Friday, February 13, 2009

Hold onto at least some school library services

The Bakersfield Californian: 2009 February 13
Marylee Shrider

A bit of friendly advice: Don’t mess with librarians.

They have words and they know how to use them.

I was reminded of that this week after I unintentionally conveyed in a recent column that library services on our high school campuses are superfluous.

I didn’t actually say that, but my suggestion of a temporary suspension of library services as part of district budget cuts prompted a flood of choice words from local librarians. Words like “disappointed,” “saddened” and “dismayed.”

I couldn’t help but notice the librarians’ letters were markedly different from the virulent, grammar-rules-optional type of e-mails I often get from those who don't share my views. Armed with elegant prose and stacks of statistics, librarians are their own best argument for keeping libraries in the Kern High School District.

That being said, the cuts are coming and libraries aren’t the only candidates for cuts. So, I asked some of the letter writers, what would you cut if the choice was yours to make?

What programs and activities are MOST crucial to a well-rounded education? And what programs will keep our kids in school?

Receiving no response from the heretofore chatty librarians, I paid a visit to veteran teacher/librarian Catherine Henry at Ridgeview High School to pose the same questions.

What programs, I asked, are most important? Music? Sports? Libraries?

All are important, she said.

OK. What programs would you cut, if the choice was yours to make, I asked.

None, she said.

“Anybody who hopes to avoid all cuts isn’t paying attention,” Henry said. “But cutting an entire program? The students may have to do with less, but doing with none cheats them.”

No argument there.

A former drama teacher, Henry believes a well-stocked library, with a credentialed literacy educator, is as crucial to a student’s education as music or sports and she has the stats to back it up. She admits this is the worst economic crunch she’s seen in her 34 years with the KHSD, but believes some library services can be saved.

I hope she’s right. Especially after talking with Sherry Gomez, deputy director of libraries in Kern County.

Gomez agreed with Henry’s contention that the county’s 25 public libraries and two book mobiles simply don’t have the resources for the district’s 35,000 high schoolers if library services get the ax.

“School libraries are there to support the curriculum and instruct students on how to do research and evaluate what they find,” Gomez said. “The public library has a broader mission, purchasing materials on all subjects for all age groups and points of view.”

OK, we agree. Our students’ education will surely suffer if library services are cut. But weighing those services against other programs — programs that may be as or more likely to keep kids engaged in school — is a valid exercise.

There’s no nice answer to this one, Henry told me. True. It’s gonna hurt. But if district officials can figure out how to hang on to at least some library programs, our students will be well served.

These are Marylee Shrider’s opinions, not necessarily The Californian’s. Reach her at 395-7474 or write