In April, I testified before the House Education committee regarding House Bill 1505, regarding staffing levels for elementary librarians. While this bill wasn’t expected to move forward, it was an important opportunity to share the effects of the current budget discussions in the state with the committee. There are often unintended consequences of budget decisions, and I wanted them to be aware that the decimation of Texas library programs was one consequence of the budget as it currently stands. The map of library cuts that we had jointly created on the TLA listserv proved helpful in demonstrating that.
It was also a learning experience. It’s easier to walk in to visit with a legislator’s office than I would have imagined. And I learned about testifying for a committee. For example, one simple tip I can share–if the meeting says, “when adjourned” watch online and make sure they are “adjourned” before showing up for the meeting, which might actually take place 7 hours later. And if you want to express an opinion but not testify, you can fill out a form 30 minutes before the hearings start expressing whether you are for or against a bill. Also, one can definitely get a feel for the personality and power players on a committee by sitting in on the hearing, which proves helpful when working with their offices later.
As always, it’s just important that as librarians and as educators, that we speak up, articulate our values, and let them know we are involved.
My testimony (as it was written) is below:
“Good afternoon. Thank you for hearing my testimony in support of House bill 1505 today. My name is Carolyn Foote and I’m the district librarian for Eanes ISD in Austin. I’m here today representing the Texas Association of School Library Administrators and the Texas Library Association. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on HB1505 which encourages school districts to employ school librarians at elementary campuses and thank Representative Munoz for filing this bill that underscores the importance of school librarians.
I’ve been an educator for 29 years and a librarian for 20 years, serving first as an English teacher, then a high school librarian and district librarian. All of those influences make me passionate about the impact of librarians on our state’s students.
I’d like to begin by painting a picture for you of elementary libraries in 21st century schools. In the “old model” of libraries–a library was seen as a warehouse where students came only to retrieve things or hear a story.
But in a 21st century “libratory”, the library is a learning center, an idea center, vitally connected to the curriculum of the school, where librarians are teachers and curriculum specialists engaging students with real world learning activities, employing creative lessons to motivate students about literature and reading, and making sure that students have safe and intelligent uses of internet resources.
For example, just last week in my district’s elementary school libraries, librarians led students in understanding world events by folding paper cranes in support of Japan’s earthquake victims, visited with a guest author over Skype, created video “booktalks,” conversing via Skype with a class in Panama, participating in a lunch club “reading aloud the classics” and learning from library lessons on internet literacy.
In these 21st century libraries, librarians are an integral part of the literacy curriculum mission of the school. These stories just represent one district. Multiply these sorts of projects across the state and imagine their impact on our state’s students in terms of enthusiasm for reading, internet literacy, global collaboration, literacy skills and more.
So what does research tell us about the affect of well staffed libraries and library instruction on student achievement?
Work at Mansfield University examined 22 different studies over the last decade including ones in Texas, all of which found that the presence of certified librarians had a measurable positive impact on student learning and achievement scores.
For example, a 2010 New York state study demonstrated that elementary students in schools with certified SLMSs are more likely to have higher ELA achievement scores than those in schools with noncertified staff(New York 2010)
A Michigan 2003 study indicates that the presence of a qualified school librarian can make a tremendous difference in reading achievement. For instance, schools with librarians have 35 percent more fourth graders who score proficient or above than schools without librarians. (Michigan 2003)
I have submitted the School Librarians Work! paper which summarizes many of these studies. What we know is that the presence of a certified librarian is linked to student achievement.
In Texas, over 43% of students come from low-income families. And we know that supporting these students with improved literacy has all sorts of payoffs, payoffs that are long term.
But now I’d like to paint a different picture. One day ago, I created a Google map and asked librarians on the TLA listserv to post library cuts to the map.
In 36 hours, over 55 districts had already posted. Among the cuts, Bryan ISD cut 16 librarians, leaving 6 librarians to manage 22 schools. In Abilene, 6 elementary librarians were eliminated. Bastrop ISD cut 6 of 12 librarians. In Crowley ISD only two librarians remain for 21 schools. Wimberley ISD cut 3 librarians.. Sabine ISD cut the only remaining librarian in the district. Plainview cut all 11 campus librarians. Decatur ISD also cut ALL librarians, as did Moulton, Waskom, Ganado, Ore City and Broaddus school districts. And the list goes on.
The reason HB1505 is important is because we know how significant librarians are to literacy and student achievement and to the overall curriculum of the school. We need to encourage districts to adequately staff their school libraries just for that reason.
While HB1505 only encourages districts to employ librarians, it is important to find means to ensure that all of Texas students benefit from the strong 21st century school library programs described earlier.
A 2008 survey of voters conducted by TLA came to the same conclusion: 93 percent of voters surveyed supported legislation that would require schools to provide school librarians for our students.
We ask you to support school library programs by ensuring that the instructional role of librarians become a part of Texas state policy. In the competitive global marketplace, informed students are our best asset. Thank you. I’m happy to answer any questions.”