School libraries -- same emphasis, different format
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- When Sue Reinaman became Northern High School librarian 18 years ago, there were CD-ROMs and a card catalog in drawers, with the beginning of digital resources.
Today, her library has seven online databases, with the budget shifting toward buying more digital resources, including e-books.
Still, she said the emphasis is the same.
"It's always been about teaching them how to find and use information efficiently and ethically," Ms. Reinaman said, except in a different format.
Unlike in some school districts, Ms. Reinaman said no library positions were cut at Northern this year.
That wasn't the case in West Shore School District, which cut half of its 12 library positions, said Ryan Argot, district spokesman.
Mr. Argot said the district is expanding its digital resources, including e-books. He said the district realigned its library program "so the individual librarians are able to assist more students this year." There are now three librarians in each of the elementary and secondary levels.
"Especially at the elementary level, libraries are an important component of what schools do to ensure students read proficiently," Mr. Argot said, adding that school library programs help students find research materials and teach Internet safety, in conjunction with regular classroom teachers.
Cuts also were less severe at East Pennsboro Area School District, which eliminated one library position last year. As in many school districts, the two elementary librarians each travel to two schools, and the middle and high schools each have their own librarian, spokeswoman Katie Gouldner said.
Erin Siwert, one of the elementary librarians, said the reduction does affect the amount of time students receive library instruction. When she's not in the school, there is a clerk to make sure materials are available to teachers and students.
In the past, the librarian was more of a selector, protector and preserver of materials, Ms. Siwert said, sharing books and fostering a love of reading.
"Today, a school library-media specialist is more of a discerning cultivator matching their patrons with the print and digital resources to meet their information needs," she said.
Computer labs are connected to the libraries in both elementary schools, Ms. Siwert said, so students can immediately apply the skills she teaches them.
As students start doing research in third grade, Ms. Siwert said she sees them eagerly going to Google or other search engines to find the answers to questions.
"I teach them to not always trust those search results. If they are looking for facts, they need to use reliable resources," she said, such as online encyclopedia databases and others that the district has purchased.
"It is the hub of technology -- that's definitely how we see the direction of our library," said Capri Stiles, head librarian in Carlisle Area School District.
Technology has forced librarians to "get onboard" or not be very happy with their positions, Ms. Stiles said. Carlisle hasn't cut its library staff, but the seven buildings have been sharing three librarians for a number of years, assisted with aides.
One of the current dilemmas is determining how e-books fit into a school environment. "Our district is addressing this very soon," she said, as the district decides whether and how to allow students to bring their own electronic devices to school.
At the same time, Ms. Stiles sees high school students more interested in books than in the past, and more accustomed to having a Barnes & Noble-type environment in their library where people are discussing books.
"We certainly don't have lattes, but we have sections of books where discussions can take place," she said.
Books turning into movies might be generating some of the excitement, she said. "It has really inspired a lot of students to look and see what's out there," she said.
As in most high school libraries, Ms. Stiles doesn't have regularly scheduled classes, but collaborates with teachers to supply materials and assist students in research.
She said she knows that school districts have to make cuts, and added that the cost of books has risen drastically. "There are other ways of accessing information that don't cost nearly as much."
"Just as we're seeing newspapers struggling with the competition of an online environment, I can't imagine that Norman Rockwell picture of the man smoking a pipe reading a newspaper -- is he going to have a Kindle or smartphone in his hand reading the newspaper?" Ms. Stiles said.
"I see students who like to come in and browse across the shelf for a magazine that catches their eye, and sit back and relax and not have to worry about their connection going off" on their laptop, she said.
In Mechanicsburg Area School District, increased commitment to the school libraries has helped make up for some state library funding cuts that cause some libraries to reduce hours and cut PowerLibrary database resources, said Kirsten Zelenky, school district library coordinator.
The district has maintained four full-time librarians, and every student gets instruction in information literacy skills, Ms. Zelenky said.
School libraries are called "information media centers," since they offer iPads, e-book readers, DVDs and laptops, in addition to print materials. At the high school there are more than 100 titles in e-book format.
"Instead of buying encyclopedia sets, libraries purchase online databases," Ms. Zelenky said, which students can access at home as well as school.
Students can collaborate online on programs like GoogleDocs, with the library using technology to foster online learning groups.
The library curriculum used to be about information (reference) and literacy (books), with a librarian helping students to find a book with the facts they needed.
"Today, the librarian helps by teaching a student how to develop a topic, how to narrow the search results by identifying key words, how to evaluate the results and how to give credit to the author," she said.
Information is easy to come by today, but understanding and using it is not, Ms. Zelenky said.
"Students today must learn to be critical thinkers, they must understand how to approach learning as inquiry, they must develop the ethical behavior specific to the modern world," Ms. Zelenky said.
At Northern, Ms. Reinaman teaches a class for ninth-graders on research but otherwise works with classroom teachers and students on a flexible schedule, as needed.
As teachers assign projects, Ms. Reinaman creates a page of resources for students to access, ranging from databases to e-books and online websites.
"There's so much information out there. We try to balance being a school library with supplying information and teaching them how to find it," she said.
Elaine Kern, president of the Pennsylvania School Libraries Association, said studies have shown that schools with strong library programs have higher test scores and better grades. The library not only teach students love of reading, it provide s them with work skills. "It teaches them how to be critical thinkers, analyzers of information," Ms. Kern said.
The library association is working with the state Department of Education to develop a model library curriculum, and would like to see a dedicated line item for school library funding in the state budget.
The results of a new survey on 2012-13 library cuts and staffing should be available next month, along with a study correlating Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test scores and quality of school library programs. The information will be provided to a state House education committee studying library funding.
Deb Kachel, co-chairwoman of the library association's legislative committee, said school libraries are the most economical, efficient way to centrally provide resources to teachers and students.
"What we're seeing in our state right now is a huge gap between the haves and have-nots," Ms. Kachel said. "Wealthy parents can buy their kids e-books on Kindles and take them to the library and bookstores, and we have a huge amount of kids where the only library they ever know is a school library."
Glenn Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association, said cutting school libraries has a "cascading negative effect. If kids are not instructed on how to research, the use of technology at an early age, and consistently through their school years, they come out of K-12 into the workforce or higher education ill-prepared."
He said public libraries have a different mission and can't make up for cuts in school libraries.
The result of library cuts can be students who have to take remedial classes in college, or who won't know how to find a job or succeed in the workplace. "This is the ultimate case of penny-wise and pound foolish," Mr. Miller said. "If we do not invest in public schools and school libraries, we are just kicking the can down the road and will pay the price later on."
First Published September 23, 2012 12:00 am