What makes a great school library? So many important factors go into an effective school library program, but the key ingredient is often intangible; however, the students of DuSable High School in Chicago understand and are making sure their voices are heard through their actions. How does one quantify the feelings school librarian Sara Sayigh and other school librarians across the country engender in their students and former students? How does one define the humanity of education? Where do the pieces of being human, which make a student successful, fit in a high stakes testing world? Do school librarians and school libraries provide what matters to the individual? Do we give young people that sense of place, home, safety, belonging, thinking, and love? Reading interviews of the students from DuSable High School, these young advocates confirm that these are intangible truths found in powerful school libraries today.
Sara Sayigh’s students are protesting the announcement by school leadership of library cuts. This news is a reminder that, while the world is advancing at a rapid pace, some allow decades-old memories or the myth of misinformation to mar the present and future for our young people. Policymakers who continue to make the flawed decision to cut school library staff or to shut down library programs altogether harm the future of our children. Often those policymakers are uninformed about the research correlating student success to effective school library programs. Ironically, if those decision makers had done a little research, or asked their school librarian to do a little research for them, they would have found a plethora of data from valid sources. For example, impact studies to review before making a decision to affect a generation and future generations can be found compiled here* and here**. Memories are also a powerful thing. Adults allow themselves to be immersed in old memories and stereotypes of the school library and use those ancient memories as a tool for a flawed understanding of what is going on in school libraries today. But memories are ineffective and a poor barometer for today’s world. An adult’s memory cannot compare to the energy, emotion, training, technological troubleshooting, teaching, leadership, and programming planned, developed, and implemented by today’s school librarian.
The school librarian in the trenches today wears so many hats and accomplishes so much in a day, the average person would collapse in exhaustion and consider quitting after just one week. We school librarians do not quit. We embrace change, we accept new challenges, and we fight to do what we know is best for our students, staff, and community.
This is a fast-paced world where being a school librarian is challenging and confusing and varied due to the unique nature and needs of each individual community. I have traveled all over the country and parts of the world on behalf of school libraries,and often am asked, what makes a good school library? What should I be doing? A loaded question which is nearly impossible to answer for the simple fact that every community is different. Key factors can be found in the research, but how that looks and what your community needs in a school library and a school librarian might be much different than how it looks in my school and what my community needs. Additionally, what my community needs today is so much different than what it needed a few short years ago, which emphasizes the difference from the nostalgia of the past and the need for the library to constantly change and grow with the community. The school librarian never stops learning and changes with the times and the young students to whom we dedicate much of our lives.
As the new ESSA legislation confirms, our next generation of young people deserve and have the right to an appropriately staffed and well-funded school library. Thank you, school librarian Sara Sayigh and students of DuSable High School, for reminding us and policymakers what really matters. Young people deserve and have the right to free and equal access to pleasure reading and information resources in all formats, a highly qualified school librarian, a library program designed to meet the unique needs of the community, and a library–often the one, safe place in a school where all are welcome with open arms.
* Library Research Services: http://www.lrs.org/reports/
** School Libraries Work! 2016 edition: http://www.scholastic.com/SLW2016/