The following is a letter to Dr. Ramos and the South Orange - Maplewood Board of Education, which has been reprinted with permission.
It has recently come to our attention that there is a proposal by the administration to eliminate a number of school librarians.This means that the students and educators in our schools will no longer have access to a library staffed by a full time certified librarian at all times during the school day. It has also come to our attention that there will be cuts to the libraries budgets meaning a reduction in the amount of book and materials that the libraries will be able to provide the students in the district. We, the undersigned, feel this is a grave mistake for the future of our children.
In the past few years, we have gone from having three full time certified school librarians at Columbia High School to now just two. As recently as five years ago, there were three certified full time school librarians split between the Middle Schools, and now there are just two. In the past, there were seven certified school librarians serving the Elementary Schools, and now there are just six.
These cuts have all happened while we have seen record population increases and increased technology demands, with predictions of increasing enrollment in our schools. Our librarians are already stretched thin, and these proposed cuts will mean that the SOMSD students will not receive the quality library programs that they deserve and need to be successful.
The proposed mission statement for our district, outlined in the strategic direction document states, “The mission of the South Orange-Maplewood School District is to empower and inspire each student to explore and imagine, to pursue personal passions, and to collectively create a better future by creating a learner-centered environment through multiple pathways; reimagined structures; systems and supports; innovative teaching; partnering with families; and maximizing community expertise and resources.” The certified librarians in our district are already carrying out this mission on a daily basis. Why would you cut the certified librarian staff and decimate the district library program when it goes directly against the district’s stated mission?
Libraries serve as tremendous resources for every one of the children in the district, and librarians serve as a vital connection between accessing those resources and facilitating our children's learning. Librarians serve as the gateway to online resources, of particular importance at a time when students are exposed to a multitude of conflicting information online. Now, more than ever, SOMSD students are in need of someone to guide and help them determine which information is most valuable and useful. A librarian has the unique capabilities, expertise and resources to do this.
According to Scholastic, "The link between strong school library programs and student achievement is well documented. Over the past 20 years, numerous studies have shown that elementary schools with at least one full-time certified teacher-librarian performed better on state tests. In a 2010 study conducted in Colorado, more children scored "proficient" or "advanced" in reading in schools with a full-time, credentialed librarian than those without"[i]. (Scholastic.com 2012)
In an article published by Kachel and Lance (2015), the authors reviewed a multitude of studies which consistently show that students who have a full-time librarian in their schools perform better on their reading and writing scores than those who don’t have one. One such study, "Pennsylvania School Libraries Pay Off: Investments in Student Achievement and Academic Standards", revealed that students with full-time librarians in their schools are almost three times as likely to have “advanced” writing scores, compared to those students without full-time librarians.[ii]
Another study by Lance et al, also proved that a strong library program leads to higher test scores. They reviewed results from dozens of large-scale studies, involving over 8,700 schools and over 2.6 million students. In their review of the literature, results consistently demonstrated that students scored an average of 10-20 % higher on reading and achievement tests when their school had a strong library media program. "Even more importantly, this effect holds, regardless of other school conditions such as student-teacher ratio, overall per-pupil spending, student demographics, and community socio-economic conditions". (Lance, et al., 2005; Lance, et al., 2003)[iii] This same conclusion was found in a 2008 California study, which also revealed that higher test scores were correlated with increased library services; regardless of parent education level, poverty level or ethnicity, among other factors.[iv]
Eliminating a number librarians from South Orange-Maplewood School District is a huge mistake for our school system, and most importantly for our students. We, urge you to reconsider this proposal.
[i] Scholastic.com website. “Are librarians still important?” Katie Rix. 2012
[ii] “School Library Research Summarized: A Graduate Class Project”, Debra E. Kachel, 2011
[iii] “Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement”, Kachel and Lance, School Library Journal, March 2013
[iv] “Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement”, Kachel and Lance, School Library Journal, March 2013