much of the best of it is being underutilized because there is no one to walk through it with educators and students. Finally, many students do not have access to public libraries or bookstores. Parents may lack the time, money, or will to provide these opportunities.

In education discussions there is often a desire to return to basics. It seems so basic to a child's education to be able to browse endless rows of books and check out an armful. In an earlier post, I referenced the need for self exploration and unstructured time in learning. The library with knowledgeable, helpful librarians seems to fit the bill.

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