Teach the children, save the nation
April 6, 2010 1:19 PM   Subscribe

A Nation Without School Librarians is a collaborative Google map showing eliminated school librarian positions. Across America libraries in general are facing reduced hours and closed branches due to budget problems. From Boston to Los Angeles, from Ohio to Florida. New Jersey, Brooklyn & West Virginia, to San Jose. Even as information shows that millions of Americans rely on libraries.
posted by cashman (41 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Great Concept.... we need more of this to show the elimination of school programs, increases in class size, closing of school buildings, etc. etc... perhaps if we could better visualize how we're gutting education we might think about it a bit differently.
posted by HuronBob at 1:22 PM on April 6, 2010

I am one of those millions that rely on libraries; I visit the main branch of my city's public library weekly. I'm glad the main branch is near, as it is the only local one that escaped the drastic reduction in open hours (days). A quick review at that Google Map indicates my major metro area has lost over 100 positions in the schools, with the risk of losing more soon.

I don't even know what to say when I've been watching education gutted for decades. I'm sad, but not surprised anymore.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2010

Clearly free books is part of the socialist agenda! This is why we can't let our children be exposed to such things! English only, no exections!

Bootstraps! All children need to learn to teach themselves from reading Happy Meal boxes and the Bible! That's how they'll be done learn good.
posted by yeloson at 1:37 PM on April 6, 2010

Librarian training programmes have dropped the ball. They simply have not understood that the librarian's skill set, if properly recast for electronic data systems, is absolutely essentially to all organizational activity.
posted by No Robots at 1:39 PM on April 6, 2010

Actually No Robots, when I was in library school ten years ago, they had already begun the shift to training for information management rather than just library skills. In fact, one of the difficulties we have hiring new librarians right out school is that they often don't have any real practical skills in the library world. They understand information management but haven't quite gotten the bridge built on connecting that with library systems. I don't think the failure here is in the training but the school boards, administrators, and state budgeting offices that think things like libraries, music classes, and art are *extra* and kids can do all right without them.

Don't get me started on the insanity of basing most of school funding on property taxes. Cause then I'll just rant for days.
posted by teleri025 at 1:43 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, yes, teleri025. That's why I said "properly" training for electronic data. A huge part of the librarian's job should be helping people, especially kids, cope with obtusely designed systems. And don't get me started on how librarians have completely signed away control of their own data systems to software developers and contract cataloging companies.
posted by No Robots at 1:49 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

In regards to school budgeting, anything that doesn't strictly relate to test scores or necessary day-to-day school operations are on the cutting board. Art programs, sports teams, and libraries may make kids more well-rounded, or even make them better students over-all, but if it's not on some required test, there's no funding.

Teachers unions, library science programs and the like need to lobby for their interests, or increase public concern. Until people in charge realize that libraries are more than a bunch of books or hardcopy sources of knowledge, they'll be one of the easier things to cut when times are lean.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:49 PM on April 6, 2010

I think that, at least part of this, has to be the presumption that kids are born knowing how to use a computer today. That's partially true, but without guidance then they don't really have information literacy skills - just technical skills that let them use the walled gardens of facebook and myspace, or wide-open sytems like google and wikipedia that should never be trusted implicitly.
posted by codacorolla at 1:52 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is an outstanding use of Google mapping. Is it wrong to feel so positively toward this giant company? Will I be sorry in the future that they have charmed me?
posted by bearwife at 2:09 PM on April 6, 2010

Teachers unions, library science programs and the like need to lobby for their interests,

That's exactly what they do. I'd rather see them lobbying for student interests. You can certainly make the case that physical activity is important for kids; that's an argument I totally buy. (the idea, for instance, of 'no recess' is insane.) Saying that we should fund PE programs because we're putting PE teachers out of work is stupid; saying that we should fund PE programs because kids need to run is entirely sensible. Teacher's unions are irrelevant. Even teachers are irrelevant. All that actually matters is the kids.

No Child Left Behind (aka, No Child Gets Ahead) was a fucking disaster. Metrics don't matter if you're measuring the wrong stuff. Teachers do what they're told to do, teach the tests, instead of teaching how to learn.

It's not just schools that are broken, it's students and their parents. Countries with a hell of a lot less money than us get consistently better results than we do, and it's pretty clear at this point that throwing money at the problem won't work. You can get a great education in mud huts, as long as you have books, paper, and pencils. And despite claims to the contrary, we spend more and more on education with each passing year, yet our actual results get worse and worse.

We have to deploy intelligence, not cash. And that's a commodity in very scarce supply in the post-competence era.
posted by Malor at 2:10 PM on April 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

In regards to training for dealing with electronic information, there is a major issue in that there are two schools of thought. In one school, the idea is that information systems should be intuitive and easy to use for any user and librarians should use their skills to manipulate information into these easy to understand formats. The other school of thought is that the systems should reflect all the work and time it takes to deal with this sort of complex information and librarians should spend their time training the users to think like they do in order to understand the system.

I'm involved in the migration to a new integrated library system designed by a company that has always worked with libraries and I have to say, every student I've demo'd it to gets it easily, however a number of our librarians and particularly the reference staff have difficulties understanding and want to make it more complex.

But this has nothing to do with the removal of librarians from public schools. Or rather, it does only tangentially. Ideally, every class a kid has from K through 12 should be teaching him or her how to deal with information, evaluate it and understand it, regardless of form. Students should be taught how to think critically about the world and the resources in front of them and not just memorize dates and facts. Knowing the dates and facts is good, but knowing how to find out the dates and facts is more important. And I remain very frustrated that it wasn't until I got a masters in Library Science that I got that kind of training. In my perfect world, everyone should get training in how to sort information and find it, not just librarians.

But also in my perfect world, people don't write in books. So, make of it what you will.
posted by teleri025 at 2:14 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

If they are getting rid of the librarian position are they also gutting the budget for library books? If there is no person to process the books in and out of the children's hands, are they bothering to purchase new books at all?

When I was a little kid my grandmother worked as a janitress in the Chicago Public schools and at the end of the school year the librarian used to discard shopping bags full of books (some I still own and treasure) to make room for new books coming in. Such was the state of school budgets in the sixties and in a rather depressed area of the city, too.

Now I donate books for that same school to the (last I heard) part-time librarian, who has no budget whatsoever for new book purchases. She picks up books she knows the kids will like at garage sales over the summer, out of her own pocket.

There is something special about the books that get around a classroom by word of mouth. It is often not the best seller, latest thing, but the book your classmate picked out that looked interesting. This is how I read The Little House Series, a biographical series with red covers that I can't remember much about but that gave me a slight grounding in American history and Under the Lilacs - all because someone sitting next to me was reading it.
posted by readery at 2:21 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, now, look, teleri025, you did go and get me started. Does your new system seamlessly integrate web resources? Does it allow users to create their own knowledge maps linked to library resources? Librarians should be driving system development, not just responding to it. And why does library administration see concerns raised by library staff as "lack of understanding," rather than as an effort to maintain some degree of control over their profession?
posted by No Robots at 2:25 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a librarian. If you want to look at root causes for librarian eliminations, one big one is the failure of library schools to train their students to be leaders and managers, or to even put that forward as a viable library career track (in addition to reference or cataloging or archives or so on). We end up with brilliant reference librarians, catalogers, and archivists being promoted out of what they're good at and into management positions they are not trained for.

Without the necessary skills, no matter how much of an advocate for their library the librarian is, the library is doomed to failure in the long run. There is skill required in justifying the library to those that control the purse strings, be they local officials, academic chairs, or a division of a firm. The library manager who cannot articulate that justification in a way that can be clearly understood will be constantly facing threats of reduction and closure, no matter how great their system is.

We've spent a lot of time training librarians to be leaders in their fields, but we really need to get on training them to lead.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:37 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

posted by Mental Wimp at 2:40 PM on April 6, 2010

No Robots, sorry about that. I didn't mean to. But I think we actually agree on the major points, I also think that librarians should be pushing ILS development. And our new system does a hell of a lot better job than the current one, so any improvement is exciting. It does allow for a more seamless integration of electronic resources, and it does allow for user-driven tags and rss feeds of based on user-defined principles. However I (a cataloger) had to fight the reference librarians tooth and nail for the user tagging feature because they said it was "useless". We also had to fight the reference librarians to incorporate a feature that will allow for simultaneous searching of the catalog and databases like EBSCO and other crap, again because they thought the "Google-ness" of the system oversimplified things and students wouldn't like it.

It wasn't adminstation that saw it as lack of understanding, it was me, their peer. And I did so because the concerns were more about having to change their instruction materials to fit the new system rather than using it as an opportunity to see if the current instruction methods meet the needs of the students.

Again, I think it's just a split in the ideology of the profession. I kind of fall in the middle, I just get frustrated by my colleagues who seem to value preserving the status quo rather than using their existing skills to new and interesting things.
posted by teleri025 at 2:42 PM on April 6, 2010

If you want to look at root causes for librarian eliminations, one big one is the failure of library schools to train their students to be leaders and managers

Absolutely right. And you do not train people to be leaders and managers by giving them a couple of watered-down MBA courses. You encourage them to think ahead. I almost flunked out because I insisted in 1993 that graphical user interfaces with complex relational representations was the way of the future.
posted by No Robots at 2:46 PM on April 6, 2010

teleri025, cataloguers are absolutely essential to this whole thing. It breaks my heart to see all that they do turned over to private companies who do not themselves invest in any kind of fundamental rethinking. In my senior cataloguing class I cited someone who said that the card catalogue had made the subject heading and classification system due for a fundamental overhaul. Needless to say, there never was an overhaul, and we continue to use a system that was obsolete with the invention of the card catalogue.
posted by No Robots at 2:51 PM on April 6, 2010

In regards to school budgeting, anything that doesn't strictly relate to test scores or necessary day-to-day school operations are on the cutting board.

This is true and the weird thing about it is that it means it's easy to end up agitating for MORE tests; if only what's tested gets taught you find yourself trying to convince people that there should be more testing in areas like science and social studies because otherwise they just aren't a priority.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:03 PM on April 6, 2010

> Absolutely right. And you do not train people to be leaders and managers by giving them a couple of watered-down MBA courses.

This. My MLIS included a couple of required management courses, and they were by far the stupidest and least useful aspects of the entire program. They consisted almost entirely of discussions about hypothetical HR situations and methods of manipulating employees into doing what you want them to do.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:12 PM on April 6, 2010

You could have the best MLS education available, but these are the same school districts that are outsourcing custodial services to itinerant cleaning services and dropping free band and orchestra in favor of "Pay to Play". I wish it were a matter of the quality of leadership.
This is an issue because most school districts are tied to property tax revenue and property tax revenue is down due to the housing bubble fiasco. If people aren't paying their mortgages, taxes are not getting paid either. School funding will be a trailing indicator of the housing bubble crisis as employment figures are for the general economy.
posted by readery at 3:14 PM on April 6, 2010

You got lucky, Card Cheat. We got, a kid you not, fordism.
posted by No Robots at 3:14 PM on April 6, 2010

er, I kid you not.
posted by No Robots at 3:15 PM on April 6, 2010

The degradation of school librarians has been going on a lot longer than the last couple of years, readery. About 10 years ago, I had the senior technology librarian at our university tell me that he thought there would be no more school libraries in ten years. Well, that hasn't happened, but no thanks to senior librarians like that.
posted by No Robots at 3:18 PM on April 6, 2010

My highschool had a library, but nearly 2/3 of the shelves were empty. The librarian was a kind older man who I remember having a great sense of humor and lovingly trying to take care of the few books that the library had.

Now I know what the one thing is that is more sad than a library that is more than half empty. A library that doesn't have a librarian.
posted by strixus at 3:19 PM on April 6, 2010

Having too many smart people is a threat to the currently-entrenched power system. The dumbing-down of America is deliberate, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:29 PM on April 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately, I can really understand why this is happening. At my high school, the librarian really has no purpose. He used to be the jack-of-all-trades technology guy, but the school district finally got dedicated technical people in all the schools, so that aspect is gone. As far as circulating books; no one reads anymore. I spend just about every lunch period in the library, as well as just visiting regularly, and I've never once seen another student checking out any books. Most books I check out have maybe two or three previous check-outs on the card in the back, from before the turn of the millennium. Most of what I see our librarian doing is reading and paper and talking to teachers. The one thing that he does regularly is oversee the scheduling of time in computer labs, but that kind very easily be transferred to one of the vice-principals or the front office.
posted by Hargrimm at 3:40 PM on April 6, 2010

Here is a list of jobs currently posted with the Special Libraries Association. If these organizations see the value of having a librarian, why is it that schools do not?
posted by No Robots at 3:51 PM on April 6, 2010

I currently work in the public library of a town that has a nice school library. My hours and budget are next to nothing because it just assumed that children will get all of their books at school. The job I just interviewed for, however, is down the street from a school with no library. They need someone staffing the children's room every afternoon. It's a weird trade-off. I did not go through the extra training to be a school library media specialist and I think I'm glad.
Also, did any of you librarians take management at Simmons in the 90s? It was an absolute waste if time.
posted by Biblio at 3:58 PM on April 6, 2010

So, the map is about school libraries closing, but the links seem to be about city or metro libraries closing.

I remember lining to go to the library in my elementary school. I remember story times, and making a quilt.

I remember my middle school library, down in the basement next to the fall-out shelter. I even remember being in there for significant time, damned if I can remember why though. Detention, maybe?
Either way, I'm pretty sure I never once checked out a book.

I don't even remember my high school library, though we must have had one.

Virtually all of my library time (and there was a lot of it) was spent in the local small town library and, when I was older, the main branch library of the next town over.
Which leads to a question for the school librarians among us, what purpose does the school library serve that a community library wouldn't?

Don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of spending money for school libraries before spending money on a whole lot of other things in a schools, but in an age of decreasing revenue, what's the core justification for a school library?
What is it that is essential to the education of a youngster that requires a dedicated space?
posted by madajb at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

If they are getting rid of the librarian position are they also gutting the budget for library books? If there is no person to process the books in and out of the children's hands, are they bothering to purchase new books at all?

Around here, parent volunteers take the place of the librarian - or at least the more visible parts of a librarian's job. Why pay someone to scan books all day long when 10 parents are each willing to come in once a week for free?

The sad thing is that, as far as I know, the only time technology literacy is taught is by the librarians at the begging of the semester. I'm not too hopeful on the parents picking up that slack.

Honestly, it's all symptomatic for some bigger problem that I wish I could put my finger on, because along with librarian positions, the schools are talking about (and taking some steps towards) cutting Art, PE, Foreign Language, and Tech Ed classes. If this trend continues, the schools won't have anything left to teach. I don't know what they expect to do with the students all day long if all of these cuts happen.

I think I graduated just in time.
posted by niles at 4:28 PM on April 6, 2010

Also, did any of you librarians take management at Simmons in the 90s? It was an absolute waste if time.

I was there in the early aughts. Who did you have for Management?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:33 PM on April 6, 2010

Robocob- I think it was A.J. Anderson. I remember being shocked that he was married to Robin Peek.
posted by Biblio at 5:20 PM on April 6, 2010

My goodness you people are fucking retarded. I mean not you lovely US metafilterians, but the general US populace and the people elected to serve them.

Just choosing a primary school for my eldest boy, checked out two schools. Both schools had really crappy libraries, with books stacked haphazardly etc - but that's because both of them were building major new library centres! And this is in a small town in country Victoria. This is what you should be doing.

Even the crappy temporary libraries we saw were buzzing and well used, in both schools. Kids had readers and were expected to read a book a week. We also have the premiers' reading challenge, where every kid that reads a certain number of books gets their name in the paper and a certificate.

The USA is rotting from the bottom up.
posted by wilful at 5:27 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Huh... talk about timing. I just learned that my library (the one I both work at and use) has come under attack at local town council meetings by a group of tea-baggers, with the exact purpose of cutting library funding and hours.

I'm pretty mad.
posted by codacorolla at 5:44 PM on April 6, 2010

Wilful: My elementary school was like that as well. There was a huge emphasis on reading, the Accelerated Reading program gave you points for reading and taking comprehension quizzes on certain books, and that was certainly encouraged. I took so many AR quizzes that at the last opportunity to redeem them in my last year there, I bought everyone else is class whatever they wanted because I had literally too many points to spend on myself.

That didn't last. Once there were no direct incentives, and we we're taken to the library for a class period every day, interest dropped precipitously. I'm curious if you've looked at the library/reading situations in any higher-level schools, because that's where the real problems are occurring, from my experience.
posted by Hargrimm at 5:54 PM on April 6, 2010

*we weren't taken to the library
posted by Hargrimm at 5:55 PM on April 6, 2010

Is there a Google map that will display the size of the bathtub in which the government is being drowned?
posted by blucevalo at 8:03 PM on April 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

Biblio - Huh. I did not know that. Or if I did, I erased it from my mind.

I was too late for Anderson, though he did do a guest bit at my Reference class. I'm not sure I'm a big fan of his habit of visiting public libraries and conducting Reference evaluations. Local librarians should tailor their services for local needs and while there are standards, I don't think they need to live up to some sort of National AJ Standard.

The biggest trick to library school, I think, is to take as many classes possible with adjuncts who actually do the work, not tenured faculty. The latter can give you a bunch of theory and statistics, which is all well and good, but the former actually help you become a better librarian.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:51 AM on April 7, 2010

Is there a reason why Nebraska, Kansas, both Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and virtually all of the southern states have no markers on the map?

Looks like most of these cuts are targeting the population centers/seats of learning. Part of that could simply be that they have more libraries to begin with, but I'm surprised that there haven't been any cuts in the aforementioned moron states.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:25 AM on April 7, 2010

I wanted to say thanks for posting this; our local library is probably the busiest place to be after school gets out. I can't imagine it not being available for all the kids who use it.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:13 PM on April 7, 2010

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