It’s overdue. We need to tell the stories of how valuable school librarians are.
School librarian positions in Rhode Island were beginning to dwindle. Increasing numbers of elementary school librarians were covering two and sometimes even three schools every week. Budgets were being cut. The School Librarians of Rhode Island (SLRI) association was worried that the image administrators and community members held of Rhode Island public school libraries was behind the times. It was clear that the perception needed to evolve to match reality.
Knowing how impactful video stories can be, SLRI embarked on a project to create a documentary to use as an advocacy tool to show the value of school librarians. The film project was funded through a Kickstarter campaign, and two slightly skeptical, but curious young filmmakers took on the project. They created a beautiful film that tells the compelling stories of five school librarians and convincingly breaks down stereotypes and incorrect assumptions.
Kristin Polseno, one of the featured librarians in the film, expressed a common theme that drove the message of the project. “For a while there–we were stuck. As a profession we were trying to figure out how and where we fit into the changing landscape of education. How do we survive budget cuts in the age of Common Core and Google searches? But…we’ve figured it out! We’re back. And our roles are more varied and more important than ever.” Tasha White, another featured librarian, has the goal of making “library as cool as the gym class and recess.”
One of the most heartfelt lessons learned by creating the film is that school librarians touch so many students’ lives. They make a tremendous impact on students’ academic and personal growth, particularly in their support of disadvantaged students such as English language learners. The film also shows how essential the support of administrators is to the success of a library program and to job satisfaction and self-agency. As Brent Kerman, a principal in the film shares, “if they [school librarians] are valued and supported, they will reach out and walk around happy, and that’s going to impact the entire school culture.”
Last month after a screening of the documentary at the Warwick Public Library, librarians related their experiences of being used as substitute teachers in their schools. Many said they are regularly made to push into classrooms on a cart when the principal wants to use the library for something else. For most of them their book budget has been cut so many times it is non-existent or close to it. In some cases, the library was removed completely to a portable classroom, separate from the school, or to a small basement room. And in the case of two middle schools in Providence, the library position was not refilled after the librarian resigned or retired.
After seeing the film and hearing about the ever-growing hurdles that school librarians have to overcome, a school committee chairperson in attendance said she had “no idea” and defined her reaction to the film as “an eye opener.” She suggested we bring our story to a school committee meeting in the near future.
In fact, the positive response to the film by the greater public has been more than the film team had hoped. It has been aired on the RI PBS News weekly show in July and December. The film has been awarded an “Official Selection” of the Rhode Island International Film Festival and the Green Mountain International Film Festival. It will also be screened at the AASL National Conference in Salt Lake City in October prior to the Opening General Session.
SLRI hopes that the documentary will help people engage in ideas that will start a different conversation around the role and impact of librarians. To that end, SLRI is planning on presenting a screening of the documentary followed by a Q & A session to school committees across the state of RI.
For those who are wishing to view or share the film, it is available for anyone to use for advocacy purposes. There is a project landing page at SLRI’s website with links to the short documentary and to a film discussion and screening guide at rilibraries.org/Overdue.