Thursday, September 15, 2011

The end of the American Dream...

I'm a writer and like every writer I am also a voracious reader. In other words, I love libraries. I'm also a school board president and when I think of it, the link between education, libraries, reading and writing is so obvious it hardly seems worthy of comment.  What I have never been able to understand, though, is why so many people fail to make a connection between reading and librarians, the kind of librarians who generate an excitement for books that turns kids into lifelong readers and learners.

I've seen a lot of great librarians in my day but as the economy leads us to look deeper and deeper for budget cuts, school districts across the country are cutting librarians at an alarming rate. It feels like we're on a big ship headed for disaster and no one is able to change the course. Some of us keep running for the steering wheel but a whole bunch of people are blocking the way--good people faced with hard choices. The argument seems to be, "better a librarian than a teacher." To me, that's like saying "better I lose my lungs than lose my heart." You need both to survive. A library without a librarian is just an empty shell. I know, I've walked through a lot of empty libraries in recent years. Kids don't live there any longer and reading doesn't happen in them. I think National Book Award finalist Kathleen Duey says it rather nicely:
"As long as six years ago, speaking/appearing in schools, I began to hear about librarians being fired. Schools with no trained librarians became the norm in some states--or there might be one librarian serving 6-10 schools, spending half the day driving.   EDUCATION is being gutted to meet budget cuts. Really? Do we want to create a low wage-earning underclass? Because this is how you do it. You make education--even a self-guided/public library education like my own-- harder and harder for people of limited means. You take away the level playing field of good public education. You let the universities charge fees very few can afford. This dismantling of public education and public libraries is underway and growing. And it is the the worst betrayal of the American Dream I can imagine. "
 Anyone who doubts the connection between librarians and reading scores might also be interested in this study:  Something to Shout About: New research shows that more librarians means higher reading scores. Food for serious thought, I'd say.

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