Back when I was in the middle school, my friends and I met in the library every morning before school. Sally Corcoran, the library associate for the middle school at the time, was always there for our informal book club. Now Corcoran and Ruth Thoreson, formerly the high school librarian, are required to split her time between the middle school and the high school. Now it is a guessing game of who will be in the library each day. For students that need the help from a specific librarian, it can be incredibly inconvenient never knowing who will be available to talk to.
The librarians split their time between schools because the state requires every school district to have a certified librarian at every school, but they don’t dictate what that looks like. Corcoran is a great librarian, but she does not have a degree in Library Sciences. She majored in Physical Education and originally taught PE for many years. “As we write curriculum for things that we need to teach students, the question kept coming up like well who’s going to teach this at the middle school because there’s no one certified to teach that,” Thoreson said. The district’s solution was to have Thoreson work part time at both schools so they would both have a certified librarian on staff.
It has improved the curriculum at the middle school, but it has lessened the impact Thoreson can have on the high school. “Sally was there as a library associate, did a great job of running the space, making sure kids got what they needed, but she’s not a certified teacher librarian so there’s certain things she can’t do legally,” principal Ryan Woods said. This led to some areas of need at the middle school library not being met.
I am incredibly happy that certified librarians are required at each school because librarians are incredibly important. They provide a lot of services for students. “Yeah, like I buy books for the library,” Thoreson said. “But it’s not just, ‘Oh that one looks really cool.’ I mean I go through what’s going to help supplement our curriculum.” This is just the very beginning of everything librarians do. They also order databases for research, help with technology, help teachers with curriculum and projects, help students with research, and teach classes on digital literacy, fake news, and bias. These are all incredibly important parts of education, that other classes do not adequately help students with.
They also level the playing field for students that are left behind, especially because of financial difficulties. The library has a wide variety of resources that students can borrow or use that they may be unable to have otherwise. “So for, you know the students, some people will say, ‘Well, why do you have a guitar here?'” Thoreson said. “Well, there are people that would like to learn the guitar, but they can’t afford one. The fact that they can come in here and use some of these materials, is leveling that playing field for everyone.” Many students are unable to afford expensive luxuries like an instrument. With the guitar and the keyboard in the library, students of all backgrounds can learn to play an instrument, effectively bypassing their financial barrier. The library also provides the Maker Space, technology, and games for the students.
In order to provide these resources to students, the librarians need to create a connection with the students. The whole district has been focused on “Capturing Kid’s Hearts,” yet this practice is counter intuitive to creating genuine connections with the students. With the inconsistency of the librarian’s schedules, students have to play a guessing game asking,”Who will be in the library today?” This can leave students unprepared and without the resources they need.
Precious Pate ’20 is in the library everyday. She has some free periods throughout the day that she uses to work on projects in the library. Recently, she just finished a two and a half week long project using the rooms in the libraries. Being in the library so often she has opinions about the situation. “[I] don’t enjoy it because it’s not consistent,” Pate said.
It is also harder for the librarians to really get to know the students. “What I miss is not having the day to day contact with the kids because I think I get to know them better and know what they like,” Corcoran said.
It does not just effect one building, all of the high school and middle school students are negatively impacted. “Either school, I can’t make a lot of those it’s harder to make those connections with my students,” Thoreson said. “And that is such a push for what our district is trying to do. It’s hard to capture somebody when you’re not there.”
Thoreson also has less time to teach classes at both schools. Part of the issue is that teachers do not make time for her classes in their curriculum, but the scheduling makes it difficult as well. Thoreson enjoys planning and teaching Dragon Time classes and the equivalent in the middle school, called Fire Time. “I have compromised,” Thoreson said. “I am doing one month to do Fire Time and then one month I do Dragon Time. So for that I’ll go back and forth.” In the past Thoreson has taught classes on fake news and green screen weather forecasting, which are important supplements to student’s education.
With all the services that librarians provide, it is incredibly apparent that there needs to be a librarian at every school. The Des Moines school district has transitioned to only having one librarian for the whole school district. A high school in the Des Moines district has a brand new library, but it is not open to students because there is no one there to run the library. A scary amount of schools are moving towards this reality and Johnston may be on its way. Both Thoreson and Corcoran do a great job, but being forced to switch between schools has negatively impacted their impact on the students. Granted, the system works, but it could be better.
The West Des Moines school district previously had only one librarian for the school district, but recently they started reversing this decision. Now, they are back to having one librarian per school.
In the past, the school would hire a full-time librarian as well as two full-time associates. It was only in the last few years that they cut down on library staffing so drastically. The reason so many schools have cut down on how many librarians they staff, is because they can save money by hiring a select amount. “Unfortunately the budget did not allow to just hire a full time person,” Woods said.
Librarians are not something that can be skimped on however. They provide innumerable resources for students and are an important part of making students feel connected to their school. The school needs to make librarians a priority in the budget. Perhaps they could have used the thousands of dollars they spent on the Capturing Kid’s Hearts program and dedicated it to employing librarians for every school instead.
Librarians are really important in providing resources and connections for kids. “Hopefully libraries can connect us, by giving you things that you love,” Thoreson said.
Librarians are spread thin and overworked. They need support and resources in order to do their jobs effectively. “Justice for librarians because they matter too,” Pate said.