Featherstone: If we forgo school librarians, we hurt kids' reading skills
All week, I looked forward to library time. There was a bee farm with an indoor glass case. Mrs. Brown, the librarian, always read aloud to us. More important, she made sure we had time to find our own books, and time to lie around on the cushions and read them.
She could be uptight. For weeks she wouldn't let me check out Bette Greene's "Summer of My German Soldier," a young adult novel she feared was "too adult" for a fourth-grader, but I wore her down.
In my childhood, school library time was about reading for pleasure. Our kids need this now more than ever, in an age of standardized tests, video games and overscheduling. In high schools, librarians have also historically taught research skills -- an endangered species in the age of Google.
Sadly, many kids are being denied these valuable professionals, and access to the reading spaces over which they preside.
This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that New York City's schools have been quietly scaling back on librarians. City officials estimate that more than half the city's high schools are violating state regulations that require schools to have a librarian. Many elementary schools also lack librarians or even libraries. It's not the principals' fault -- they are trying to stretch their extremely limited budgets any way they can, often to avoid laying off classroom teachers.
Rather than pressing the state to remedy this sad situation by increasing school funding, the city's Department of Education has been petitioning the state for a waiver on the requirement that each school have a librarian. DOE officials say they are looking for "flexibility."
When the people in charge use that word, it almost always means they want to do something that's not in the interests of their employees or communities. If you're at all concerned about our kids' dismal reading test scores, ask, Who is encouraging them to read for pleasure, or teaching them to read for research?
Our schools need more money, not waivers from perfectly reasonable requirements. We shouldn't be "flexible" about our children's literacy.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.