Library Advocacy: Libraries ARE Important
When I was five years old, my father took me to the Escondido Public Library to get my very first library card. I remember walking in, my small hand enveloped in his, and feeling my breath catch. That moment when the doors slide open, the smell of the books, and the laughter of the librarians created a sense of reverence in me that was not unlike what a religious person feels when entering into a place of worship. Actually, it was exactly the same. This was my temple, my church. I’m twenty-five now, but my breath still catches when those doors slide open. Only now, there are far less smiling librarians. The cluster of check-out stands that once stood just behind those doors have been replaced with cold, metal check-out kiosks. A machine tells you to take your receipt. A machine thanks you. A machine has replaced librarians, but nobody thinks twice about it. Why is this acceptable?
Librarianship, also known as library science, has played a major role in America for centuries. The first library, which still survives today, was opened in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin and his Junto Society. The members of the society purchased the books themselves, and operated the library on a subscription base (“The Library Company”). This was the first step towards the education of the masses. Now appreciated and protected as a historical landmark, this building had such an incredible impact on the lives of the American people, and those that were not yet born. The Morrill Land Grant Act officially became a law in under Abraham Lincoln’s administration in 1862. Considered to be the cornerstone of the academic library, this act provided each state thousands of acres land, proportional to population (Mansoor, “Cornell’s First…”). From there, the employment and education of the masses increased. Universities and colleges began to rely on having a functional library on their campuses, creating the recognition of a need for them across the nation.
Finally, in 1887, Melvin Dewey founded the School of Library Service, the very first training institution for librarians (“Dewey Decimal…”). He was the genius behind what is commonly referred to as the Dewey Decimal System, which dramatically impacted the organization and function of libraries. Rather than being merely alphabetized, or even just haphazardly deposited onto shelves, books were now being arranged by a structured system. In this system, the books are organized by fields of study. Those groups are broken down into smaller groups, which are then broken down even further. Each section is assigned a classification number, beginning with 000 for Generalities. Each individual book is assigned its own “call number”, which acts as the book’s fingerprint, making it easy to find amongst the stacks. This system worked so well that it is still in place today and even taught to school children.
Despite the amount of work that goes into earning a degree in Library and Information Science, librarians are paid very little in proportion to the amount of work they do. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of librarians is approximately $54, 500 (“Librarians”). When compared to a study cited by the Wall Street Journal, in which it was concluded that the median annual salary for someone with Master’s is around $61,000, it is clear that librarians are grossly underpaid (Shellenbarger, “Graduate Degrees…”). Librarians go through extensive schooling, stay up-to-date on advancements being made in technology, and figure out the most effective way to communicate a (perhaps) complicated idea to the general public. The impact that librarians have on Americans as a whole is astronomical.
They Play A Vital Role In Society
To begin with, librarians play a key role in raising students’ test scores. The School Library Journal cites a study conducted by the Education Law Center, the Health Sciences Library Consortium, and the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, in which it was found that those students who had access to full-time, certified librarians scored higher on the PSAA reading tests than those who did not have access (Diaz, “SLJ Summit…”). Disabilities, language barriers, and other factors were taken into account, as well, without the results being affected. Furthermore, the School Library Journal maintains that “for several student groups that tend to experience achievement gaps—economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, Black, and those with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs)—Reading and Writing results are markedly better when those students attend a school with a librarian and library support staff, according to the research. In fact, they benefit more proportionally than the general student population” (Diaz). This was not the only study conducted, though. Jamie Helgren, LRS Research Fellow, and Keith Curry Lance, consultant at RSL Research and former Director of the Library Research Service, have cited several studies and projects done that proved the impact that school libraries and librarians have on student achievement.
One study from New York found that elementary schools with certified librarians had students that were more likely to have higher English Language achievement scores than those in schools with non-certified librarians. A study done from Ontario concluded that the presence of a school librarian was main factor of reading enjoyment for students in both third and sixth grade. Kachel also proved that students were not the only ones affected by the presence of certified librarians in their schools. In Idaho, teachers were three times more likely to rate their literacy teaching as “excellent” when collaborating with certified librarians (Kachel, “School Library Impact…”). School librarians are indispensable assets to schools in that they increase interest in reading, increase student participation in reading lessons, expand reading interests, and help students to become more discriminating readers. These factors all contribute to the increase in reading test scores by students that have access to certified school librarians, thus proving the effectiveness of libraries and librarians.
Academic success isn’t the only service that libraries and librarians provide, though. Librarians also encourage a love of reading, which positively affects other aspects of the lives of youth and adults, such as socialization. The Escondido Public Library offers, in addition to homework help, different literacy activities and events for children, teens, and adults. One example is the Love on a Leash, Paws for Reading event, during which young children read stories to a Golden Retriever in order to practice their reading skills. Literacy events for teens include the In BeT(ween) Book Club – Reader’s Choice, where teens meet at Barnes and Noble to discuss their favorite books of the year, and discuss what everybody should read next. For the adults, there are reading-improvement programs and book clubs. These events and activities not only work on encouraging an exploration of the literary world, but also work on honing socialization skills
How You Can Help
With a lot of budget cuts shutting down libraries around the country, many people are losing access to internet, free books, a safe place to be after school, and a positive shelter from the weather and harsh streets.
Voicing one’s opinion in support of libraries does add strength to the cause, but it’s essential that people remember the most important thing: get a library card! Libraries cannot operate without their patrons. Find a book to escape into, learn about something new, find one to read to your child, do research for school, study for that next exam, or simply relax in the quiet environment. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you visit the library. With a library card, a member of the library can check out numerous books, providing the patron with endless amounts of literary opportunities.
The position of librarian is one that has been around for hundreds of years, and has often been considered one that is worthy of great respect. Today, librarians are underpaid, overworked, and overlooked in comparison to other careers and career positions. Yet, it is the librarians that are helping our children to succeed, helping us pick out just the right book for our mood, and helping us find information we need. Libraries hold a reverence comparable to that of churches, yet rarely get the same respect. They provide a safe haven for school children, internet access for those doing research or job-hunting, and store vast amounts of information. So, the next time you are thinking of buying a book, why not stop by your local library first? As prolific author Ray Bradbury once stated: “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.”