Saturday, February 14, 2009

Elementary school librarians on endangered list, NY: 2009 February 13

Here’s a Scott Waldman story about an issue that we can expect to hear more and more about: budget cuts mean less librarians in our schools. I already miss Mrs. Smith at Elsmere!

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BETHLEHEM — Children may someday file school librarian with the dodo bird or Caspian tiger under extinction.

“During budget shortfalls, school librarians are among the first to be considered for cuts,” said Michael Borges, executive director of the New York Library Association.

To cope with the fallout from the financial crisis, Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget would cut $698 million in state education spending, forcing every school district to weigh staff and program reductions.

State mandates require only that students in seventh through 12th grade have school librarians, so elementary school librarians are most vulnerable in times of economic crisis, Borges said.

In Bethlehem, the retirement of Elsmere Elementary School librarian Nancy Smith last month has some parents worried because she is not being replaced. The district will rotate librarians from four of its other elementary schools into Elsmere to deal with the vacancy and will have one librarian working at several schools next year.

Elsmere library volunteer Harriet Jaffe worries that her son will no longer get personalized book recommendations. The third grader isn’t naturally inclined to read, she said, but he devoured the bestselling “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and a book on World War II history that Smith selected for him. That personalized attention will be lost if librarians shuffle between schools, she said.

“Librarians positively contribute to student achievement,” Jaffe said. “In an era where literacy is so important, that’s what is being lost.”

Sharing librarians is “the tip of the iceberg” of district trimming next year, Bethlehem Superintendent Michael Tebbano said. Faculty, staff and programs will be reduced next year as the district strives to plug a $5 million budget hole without significantly raising property taxes.

“It’s our intent to have a creative solution to this budget crisis,” Tebbano said.

Librarians, who are certified as teachers, teach children to think critically and how to retrieve information, said Joseph Mattie, library development specialist with the state Department of Education. They work closely with teachers to enhance classroom learning.

“They’re teachers but in a different learning environment,” he said. “The library should be the hub of the schools.”

Bethlehem may be a sign of things to come. Borges said he expects more schools statewide to lose librarians in the coming months.

For coverage of layoffs, job losses and unemployment issues facing the Capital Region, visit