As I write this, it’s February, and that means Black History Month and Ethnic Equity month here. In March, when this article will be published, we’ll be celebrating Gender Equality Month, National Disabilities Awareness Month, Women’s History Month, and Youth Art Month.
I propose that we add another celebration to our national calendar. Let’s make March Teacher-Librarians’ Month.
Teacher-Librarians are unique. They see the intersection of all curricula, materials adoption, literacy programs, special education needs, programs to address students’ experiences with food insecurity and/or homelessness, student mental health programs, and physical health issues.
You name it, everything comes through the door of the school library. The T-L is the professional who fields the questions, supports literacy and the love of reading, finds materials, helps students learn about what interests them, gives support to researchers, gets the right book/kit/article/piece of equipment into the hands of kids and staff, fights against censorship, reminds everyone about the need to cite one’s sources and to fact check, answers questions on any and every subject, and makes sure that everyone is welcomed and respected.
Common Sense is a well-known non-profit “dedicated to improving the lives of all kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.”1 In an article published in 2019, “10 Reasons Librarians Are More Important Than Ever,” Erin O. Wilkey takes a look at why school libraries staffed by certificated librarians are essential to our children’s educational experience.2
Over 70 years of research begun in 1960 has documented that schools with certificated librarians providing school library programs, lessons and activities in concert with the school's curricula and with the needs of teachers, staff and students outperform schools that do not. Other studies looking at students' social and emotional development indicate that a school librarian provides benefits in this area as well. On the softer side of research—the social-emotional side—the answer is the same.3
Washington State school districts are part of a disturbing trend: They are trying to balance budgets and ease staffing loads by moving teacher-librarians out of the library and into the general teaching staff.
This ignores the very real importance of having Teacher-Librarians in the library space. T-L’s provide direct instruction, build a collection that serves the needs of their students for school and individual interests (as mandated by law), provide literacy support, and make the library space welcoming and available to students and staff (numbers 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10 on the infographic).
On top of their other responsibilities, teacher-librarians are often the first people called to deal with tech issues at school. They learn new ways to make use of technologies old and new, and they advocate for their use, demonstrating how to use them and why. You can bet teacher-librarians are going to be some of the first folks to grapple with AI sentience in the next few years, just as they are doing currently with ChatGPT and its implications for instruction and the possibility of plagiarism. Why? Because they know tech. They are risk takers; they teach 21st-century skills; they are champions of copyright and citing one’s sources (numbers 1, 3, 2, 4, and 8 on the infographic).
In 2014, the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction did its most recent survey of the 295 school districts concerning school libraries and how they were staffed, i.e., was there a school library in each school in the district? Who staffed the library—a certificated teacher librarian, a certificated teacher, a paraprofessional, or some other type of support staff like a technology person? The survey gathered information about 1372 schools and published the following:4
Designated school library facility?
total unique responses
Buildings with 1 or more full-time
Para-professional / support staff
Buildings with 1 or more part-time
Para-professional / support staff
The survey results didn’t look good then. Fewer than half of school libraries had a certificated Teacher-Librarian. Now, the number of buildings without librarians, notably elementary and middle schools, has grown, as have the number of districts without any certificated librarians in any schools. In fact, in 2019, Spokane schools cut all T-L positions, despite 73 years of research overwhelmingly demonstrating the positive impact school librarians make on academic achievement and literacy.
Besides advocating for students, T-Ls are having to advocate for themselves. Every time they talk to a student, a staff member, an administrator, or a parent, they are making the case for a certificated Teacher-Librarian in the school. But that is only one voice, mighty as it is, and T-Ls need us to add our voices to theirs. Declare your own Teacher-Librarian Day, Week, or Month in your child’s/children’s school(s); take pictures and call the press. Lobby your school board members; go to school board meetings and ask pointed questions about library staffing and funding; write letters to the editor; go to Olympia and lobby your local legislators; if you’re a member of a civic organization or active in your school’s Parent-Teacher organization, hold an event celebrating your Teacher-Librarians and call the press. Raise your voices. (At the end of Feb, 2023, OSPI released a statement that it will be doing an updated survey of school libraries.)
In celebration of Teacher-Librarians, in anticipation of a National School Librarians Month in March, National Book Month in September, and in support of the current monthly foci, the reader-reviewers of the Puget Sound Council invite you to READ THIS BOOK!
My Own Way: Celebrating Gender Freedom For Kids adapted by Jay Hume, illustrated by Joana Estrela
Grade level: K-3
Reviewer: Craig Seasholes, retired and inspired Teacher-Librarian
This colorful picture book, first published in Portugal in 2020, features rhyming text that invites conversation: "Girl or Boy?/ What brings you joy?" / "Pink or blue?/ It's up to you." Illustrations in bright colors with distinctly gender-neutral children going about a variety of everyday activities. "Boy or girl? None or both?/ It's your heart that matters most." This bright and cheery affirmation of gender identity is a great addition to family and early elementary classroom discussions. "So if you're ready/let's all say/I will follow my own way!"
Smile, Sophia written by Skylaar Amann, illustrated by Sawyer Cloud
Grade level: K-3
Reviewer: Jacob Schmitt, Briarwood Elementary
Sophia doesn’t smile much. It’s not that she is unhappy; she just smiles when she wants to! Sophia is very passionate about dinosaurs and is determined to find dinosaur bones in her backyard. So, when she finally finds “the majestic mandible of the Megalodontis scowlosaurus,” you can imagine the smile on her face! Although it is not explicitly mentioned, this book will benefit students on the autism spectrum. So often, these students are told to give eye contact and smile when they themselves have not found a reason to do so. Not to mention, the interest in dinosaurs may also resonate. This is a great book for normalizing this behavior and similar dispositions.
The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the end of Slavery in the United States written by Alliah L. Agostini, illustrated by Sawyer Cloud
Grade level: K-6
Reviewer: Christina Torres, Brookside Elementary
The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States provides a historical timeline of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the installation of Juneteenth as a national holiday in the US in 2021. The history is well put together and flows very nicely. The last pages etch out a timeline and the author shares her history with Juneteenth growing up. Bright and colorful illustrations depict various events in US history creating visual links to so many important events.
Where We Come From written by John Cloud, Shannon Gibney, Sun Yung Shin, Diane Wilson; illustrated by Dion Mbd
Grade level: All ages
Reviewer: Paula Wittman, West Woodland Elementary
Four authors collaborated to create this richly interwoven text on heritage. Reminiscent of the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyons, this book shows a wide breadth of human experiences. It starts with the unifying beginning of all humans coming from the same astronomical and biological past, then exploring the unique histories of the four authors—one a native of Mdewakanton descent, one from Korea, one of African American and Irish roots, and one of Irish and Scottish descent. Weaving together cultural and historical facts, this poetic text explores diversity and similarities across the human experience. In the main text, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the voices of the different authors, but back matter includes more information to support the different pages and to specify which experiences are linked to each writer. The illustrations are varied in style and clearly show the differences in setting and time. Also included are a pronunciation guide, a short essay, further reading, and a selected bibliography. This would be an excellent teaching text with many applications, but it should also appeal to individual readers.
Once I Was You—Young Readers Edition: Finding My Voice and Passing the Mic written by Maria Hinojosa
Grade level: 6-12
ISBN: 978 1665902809 0062872050
Reviewer: Stacy Wright, Alderwood Middle School
Maria Hinojosa describes herself as always crossing borders. Born in Mexico and raised in Chicago in the 1960s and ‘70s, the journalist tells how she embraced her Latina identity as both a witness to and a participant in history. Even before Hinojosa was a citizen, she was an activist—from helping to end her school’s rule that girls could not wear pants, to attending protests with her siblings—all things that would increase the visibility of Latino people in the media and beyond. The first part of the memoir shows Hinojosa’s view of historical events during the civil rights movement through her Latino lens. Providing eyewitness access to history from an underrepresented viewpoint, this part of the book should be required reading for students. The second part of the book is about Hinojosa’s life in high school and college, where she developed her interest and expertise in Latino issues worldwide.
The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School written by Sonia Reyes
Grade level: 9-12/YA
Rating: Highly Recommend
Reviewer: Stacy Wright, Alderwood Middle School
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes follows the life of Yami and her family. After a family decision to switch Yami and her brother Cesar from public school to Catholic school, Yami decides she thinks it best not to be known as the gay kid at her new private school (she was outed at her last school). Yami has had practice hiding her sexuality because her family does not know she is queer. Adjusting to a new school, being gay, being Mexican, making friends, missing her dad who was deported after protesting at a social justice rally, and watching out for her brother who is working through some things himself—readers will cheer for Yami even as they worry she takes on too much. The author includes a warning that the book contains racism, homophobia, immigration, and suicidal ideation and hospitalization. YA—good for middle school—includes tough issues and language. Nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.