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Schools squeeze library services

When districts must cut costs, media resource staffing gets trimmed

Published: Saturday, March 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Library Media Specialist Jodie Scott helps fourth-grade students Leah Gritzner and Faizan Ahmed as they work on their poety and figurative speech in the library at Mary Endres Elementary School in Woodstock. As area school districts faced cuts, many tried to see savings by cutting the library program. At Woodstock District 200, the board decided to keep a media specialist at each school but cut back on the hours their assistants spent at the school based on how many kids are at the school.

The library at Mary Endres Elementary School in Woodstock is always open, but that’s not true for all the schools in District 200.

Like several districts across McHenry County, when faced with cuts, District 200 has tried to shave its libraries’ budgets. Illinois school codes do not mandate the need for a school librarian.

“When the economy is going bad, the library is the No. 1 place where you should be pouring resources,” McHenry High School West Campus library media specialist Kurt Pearson said. “[The library] creates a level playing field. Everyone can check out books.”

District 200’s method was to keep a trained library media specialist at every school but cut the number of hours of each building’s library aide depending on the school’s size, Endres’ media specialist Jodie Scott said.

Although Scott is lucky enough to have a full-time aide, other schools aren’t.

That means during those hours when the aide isn’t there and the media specialist is in the classroom teaching about technology and research methods, the library is closed.

“I don’t know what I’d do without a full-time [aide],” said Scott, who was a teacher for 21 years before becoming the school’s media specialist.

As libraries have gone more digital and the role of librarians has changed, so have their titles. Many are referred to as media specialists instead of just librarians.

Other districts have chosen different ways to cut costs.

When Cary District 26 had to cut $6.6 million from the budget, effective August 2010, it decided to consolidate its library media specialist positions into one library media coordinator who rotates among the four schools.

But it kept a full-time library aide at each school to manage the library on-site.

That means the libraries stay open full time, Superintendent Brian Coleman said.

“We were looking at what was the least impact on students,” he said. “Our learning centers are open for students to come down and check out books with teachers.”

Coleman wants to get District 26 to the point where it can have a librarian and aide at each school within the next couple of years, but said that at this point, it’s just not affordable.

At McHenry High School District 156, each high school’s librarian took on a class or two in addition to his or her library duties, Pearson said.

Pearson taught one English class last year, and East Campus media specialist Angela Welch taught last year and this year.

The library wasn’t completely closed when Pearson was in class because he had an aide, but access was limited.

The year before Pearson had to take up a class, there were 90,000 student visits to the library, he said. The next year, when he wasn’t there all the time, it dropped to a little more than 69,000.

The effect was even greater on the time he could devote to teachers and cooperative learning.

“I think that the two jobs are very, very different,” Pearson said. “When you’re teaching, like teaching English, you’re really concerned about your classroom and your students and making sure they’re successful. ... In the library, you’re trying to help everyone, teachers, students, staff.”

To Pearson’s students, he didn’t stop being their teacher when he was in the library, so they were always coming to the library for extra help. That took away from his time for his responsibilities as the media specialist, he said.

“I really feel in a school library, the library can be a center of learning,” Pearson said. “I get disappointed when I hear people are cutting that because it is such a service to everyone, students and teachers.”

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