School libraries and media centers will always have a special place in my heart, maybe because librarians get to teach all the students.
I always thought that if I ever left classroom teaching, I’d be a librarian; in fact, I came within a few credits of getting my certification. Librarians are super lucky, because they not only help students develop an appreciation for reading, but they also teach important research skills and help students cultivate resourcefulness that they’ll need all their lives.
April 9-15 is National Library Week, April 11 is National Library Workers Day, and April 12 is National Bookmobile Day—a week set aside for celebrating libraries and thanking librarians/media specialists for all they do to set students off toward a great future.
In 2015, I met a librarian/media specialist at Brown Elementary School in Jackson, Mississippi who took her role to heart. Miss Ruby created one of the most sparkling, magical libraries I’ve ever seen, and she couldn’t wait to show it off.
By design, every corner and cranny of her Popping Pink Pastel Library featured something eye-catching, colorful, and interesting. “This library is an important classroom. A school library welcomes every child, from the littlest to the biggest. It has to have something for everyone,” Miss Ruby, who has since retired, told me.
It’s up to us to make sure our students have the libraries and Miss Ruby’s they need. That’s how we can make sure every student has an education that inspires his or her natural curiosity, imagination, and desire to learn.
But we face challenges in that mission. A 2016 study by the NEA concluded that since 2007, the number of public school library/media centers had declined, particularly in inner cities.
The study also found evidence of disparities in school resources along racial lines. Even the wealthiest schools in districts that were comprised mostly of minority students had fewer resources than schools in the poorest, mostly white districts. This is a call for us to demand that all students, regardless of their ethnicity or cultural heritage, have the support and tools they need.
There were bright spots in our research, too. The vast majority of librarians have met the qualifications for certification, and many are also certified as teachers or have master’s degrees in a library science-related field. (Incidentally, Hawaii and Tennessee have the highest percentage of certified librarians; both are at over 97 percent.)
Here’s another interesting tidbit from that study: The average number of book titles per student is nearly 22, and the good news is that’s a 9-percent increase since 2007. (And interestingly, the state with the most books per student is Alaska, at almost 51. The least books per student? Hawaii, at 15.)
With the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act—or ESSA, for short—we can make our voices heard to ensure that schools offer the programs, resources, and staff our students deserve. And that includes libraries, where our students can discover what they love.
To all the educators who, like Miss Ruby, create and work in those awe-inspiring, wonderful spaces (and Bookmobiles): Happy National Library Week!