A look at libraries

Jeanette Stapley (far left) at a NYSUT Small and Rural Locals Advisory Council meeting.

The school library is sort of a “command central” for learning. It’s where librarians recommend books for reluctant readers, and stack the arms of zealous readers with good titles. It’s where students are taught how to do research, how to navigate the web and how to use technology. It’s where teachers and librarians connect, pooling their resources to bring the best possible research experience to students. It’s also where librarians school teachers in the latest technology.

The library is a place of exploration. It’s where words hang out. It’s where students are supposed to be spending more time under new Common Core requirements. Yes, there is a lot happening in school libraries.

Except for the ones that aren’t open most of the time. Or not at all.

At a meeting of NYSUT’s Small and Rural Locals Advisory Council held this week, several union leaders shared how, due to budget cuts that have been starving schools more and more each year, library services have been alarmingly thinned.

“We’re at a bare minimum,” said Jeanette Stapley , a retired teacher from the Schroon Lake Teachers Association and a member of NYSUT’s Board of Directors. She noted that the district’s single K-12 school’s librarian is a .2 position. “We have a librarian one day a week.”

Stapley said research is an intimate process involving a lot of individual attention for students. “I need a librarian. I rely on her a lot,” she said.

“We cover our library 50 percent,” said Mary Kruchinski of the Washington Academy Teachers Association for the Salem Central School District. A librarian works one day for the high school students and the next day for the elementary school students. “We have to do research papers in third grade for Common Core, and then it’s ‘Oops, the library is closed.’”

Jim Baldwin, local president of the 190-member Homer Teachers Association, said his district used to have five full-time librarians at five schools but now there are four, and one of them alternates time between two schools.

“A lot of the Common Core requirements are library based,” said Baldwin. “Those skills are what they want as part of Common Core.”

He said ninth-grade English teachers in his school are frustrated about the loss of literature in the Common Core lessons; instead of books, students read a lot of novel excerpts, or texts from across the curriculum.

Frank Emmett, a Shelter Island teacher, said the school reduced its librarian position but then was able to reinstate it gradually to full-time again.

“It was realized just how important the librarian is,” he said.

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