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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 8|No 6|February/March|1999

A Brave New World
of Padlocked Libraries
and Unstaffed Schools?

by Jamie McKenzie

(About the Author)

Foolhardy administrators and politicians with little notion of the weaknesses of the Internet have been cutting book budgets, eliminating the jobs of thousands of librarians and replacing them with aides, computer teachers or technicians.
Networks provide little benefit to schools unless there is a strong commitment to information literacy and the staffing which makes such literacy an every day reality.
In some extreme cases, the school library is padlocked most of the week and opened only a few hours now and again to allow for the circulation of books. Where leaders don't protect the library and information literacy programs, the networking bandwagon is seriously damaging the knowledge resources available to our young.
While it is difficult to measure fully the damage being done to libraries, library programs and information literacy resources across North America, this article will provide examples and data, much of which was submitted as a result of an inquiry posted on LM_NET. The story of declining funding and the padlocking of libraries goes unmentioned by most of the "legitimate press" as stories of Internet stocks and futures dominate their pages and screens.
The evidence falls into two categories. Some sent facts . . . numbers of positions cut, dollars diminished, and buildings unstaffed. Others sent stories of decline, destruction and despair. This article begins with a table reporting data as well as personal stories. Names of sources have been protected.
While it is beyond the scope and resources of From Now On to conduct a full study of this issue, it is hoped that the "legitimate press" will take a more careful look at what is happening to libraries and library programs in Canada and the United States as a result of this continent's ill-considered affair with networked information.
State, Province, City or Region
Reduction of Librarians & Budgets
One town in middle America The middle school library is padlocked most days. Once a week an aide opens the doors and greets students who wish to sign out books.
One town in Arizona One library media specialist writes . . .

"A district with some budget problems, but not a "poor" district by anyone's standards, opened a high school, and two or three elementary schools just this past year, and did not hire media specialists for any school. They put in aides, and hired "computer people" at the district level."

British Columbia Provincial budget cuts combined with site-based decision-making led to the elimination of hundreds of teacher librarian positions, especially at the primary level during the past five years. Recently, recognizing the implications of such lay-offs, the provincial government has passed standards requiring teacher-librarian staffing at all schools and has added budget money to help fund these positions, but reversing the damage is a big challenge.
Colorado The Library Research Service site at provides extensive data regarding the library staffing shortfalls in Colorado schools. One report claims that 33 per cent of the secondary schools fail to meet what seem like minimal staffing standard of a half time library media specialist in schools with enrollments of 1000 and less, and a full-time specialist only in schools with enrollments exceeding 1000.
(Go to the reports)
Philadelphia One library media specialist writes . . .

"We are hopeful that future planned initiatives by our Superintendent will improve things, but presently there are 113 elementary schools without full time librarians, when six years ago there were only 39 (180 elementary schools total). The majority of the high schools and middle schools have lost their support staff. 98% of the elementary librarians and 20% of the middle school librarians have been forced to move from flexible scheduling to covering regularly scheduled classes."

One town in Iowa One library media specialist writes . . .

"The district had 5 buildings -- 3 elementary, a junior high and a high school. I was in the Junior High building exclusively, where I had full responsibility for the Media Center and the computer lab. There was a district technology coordinator, but I was in charge of the day-to-day running of the computer lab. I was well received by students and teachers and was able to forge ahead into areas as yet untapped by the previous media specialist. In February of 1998 (remember, this was my first year at the school district), I was told that my position was being cut because of budgetary considerations. The superintendent had every intention of giving oversight of the Jr. High library to the High School Media Specialist, with a full-time aide actually running the library. When I was told of this "plan", it was already a "done deal". No conversation, no opportunities to express my dismay over this turn of events."

Another town in Iowa One library media specialist writes . . .

"Three years ago in Feb. my school reduced the number of library media specialists from two to one. They did hire one more full time library aide."

One town in Nebraska One library media specialist writes . . .

"An elementary media specialist was reassigned to teach physical education part time. The district coordinator was reassigned half-time to an elementary building to cover for the first person. The retiring media director was replaced with a director of technology."

One town in Texas One library media specialist writes . . .

"My budget has not been cut in recent years, and for that I am grateful. However, I now have to make it stretch to pay for electronic resources as well as all other things it used to cover. My "share" of our district's SIRS subscription is $800. I have to pay about that much for Dynix fees. My share of EL subscription is around $1200. I also pay $300 for SIRS Discoverer. That amounts to around $3000. I still buy periodicals, supplies, keep up some microfiche, and of course books. Where do I cut? Periodicals first...then books. Also, I no longer buy any videotapes, filmstrips,
etc. for teachers to use, leaving this up to various departments if they want to purchase, and I really watch consumption of supplies and try to conserve. Definitely my acquisition of reference and circulating books has been impacted."

The picture in Maine One library media specialist writes . . .

"Maine has not unpadlocked their libraries since the budget cuts in the 80's. We have aides servicing many school libraries. Now that they are adding the newer technologies, they are hiring more technology people. I think the tug of war in the two states I have worked (MA and ME) is between library media specialists and technology people. It is not a cooperative relationship, and this relationship does not have any vision for the future. My other observation is that because teachers have only seen libraries run by paraprofessionals, they have not a clue that anything is wrong with the picture."

Ontario Provincial budget cuts have seriously threatened the jobs of teacher librarians and many are finding themselves replaced by aides or computer teachers.
The picture in Nova Scotia One teacher librarian writes . . .

"Unfortunately, Nova Scotia, Canada is a leader in the reduction of library staff. In our infamous teachers' contract of 1994 a" Letter of Understanding" was included that stated "Effective August 1, 1994, School Boards may transfer teachers presently carrying out librarian duties to classroom duties and replace said teachers by library personnel who do not have teacher certificates. It is also agreed that any vacancy determined by a School Board for staff performing library functions may be filled by employing persons who do not have teacher certification." The result was the elimination of teacher librarians in almost all Boards in Nova Scotia, and their replacement by technicians, assistants, etc. Only one Board in this province has any number of teacher- librarians and then, in most cases in the high schools, often working without clerical support!"

One county in Florida One library media specialist writes . . .

"Last year, my aide was cut from 6 periods to 3 periods and is frequently used as a substitute also.

Item: Last year, my book budget was $0.00. (This year it was restored, but it has not increased in the past 10 years or so, even though the cost of books has.)

Item: I have become the technology specialist for the school and when I need to be out of the library working on computers, the library is locked.

I am seeing in my county that the lion's share of the budget is going to technology. Everyone is so excited about this technology that traditional forms of learning are being shelved or relegated to the background."

A large city in Canada One third of the operating schools are staffed by full-time t-ls. Of these libraries, 9 are high schools which are generally understaffed with a 1.0 teacher-librarian component. Some had previously enjoyed a 2.0 to 3.0 component. Only one junior high school has full-time t-l staffing.

The remaining schools are staffed by full-time or part-time library technicians or with either part- or full-time clerks. Some schools are staffed by part-time classroom teachers.

In some places, the pressures to network schools are so intense that priorities are severely skewed in order to find the funding for the equipment. The hardware effort drains resources away from essential school programs and often leaves the school or district without the funding to provide a robust professional development program or sufficient technical support. Networks arrive with enormous appetites for dollars and staff time. Feeding the "network beast" becomes a preoccupation.

Mythology reminds us that the youth of Athens were fed to the Minotaur until Theseus found a way to slay the beast. While many of us can build a case for the proper installation of networks to support information literacy and the development of stronger readers, writers and thinkers, it is unthinkable to reduce funding commitments to books, libraries and librarians. These resources should be key partners in any program to show our students how to reason, solve problems and conduct research.


Related Resources
"Possible cuts irk public"
By Katie Wilson For the Camera - The Boulder News
"Will Libraries Survive?" The American Prospect no. 41 (November-December 1998): Geoffrey Nunberg, pp. 16-23 (
"Monterey" XConnect, September, 1998. Vol. 1, No. 2. Adam Corson Finnerty - an article about a decision by the California State University Chancellor to build a new campus in Monterey Bay without a library.
Adam Corson Finnerty is Director of Development for the University of Pennsylvania Library.


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