Clearing the Shelves

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:00

City seeking waiver for school librarian cutbacks

Is the school librarian going the way of the milkman?

Despite a state mandate calling for a librarian in every school, New York City employs only 333 librarians for its 1,700 public schools ? and is seeking a waiver from Albany to exempt the city from the librarian-in-every-school requirement.

The DOE says that in a world of Google and ebooks, the need for traditional librarians is ebbing. "While libraries continue to be an important resource, the old model of a room full of books with a staff member managing the access is changing," said Devon Puglia, a DOE representative. "Schools are innovating and providing access in many different ways including rich classroom libraries, curated online research sites, and full online curricula."

The city's stance has prompted some uncharacteristically loud complaints from New York's librarians. "I'm furious," said Stephanie Rosalia, the staff librarian at New Explorations Into Science Technology and Math School in Soho. "The public perception persists that we shush people and dust the shelves, and this perception comes from people who don't know better what a 21st century librarian does. As an instructor, I feel like I've failed."

Rosalia said that at New Explorations, she considers herself more of an information technology instructor. It's not all about books, she said, although she does maintain a book collection and teaches kids to be enthusiastic about reading. Rosalia said that she creates lesson plans for grades K-12 at her school about how to access and dissect information. "Picture this," she said. "You assign a paper, and every kid jumps on Google and they all come in with this copied and pasted report. We teach them to think differently."

The United Federation of Teachers, the union that also represents librarians, has re-invigorated its efforts to file a petition with Commissioner John King about the lack of librarians in schools, and eventually take the issue to court, according to UFT representative Alison Gendar.

Sara Kelly Johns, the president-elect of the New York Library Association, said a decision on the city waiver may not come until the UFT petition is brought to court. She said she was surprised when news of an expected waiver surfaced, since she had just spent two days at a conference in Albany that looked at how resources like libraries and museums contribute to the new common core education standards.

Jody Howard, a spokesperson for Urban Librarians Unite, an advocacy group, said that with city budgets strained, librarians, along with music and art teachers, are among the first to go. "We are the one person besides the principal who knows everyone and what every student likes," she said. "Waive it? The idea of waiving it is short sighted. It's certainly cost effective to pay one librarian per school than to not have kids be college and career-ready."

Paul McIntosh, the librarian at Wadleigh Secondary School on West 114th Street, says he sees his job as inspiring students. "We go beyond the concerns of just the basic inquiry," said McIntosh. "It's going to be unfortunate that if this trend continues you will dumb down a whole populace of young people."

McIntosh said that he is concerned for his job, as are many of his colleagues. The librarian at Washington Irving Campus in Gramercy, who had worked there for almost her whole career, had to be bounced around from library to library this past school year as a temp. "Come this September, I may have to confront this issue, and if that's the case, believe me, I won't go quietly into that good night."