School Officials Plan to Restore Librarian Positions

It's a multi-year plan that calls for filling the high school and middle school librarian positions next year.

Left, Swampscott School Committee Chairman Richard Kraft and Interim Superintendent Garry Murphy. Credit: Terry Date
Left, Swampscott School Committee Chairman Richard Kraft and Interim Superintendent Garry Murphy. Credit: Terry Date

The proposed 2014-15 school budget — which kicks in July 1, 2014 — is expected to include funding for librarians at Swampscott High School and Swampscott Middle School.

The funding will also propose spending for support positions at those libraries, Interim Superintendent Garry Murphy said earlier this month.

The high school and middle school have been without librarians since the start of the school year. The district pared the positions to meet 2013-14 budget constraints.

The library cuts drew strong opposition from students, parents and the president of the Massachusetts School Library Association, Judi Paradis. Below is a Patch interview with Paradis on the role school libraries play in students' education.

Swampscott elementary school librarian positions were cut several years ago.

The interim superintendent said the district has a multi-year plan to restore those positions, as well.

Here is a Patch interview with Judi Paradis, president of the Massachusetts School Library Association:

1.) Why are school libraries and librarians important to students in our public schools?

School library programs that are professionally-staffed and well-supported provide students and teachers with many resources and advantages that can make a real difference in learning, including:
  • a robust collection of print and nonprint (digital, audio, video) materials that are designed specifically to support the curriculum -- so that students who need support, enrichment or a different learning style can be supported
  • a rich collection of reading materials (and more often schools are also offering free e-books for students with Kindles, ipads, nooks and other e-readers) to ensure that students have lots of choices to entice them to read and become life-long readers
  • an instructional partner for teachers who can help to plan research projects and student learning experiences with an eye toward authentic use of technology, excellent materials aligned to student interests and abilities, and a knowledge of how to design student work that is not apt to be "cut and paste," but instead provides rich learning experiences for students
  • a school leader with knowledge of the curriculum and materials, and a knowledge of the faculty and students ... in this role, the school librarian can be an excellent addition to school committee work, to helping to create a common academic culture in the building, to making connections among students and classrooms, and to providing professional development to teachers -- especially around technology and its use in education 

2.) How do these students suffer, educationally, if librarian positions are cut?  

There are several good research studies that indicate that schools with strong library programs have a measurable impact on student achievement.  The most recent study data we have from Pennsylvania and New Jersey confirm this.  A large study published in 2012 by the University of Pittsburgh found that reading and writing scores were better for students who had a full-time, certified librarian than for those who did not (Lance, Keith Curry, and Bill Schwarz. How Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in StudentAchievement and Academic Standards. PA School Library Project. N.p., Oct. 2012. Web. 10 June 2013. http://paschoollibraryproject.org/research.)   A study published in 2011 by Rutgers University found that students clearly found that a strong school library program made a significant difference in their ability to use online resources well.  (“The New Jersey Study of School Libraries,” New Jersey Association of School Libraries (NJASL), Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) and “The State of America’s Libraries, 2011,” American Library Associations (ALA) “The State of America’s Libraries, 2012,” American Library Associations (ALA) Young Adult Library Services Organization (YALSA) In Massachusetts, we have no state standards for our school library programs, nor is any state agency responsible for overseeing the status of school libraries in our public schools.  Despite strong research showing a clear advantage for students with school library programs, anecdotal evidence collected by the Massachusetts School Library Association indicates that there is a striking difference in programs from one district to another -- and sometimes there are differences even within a district.  MSLA believes this leads to serious inequities for Massachusetts students. I have attached an infographic with additional information from the NJ library study, and a monograph from Manchester University (Pennsylvania) Library School that provides a comprehensive summary of the current data on school library programs.

3.) Are school librararian positions any less relevant in 2013 what with the continuing growth of online education and online tutorials? 

MSLA would argue that in today's online environment, school library programs are actually MORE vital.  Students can now find more "information" online than ever -- there really is no reason to have students memorize content -- it is there online for them to find.  This however, leads to the need for students to learn some key skills to manage what exist in this new digital world, and librarians are the teachers well-positioned to teach them skills such as:
  • online searching -- learning the best search engine, database or website to go to in order to efficiently find the information you need (sometimes Google is not best, but we know when it is and when something else is more authoritative or more robust)
  • website evaluation -- how do you know that the information you find is credible?  how can you critically evaluate what you find
  • plagiarism and copyright -- cut and paste is easy, but it is not learning and it is not ethical; how do you show that you've created a product that reflects YOUR new learning; how do you give credit to your source
  • digital citizenship -- we all now have a "digital footprint"; we teach students about online safety and online responsibility
  • using technology to enhance your learning -- what hardware, software, and online tools are going to work best to help you find, share and produce --we keep up with the newest tools and share them with students and teachers
  • online curation -- how do you keep track of your online world?  we can teach students how to use tools to manage and keep track of the most useful online information
With the advent of the Common Core State Standards now adopted by Massachusetts public schools, there will now be a greater role for school librarians, as the Common Core is asking schools to:
  • use more informational texts, and find texts that are more complex than those used in the past
  • cite multiple sources to show evidence for statements you make in your work
  • use technology to research, create and produce educational products
It is increasingly common for school librarians to be dual certified in library and information technology--a strong school librarian in an information age is a sensible investment for schools.

Judi Paradis

Craig Seasholes February 06, 2014 at 09:24 AM
This is welcome news for students and educators "from sea to shining sea." Using much the same well documented argument for the essential role of teacher librarians in their integrated library and information technology programs, the Bellevue (WA) school district is currently hiring the first of 12 technology savvy teacher librarians to restore full information technology instructional services in their high schools. Cut for similar false budgetary savings some years ago, teacher librarians are returning to serve students and staff with exactly the insight and skills needed to ensure that BSD graduates students ready for college and career in an information economy hungry for critical and productive users and producers of ideas and information. Congratulations to Swampscott schools for recognizing the essential role of teacher-librarians in 21st century schools.


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