Schools need high-quality librarians dedicated to children’s learning

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Statistics on the Chicago Public Schools website notes that there are 675 schools in the system. Subtract 164 schools without libraries (including Whittier Elementary, which made the news recently when parents staged a sit-in for a new library) and do the math: Over 500 libraries constitute that pesky “other side of the story” that never seems to be told.

Hundreds of CPS librarians participate in each professional development day that is strategically planned by the Department of Libraries and Information Services, a division of the Office of Literacy. Thousands of CPS students participate in Mayor Daley’s elementary Battle of the Books and High School Book Club, thanks to the efforts of their school librarians and often in cooperation with their classroom or language arts teachers and many generous private partnerships.

Every year the wonderful partners over at the Chicago Public Library’s Department of Children’s Services, under the direction of Bernie Nowakowski, collaborate with their CPS librarian counterparts for library card registration, book programs, field trips, homework help and family reading nights.

Perhaps instead of reading about general success stories, you would rather meet a few of the individual stars in the CPS library galaxy. As much as I would love to introduce you to them here and boast about their accomplishments, that would leave out too many deserving the same accolades. Just know that there are students who are enjoying the benefits not only of well-developed school library collections of books and database-loaded computers, but also of professionally trained, certified, endorsed, committed and dedicated school librarians.

These librarians work with classroom teachers, teachers of art, music and physical education, and reading and literacy educators, in a myriad of grant-funded and other programs offered by CPS. They develop bilingual poetry projects, they use hand-held technology to enhance reader response to literature, they infuse history with American art, and they sing and dance and tell stories with their youngest charges. They worm their way into the hearts of their students, day after day and year after year, always in the service of impacting student learning through access to the best resources and literature possible.

Whittier Elementary School parents, your children deserve a school library but don’t stop there. Don’t accept the chassis without the engine. That library is not simply a “designated place.” It is not donated books and overhauled computers and gathered furniture and cinder-block walls. It is not a library deserving of your children without a qualified school librarian who, first and foremost, cares for the development of your children as learners and readers and then the development of a school library collection that reflects the entire student body and supports the school curriculum in all subjects at all reading levels.

Schools and children need a librarian dedicated to inquiry, who is intimately versed in critical and creative thinking, understands the value of authentic learning, is passionate about the role of quality multicultural literature in developing your children as readers, has a broad perspective on life and their place in the world irrespective of where they may have started their life journey, is curious and constantly learning about emerging technologies, is serious about responsible online behavior and how to best integrate those important skills into your children’s lives.

A librarian must be a collaborative partner who works well with the classroom teachers and the administration, so that it is difficult to imagine a school without that librarian.

Only with a quality librarian will your children truly benefit from all that a school library has to offer.

Gail Bush
Director, School Library Program, National-Louis University.
President, Illinois Library Association
U. S. Delegate, International Federation of Library Associations-School Libraries Committee