Throughout my career as an educator, I have always been a firm believer that libraries open students’ eyes to the world around them by exposing them to a wealth of knowledge and creativity. Now, more than ever, students must learn early to be proficient consumers of information. Libraries play a critical role in the development of information literacy and technological skills. A library is a place where students engage in reading, writing, and research. They learn to delve deeper than surface-level knowledge. This is extremely important for today’s students who will be challenged by an information-driven workforce.
When I became the superintendent of East Baton Rouge Parish School System in July of 2015, one of my first goals was to return the system to whole child education. As a result, we made the decision to restore the position of certified school librarians to all of our district’s 70 schools. For many school districts facing budget cuts and funding issues, fully funding libraries has seemed a difficult choice. For our school system, the choice was an important one. Many of our students lack access to provide them with reading materials outside of the school. Often, transportation challenges prevent them from taking advantage of a public library system. Providing this access at the school level has mitigated that. This is a decision that I feel has a profound impact on the quality of services our more than 41,000 students receive from their schools.
Reading is a key element to student success. Students must be able to read to learn. Libraries afford students the opportunity to have access to more reading materials on their level and in their areas of interest. We know that given the opportunity to select reading materials that appeal to them, students are apt to become more voracious readers. In addition, librarians provide valuable support and resources to classroom teachers.
As a former history teacher, I am keenly aware of how exposure to literature can bring to life the stories of the past, and how the opportunity to research a topic and explore an area of interest can spark curiosity in a child. Biographies help students get personally acquainted with the characters who shaped history. Non-fiction pieces explore facts in great detail, while poems and fiction pieces capture the zeitgeist of a moment. Just as in history, English, science, math, and arts classrooms all stand to benefit from integration into the curriculum of quality source materials provided by school librarians.
Strong libraries raise student achievement. Research has consistently shown the correlation between a robust library and student performance. As we work to help teachers raise standards for students, libraries are an important element in that strategy.
I am hopeful that the AASL Distinguished School Administrator Award will allow us to continue to spotlight the importance of school librarians to the educational process and further cement the East Baton Rouge Parish School System’s commitment to a robust system of school libraries. We have outstanding leaders like Susan Gauthier, our Director for Library Services, championing our libraries. I am grateful for the recognition for our schools, and hope it will challenge others to explore opportunities to prioritize and creatively fund support for school libraries.
Author: Warren Drake, 2017 AASL Distinguished School Administrator
Superintendent for East Baton Rouge Parish Schools.