by Fred Hanson
Libraries may be morphing into coffee bars or disappearing via e-mail reference, but a more extreme development could impact our professional life. Librarians are disappearing from students’ lives.
At schools across the country – New Jersey, Michigan, Arizona, California, even Washington – school librarian positions have been eliminated. California’s funding problems are well known, but it’s startling to see a wealthy community like Bellevue jettison its middle and high school librarians.The students and associates you see now – or at least e-mail – grew up interacting with librarians. They have been around librarians since first grade. Years from now that may not be a common experience. Districts like Bellevue are even considering eliminating elementary school librarians. If that happens, K-12 students will only be familiar with librarians if they patronize their public libraries.
Currently, students have received search instruction and learned the value of books from school librarians. Future students may reach age eighteen with no appreciation for librarians and, likely, little for libraries. They may have encountered only teachers and “volunteers” in school libraries.
You will likely greet some students and associates who have only had libraries in their lives during their college years. One would expect some students from the highly praised Bellevue schools to enroll in law schools.
Another loss will be the further devaluation of books. Without school librarians, the value of school book collections will likely degrade. With no collection development, science books will become outdated, as will the fiction collections purchased to appeal to a former generation. The books that are used will grow shabby and be less appealing to the eye. Not much competition for flashy graphics and well-designed gadgets.
Granted there are plenty of more immediate challenges. But often, the problems we focus on in the present won’t matter nearly as much as what is happening down the road and over the horizon.
For a map of schools nation-wide eliminating or downsizing their school libraries, click here.