Reaching out to the Legislature: Searching for Library Solutions Together

Staffing in school libraries has long been an issue in our school systems in New Mexico. From placing untrained paraprofessionals into librarian positions to schools completely removing certified librarians, our students have been short-changed for years. When I became a school librarian five years ago, I came with a background in public librarianship (Technology Services Librarian) and academic librarianship (Interim Director of a community college library). My training for these positions included coursework, exams, and extensive on-the-job training. When I moved to the school librarian position in a medium-sized high poverty middle school, I found out that what administrators thought my role was and what I thought my role was were two completely different things. My administrators wanted me to run the Accelerated Reader program and just make sure every student checked out at least one book a week. The library wasn’t used for research or studying, and students weren’t allowed to come to the library before or after school, or during lunch. That very position is what put me into an advocacy role; not for my position, but for my students who desperately needed literacy and study help.

When I became the District Librarian, I found out that our district had no training program in place for our elementary librarians. The elementary librarians in my school district are paraprofessionals and because we are a union district, their only qualification was based on years of service. This really bothered me, so I began working with the Director of Library Services to create a training and mentoring program. I created a website where I could add articles and information to assist the librarians in understanding not only how to do something, but why they do that. I began to hold half-day in-services for the librarians throughout the school year. The librarians in my district know that I have an open door policy, as do the other two certified librarians in our district.

Out of the twelve schools in our district, we only have three certified librarians, so I began to question the state statutes involved in hiring librarians in the schools. In my research, I discovered there is one small mention about certified personnel in libraries in the New Mexico Administrative Code. In H. (Primary & Secondary Education; Chapter 29, Standards for Excellence; Part 1 General Provisions; 11 Program Requirements; H Support Staff). It reads: “Support services. Districts and charter schools shall provide support service programs which strengthen the instructional program. Required support service programs are: library media, school counseling and health services.” This unclearly states that each district must have one certified librarian in their district, but this is not happening in all school districts in New Mexico.

The removal of certified librarians from New Mexico schools is troubling to many of us, not just because we’re worried for our jobs, but because we know it means New Mexico students aren’t getting the valuable services certified librarians can provide. In January 2016, the New Mexico Library Association converged on Santa Fe, NM, for our Library Legislative Day. While there, the school librarians had three issues to discuss: hiring more certified librarians, the management of the New Mexico GO Bond monies, and how testing is affecting our school libraries, mainly in our secondary schools. The Vice Chair of the ASL-SIG, Heather Christensen, and I met with several Senators and Representatives, including the representative from her district. While meeting with him, he was very open to our issues and how we have tried to solve these issues on our own, but stated we should meet with the Secretary of Education, Hanna Skandera. Representative Wooley was able to get us an audience with Secretary Skandera, to our delight, and we had a very open dialogue with her. She listened and understood that we were wanting to help our students, not ourselves. She did reply that budgeting would be an issue when it comes to staffing in the districts, but we replied it isn’t a budgeting issue, but rather a priority issue. If the New Mexico Public Education Department made a point of making sure school libraries are staffed with certified librarians, then the districts would find a way to implement this.

Heather and I made sure that Ms. Skandera understood we were not just sitting and complaining about not having certified personnel in place. We had applied for and received a grant from ABC-CLIO and AASL to establish an online training and mentoring program through Because New Mexico is such a large state and we have had some lean financial times, we have a unique problem in getting our librarians together for meetings and trainings. We felt the meeting room would alleviate that issue. We asked certified librarians to step into a mentoring role and asked the entire membership what areas they felt they need the most help. With that information, we set up several mentoring groups and began planning workshops led by certified librarians.

We are still waiting to see what the Public Education Department will decide to do in the future. At least now we do know they have been educated about these problems and they see we are trying to think outside the box to meet the demands this ruling has placed on our schools, teachers, and students, not to mention the untrained librarians. This is not a problem that will be fixed immediately, but we are confident that the dialogue has been opened between librarians and the Public Education Department so we can all help our students be who they are meant to be. After all, isn’t that why we all love being librarians?

Author: Lorie Mitchell

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

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