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School Librarian Crisis in NYC August 21, 2013

Posted by Patricia Sarles in Advocacy, Hot Topics.
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In a Wall Street Journal article published last week, (a story also picked up by the Atlantic Wire), it was reported how the New York City public school system is and has been out of compliance with the New York state law that mandates either a full or part-time librarian in all secondary schools, depending on the school’s enrollment. It is because of this law that many of New York City’s school children have the benefit of a librarian to serve them within their buildings, but despite this law, many NYC school children don’t have that benefit. Now the New York City Department of Education is seeking a waiver so that they do not have to be in compliance with this law at all. According to a NY1 News piece, the Department of Education cites that due to changes in “technology and teaching structures, schools can provide adequate library services without a traditional librarian.”

This is the thing though. Because of the control that principals were handed several years ago with the reorganization of the DOE, some principals will decide to keep their librarians anyway and some will breathe a sigh of relief that because of the waiver, they will no longer be out of compliance, even though they were never held accountable to be in compliance with state law in the first place. But does nobody in the DOE realize that this will only increase the achievement gap? We school librarians are already familiar with the research that points to the fact that having an endorsed librarian in schools increases student reading scores. Some NYC principals, recognizing the benefits of having a school librarian, will decide to keep their librarians, regardless of the waiver. But some principals will let go of their librarians. It may be that the children in schools with librarians will do better, while those unfortunate enough to be in schools without librarians will not do as well. Time will tell. But who in the DOE will make the connection? As it stands right now, nobody in the DOE seems to care if there is an inequity in the services that the students receive in New York City public schools as there is no mandate that all children receive the same services they are entitled to within the same system wherever they decide to go to school.

New York state already does not have a mandate for elementary school librarians, which has always been baffling to me. It is in elementary school that children first learn to read and if reading is the foundation for all future gains in knowledge, then why not have a librarian who would encourage their early reading, not just their skills in reading, but to also instill a passion for reading? Librarians = books and reading at the elementary level after all. It is at the secondary level that the role of the librarian expands to research skills in addition to continuing to foster and encourage reading. And speaking of research skills, are our leaders not aware of the Common Core Anchor standards for writing, which require that students “research to build and present knowledge?” Librarians are trained to teach these skills and have been teaching these skills all along. That is why so many of us are on board with the Common Core. Parts of the standards speak our own language. But who do our leaders think are going to teach these research skills? Sadly, there is still a lack of knowledge about what we librarians do, which is sadly evident in this letter to Dr. John B. King, New York State Commissioner of Education from the NYC DOE’s Chief Academic Officer, seeking a variance to “provide equivalent library services in alternative ways.” Why? NYC already has certified librarians. Hire more and they won’t need to seek “alternative ways” to provide “equivalent library services.” We are trained to do what we do. Classroom teachers, literacy coaches, and others who serve children in school buildings are not. They might also not be aware that New York is a PARCC state. The PARCC test will be one of two new Common Core assessments. And it is on this PARCC test that students will be given a “Research Simulation Task”, whereby students will be provided several authentic texts to read and be required to write an analytic essay that synthesizes the information they read. This is one third of the PARCC test, the other two being a narrative task and a literary analysis task.

We know what we do. We have to keep doing what we do and hopefully we will continue to be given that opportunity. We need to keep having conversations with our principals, collaborating with our teachers, and we need to keep writing, especially for journals outside our field. We need to “seize the opportunity” as Olga Nesi, NYC library coordinator, said in an SLJ article last year. This is the era of the Common Core. We know we are vital to student success but we have to ask ourselves why our educational leaders do not see this.

If you are interested in the plight of the NYC librarians, there is a petition you can sign here and another here.


1. Joyce Peslak - August 21, 2013

A school without a certified librarian would be like a corporation without a manager. In fact, in NJ school librarians have more educational certifications than classroom teachers. I don’t know when or why the thinking changed regarding this profession. I can only assume that librarianship has been misunderstood all along. How sad that we must fight for literacy. 🙁

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2. Cathy Sutton - August 21, 2013

In Indiana there only has to be one certified school librarian per school district. When the school budgets were cut, elementary and middle school librarians were the first to go. I had worked in the same high school as the librarian for 23 years but was cut so they could move the elementary librarian (who had seniority) into my position. She had no clue what to do with high schoolers. I took a major pay cut but finally found a new job as a middle school librarian. Unfortunately I have to teach 5th & 6th grade research/keyboarding and 7th grade computer classes 6 out of 7 periods per day. My assistance gets to do my job (at a fraction of the pay.) Now they’ve cut her to 29 hours a week. It’s a very sad situation here in Indiana.

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3. William Sweeney - August 29, 2013

It is a very pitiful situation in most states. Why is it that in so many areas an early grounding in acquiring skills is not even questioned but in becoming independently literate in research and reading and analysis backs are turned? Would schools hire the least qualified to coach their sports teams? Would they hire people who never even played the game they are coaching? One problem with our educational system is that ii is managed by people with third rate intellectual ability. It should not be that way.

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4. Margaret LIttle - September 6, 2013

Is this the SAME New York City Schools group whose library media specialists created the Information Fluency CUrriculum endorsed by the NY School Library systems??? WHAT ARE THEY THINKING????

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5. steve - September 6, 2013

I cringe every time I read an article that says NYS does not mandate elementary librarians in NYS. The fact is every school building is required to have a library that meets the needs of the students and supports the curriculum. How can you have a library without a librarian. That should be the focus. Not that the regulations are not as specific as secondary.

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