Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mesa (AZ) Tables Librarians

SLJ: 2008 October 1

School libraries in Mesa, AZ, don’t look the same this fall. That’s because more than half of last year’s media specialists are gone, leaving only 31 certified librarians to serve a total of 87 schools.

Some 47 teacher-librarians either retired or were reassigned to classrooms as part of the Mesa Public School Board’s decision last June to eliminate all school librarians over a three-year period.

By comparison, 78 Mesa schools had certified librarians last year, says Ann Dutton Ewbank, a librarian at Arizona State University and the key organizer of the Fund Our Future Arizona movement to save the district’s media specialists.

“That leaves Mesa with librarians in 31 schools,” says Dutton Ewbank. “And those librarians will be phased out by 2011.” The plan to get rid of media specialists—which was met with fierce opposition by library supporters—is intended to save $1.2 million every year for three years to offset a $20 million budget deficit.

So who’s running those Mesa school libraries now? Library aides. In fact, says Dutton Ewbank, by the 2010–2011 school year, “all libraries will be operated by aides.” And that’s unacceptable to her, she says. “No amount of training can replace the expertise of a certified teacher-librarian in guiding students to find and use the right information,” she adds. “One of the key tenets of Information Power is that skills should not be taught in isolation. Replacing certified teacher-librarians with aides takes resources out of students’ hands and may negatively impact student achievement.”

Dutton Ewbank’s campaign plans to solicit state lawmakers after the November election to introduce legislation that would fund school libraries at the state level. “We hope that legislators will introduce legislation that requires a certified teacher-librarian in every school, with an appropriation to support the endeavor,” she says.

Arizona doesn’t have dedicated funds for school libraries or mandate certified media specialists at any grade. School libraries and librarians are controlled at the district level, not by the state Department of Education, which means that when funds are scarce, librarians are typically the first on the chopping block, says Dutton Ewbank, adding that state funding would have ensured a “dedicated funding stream” for school librarians.