The month of April has been designated School Library Month. Originally conceived in 1985, the month was named National School Library Media Month. According to the American Association of School Libraries website, the School Library Month designation was established in 2010. The group’s board wanted to “re-adopt the professional title school librarian, from the former school library media specialist”. We take a look inside libraries located at the elementary schools, middle school, and high school in the Lowell Area Schools district.
From Library to Media Center
The image of a library, including those housed in schools, has changed over the years. While books are still relevant, the addition of technology has given written text competition. Books can be read digitally or even listened to on DVD. Card catalogs are a thing of the past, as current students think having to locate book using a paper system is as odd as seeing an 8-track. Teachers are able to use an internet connection or DVD player, which is already becoming old technology in the online streaming world, in their classrooms without worrying if film is threaded properly through a projector.
Also gone are the days of the image of librarian seen as little old ladies with nothing better to do than tell patrons to be quiet. “Thankfully, this is an outdated and absolutely incorrect view of libraries today. Our libraries are a busy and bustling learning space dedicated to meeting the needs of today’s students.” says Library Media Specialist Christine Beachler. “Numerous and diverse activities are held in the library; some of these include staff and students using the space for: club and activity meetings, group project gatherings, utilizing the various technology provided in the library, reading, studying, tutoring, testing, etc. There always seems to be something going on in the library and it is many students’ favorite place in the school to be!” School libraries have become an extension of the classroom, where learning takes place in a variety of ways.
This change in how public and school libraries are used does not make them any less significant. It could be argued they are more important now as individuals need help weeding through even more information to find factual information versus fake information, lessons on how to use technology, and only have access to internet and technology at school or public libraries. Students are also able to learn how to navigate through text and media in these locations. School libraries are often referred to as media centers because they offer more than just books. Students and teachers can find a variety of resources in this area of a school.
The Media Specialist vs Library Assistant
Beacher became the district’s Library Media Director in 2005 when three Library Media Specialist positions were combined into one. She began as a student teacher in the district during the 1988-89 school year before taking on a teaching position in Lowell. In fall 2001, she became an Elementary Media Specialist prior to taking on her current role. She has been with Lowell Area Schools for 30 years, having spent the last 17 as Library Media Specialist.
But what is a Library Media Specialist? Those who hold a Library Media (ND) endorsement are not only certified teachers, but also hold a Master’s Degree in Library Science or Library and Information Science. Beachler is the only person in the district with this endorsement. She oversees the media center at Lowell High School in addition to directing library assistants at each building.
Library Assistants are considered paraprofessionals, as they do not hold a teaching certificate. By law they are not to teach students unless directed by someone who has an ND endorsement or a certified classroom teacher. Therefore, they are only able to read to students at the elementary level, help students find and check out books, and maintain items in the library. Should they be directed to review with students the difference between fiction and non-fiction, how to use the library for a research project, or something similar, they can guide students. Likewise, if a classroom teacher would like library time to have a focus on a theme, the library assistant can accommodate.
School Library Struggles
Approximately 10 years ago, school districts started cutting back when it came to funding school libraries. Staff hours were cut or done away with in many districts throughout Michigan and the country. Funding for new and replacement books and other materials was cut. Many districts, including Lowell are still in the process of determining how to shape school media centers to prepare students for the future.
The 3rd Grade Reading Law, which states students not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade can be held back, has some wondering where libraries should and will fit in. This law starts with students who are currently in 1st grade. With that, a focus on literacy has been introduced in kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms. Students reading below grade level are being given extra help. While so far none of the funding being received from the county millage passed last May, Curriculum Director Nate Fowler says, “The primary purpose of the school library is to promote a culture of literacy in each of our buildings.” He views school media centers as an important place in schools and continues to look for ways for the areas to be used. “The physical space of the libraries are going to evolve to support project based learning opportunities for our students. Students should be able to use the space to collaborate with each other to solve real world problems.“ He also indicated the importance of school libraries offering a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction book titles on topics of science, social studies, career exploration, and biographies in addition to traditional popular interest and classic works.
Lowell Area Schools hopes to continue to work and partner with Kent District Library to encourage a love of reading starting in early elementary and continuing into adulthood. An example of such collaboration is with Arrow Readers on the Move. The summer reading programs takes place in school media centers as well as the Alto and Englehardt branches of KDL.
If you have a student attending Lowell Area Schools, take some time to thank your child(ren)’s library assistant. They have a lot on their plate throughout the school year. They should be appreciated throughout the year and not just during School LIbrary Month.
A subsequent article will take a look at deeper look into the school media centers in Lowell and work at the state and federal level on how additional funding can be used for staffing and materials. Additionally we’ll dive into the numbers, including how many hours a week school libraries in the district are staffed, how many books are circulated, and what happens with the library budget line item.