“If America can increase funding for libraries and librarians, I can only think that America has found one important way to rebuild itself.” -Stephen Krashen
Stephen Krashen, along with many other educational scholars, insists that investing in our libraries and librarians is crucial to building a strong and just America. Research points to high quality school libraries and librarians as key to high achievement for students, especially those from families struggling economically. But when budgets are tight, libraries (or “media centers”), librarians, and media center paraprofessionals can too frequently be perceived as unnecessary costs in schools.
The Clarke County School District joins others across Georgia cutting funding for media center paraprofessionals. But most people may not even know what a high-quality media center and media center specialist do for student achievement, much less what the job of a paraprofessional is in the media center.
So what does a media center paraprofessional do?
A media center paraprofessional does research-related activities. She or he assists students, teachers and parents in finding books, resource and materials. She also pulls books supporting standards-based lessons for teachers, leads instructional centers during lesson, and assists in creating resource lists and developing the media center collection to meet the needs of students and teachers.
A media center paraprofessional carries the heavy burden of maintaining the media center collection. She or he shelves hundreds of books each week; processes, labels, and shelves new materials; repairs damaged books and materials to keep them in use; inventories all books and materials; creates inviting displays of new materials; and discards unsalvageable materials, runs a variety of reports important to the maintenance of the media center, and tracks overdue notices.
A media center paraprofessional is a supervisor. She supervises the library while the school library media specialist teaches, participates in mandatory meetings or repairs technology. And while the librarian/media specialist coaches students for exciting events such as the Battle of the Books or the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl, the paraprofessional takes the lead to make sure the media center is open and available to students and teachers. She works one on one with students, assists with small group instruction when classrooms have lessons in the library (some librarians see thirty or more classes each week), and she supports students while the media specialist focuses on collection development, writes grants for more materials (thousands of dollars of grants were written by Clarke County media specialists last year) and plans inservice training for teachers.
If the media center paraprofessional has any spare time given her or his extensive responsibilities with students, teachers, and materials, she or he also provides critical technical support for teachers. And outside the Media Center, they help to supervise and support students all day during breakfast, lunch, car, bus, or hall duty and in computer labs.
Cutting media center paraprofessionals from the Clarke County School District – or anywhere else in Georgia – is risky business. Beyond losing the most basic hands-on contact and support of children, youth, and teachers, this loss could result in limited implementation of initiatives for 21st Century Schools. These educators are central to a school’s ability to provide technical support and professional development for teachers.
Maybe folks don’t care about that fancy-sounding initiative, but they might recall that special feeling you get when you find those just-right books and wait patiently in line to check them out for the week, or that perfect software program or website for their project. The daily work of the media center paraprofessional makes sure that the school library is still that extraordinary place where books, materials, technologies, and all kinds of fascinating resources are displayed to pique students’ interests and support teachers’ learning and teaching. And just as important, they provide encouragement, smiles and comments on your latest great finds.
Public library usage is up across the State of Georgia, something our state can be proud of. Economic times are difficult and having access to information and resources is an important goal for any democratic society. Cutting funding for school libraries in this critical time of making sure all students have access to the materials, resources and technological innovation they need to be the best they can be just doesn’t make sense. Surely, there are places to cut the budget that wouldn’t impact so directly the daily lives of children and teachers.
Let’s make sure children have access to the best public school libraries now and help them build library habits that will positively affect their achievements in school and their experiences in life. And as young children and our youth are building strong habits, we adults can invest in our libraries inside and outside schools – one important way to re-build our communities and invest in a better society.