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Librarians Ask State to Reject Changes City Seeks Waiver From Staffing Requirements

Ohanian Comment:
New York City now wants to be exempted from a state requirement that all middle and high schools have a certified librarian on staff. Instead, it wants to "train teachers in librarian services." Translation: Have a teacher that can offer occasional library services--when she's not occupied with classroom obligations.

First step: Train teachers in librarian services.

Next step: Train an aide in librarian services.

Next step: Automate library services so robots can take charge.

Alternative Plan: Turn the library into a computer lab. After all, books are passe.

One point made in this article is the consequence of breaking a large school into smaller schools is the danger of those smaller schools choosing not supporting a librarian.

Most often, it's schools filled with poor kids that dump the librarian.

As scholar Stephen Krashen has shown repeatedly, "Research shows that better public and school libraries are related to better reading achievement. The reason for this is obvious: Children become better readers by reading more, and the library is a major source of books for children."

The librarian isn't there just to check out the books. She's there to guide students in a multitude of sophisticated and illuminating ways.

by Lisa Fleisher

A group of New York City librarians and parents held a rally Wednesday morning to protest the city's request for a waiver from state librarian staffing requirements.

Standing on the steps of Tweed Courthouse, the department's downtown Manhattan headquarters, librarians said they couldn't just be replaced by a computer in a classroom.

"A lot of the kids--every librarian can tell you this—they all want to run to Google, GOOG +0.45% " said Karen Levy, who has worked for more than 20 years at Christopher Columbus High School. Librarians said they help students find better research databases and steer them toward reliable information.

New York City last week quietly asked the state Education Department for a break from state regulations that say middle and high schools must provide a librarian for part or all of the day, depending on enrollment. Smaller schools are required to have a certified librarian assigned to library duties for part of the day.

A state education spokesman said the request was under review.

In its request for a waiver, the city said that it would require schools without a certified librarian on staff to submit reports with details about how they are providing instruction, a curated library and other literacy services. The city also said it would train teachers in librarian services and allow smaller schools at one campus to share librarians.

"The Internet has changed how students conduct their research and created new ways of thinking about how our libraries should function," schools spokesman Devon Puglia said. "We remain fully committed to meeting the rigorous standards of library services and will continue to support our schools to do so."

Several City Council members, including Speaker Christine Quinn, sent a letter Wednesday asking the state education department to deny the Bloomberg administration's request.

Stephanie Rosalia, who will be working this year at Public School/Middle School 105 in Far Rockaway, said principals don't seem to know what librarians do. "They think that we 'Shhh!' people, dust books, push shelves and check in and out," she said. "They have no idea the information literacy skills that we teach, and they take for granted when scores are going up that everything is hunky-dory."

The United Federation of Teachers filed two complaints with the state Education Department and went to court this summer to try to force the city to comply.

The city has said its schools haven't been in compliance with state regulations for many years, although the situation recently deteriorated. The number of librarians on the payroll dropped to 333 in the 2012-13 school year from 399 four years ago, though not all are working as librarians, the city said. Meanwhile, the number of schools has continued to increase, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration closes large or failing schools and opens smaller ones in their place.

Ms. Levy's situation is an example of what can happen when a large school is broken up in to smaller schools. Christopher Columbus, once a large high school in the Bronx, is in the final stages of being shut down. Columbus's enrollment, which was 2,268 in the 2005-06 school year, was 435 last year, according to city records.

It now shares its building with six other schools. Ms. Levy said she and one other librarian were paid jointly by all of the principals. But she was let go from the school, which means that if the other principals don't decide to keep her on, she'll join a group of teachers without permanent positions who rotate through schools as substitutes.

"I have a commitment to the building and the students, I don't want them to be with only one librarian, because they probably wouldn't replace me," she said.

Write to Lisa Fleisher at lisa.fleisher@wsj.com

— Lisa Fleisher
Wall Street Journal





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