Letters to the Editor

Librarians have a profound impact on education

Inevitably, owing to the literate nature of librarians, well-reasoned arguments will be made opposing the impending cuts to our school library staff.

I call attention to a critical but intangible issue: Librarians have a profound impact on education.

The stereotype of the stern librarian, attempting to maintain absolute silence, operating in a wholly passive environment, is out of date. Today’s school library is a classroom, an active component of the learning environment, normally occupied by groups of children, enthusiastically engaged in learning projects, led by the librarians.

The library’s mission:

— Stimulate curiosity.

— Shuffle-the-deck intellectually by challenging children outside their accustomed classroom environment,

— Expose children to elements of culture absent from the state-approved standard curriculum.

These missions are universally acclaimed, but hard to quantify. Countywide, there’s the 10-year improvement in statewide achievement test performance. And we can examine the performance of individual schools. For example, Wolfle Elementary, with a strongly-supported library program fully integrated into the curriculum, in a decade has rocketed from lowest decile in test scores to highest — in spite of a majority of Wolfle’s students qualifying for state aid.

All elements of the Wolfle program share the credit, each an organ critical to life in the body of children’s education. How to live within a shrinking budget? Ways other than cutting these organs must be found.

Disclosure: I’ve observed Wolfle Elementary’s librarians for a decade as volunteer tutor and mentor, and only naturally have developed respect for them a potential bias. Even worse, my mom was an elementary school librarian who loved her work, love reciprocated by her students. On retirement, she became the volunteer “book lady” at the county jail and detention center, where inmates responded to her active, not passive, advocacy of the intellectual potentiality in all people.

Stephen A. Wald, Ph.D

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