Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Public schools and libraries - one true pairing

Public schools and public libraries have had an intense and satisfying relationship since libraries first began.  Even when most libraries didn't have children's reading rooms or allow children to check out books, librarians brought books and booklists to classrooms.  After public libraries embraced the mission of providing space, furniture, books, and programming especially for young people, children used the library as a place not just as a place to study and check out homework resources, but also as a sanctuary from home and school, a third place where they could read whatever they wanted.

For decades, the Los Angeles Public Library has worked closely with schools.  The only public school district that serves the City of Los Angeles is the Los Angeles Unified School District, which actually extends far beyond the city borders to many corners of Los Angeles county.

The children's and YA librarians in our 72 community branches visit their neighborhood schools at least once a year to drop off flyers, chat with the administrative staff, make presentations in assemblies and classrooms, and talk at PTA and faculty meetings.  Dozens of classes from all over the City visit our Central Library's Children's Literature and Teen'Scape departments every month.

Because the huge majority of kids in our city attends an LAUSD school, we librarians pay close attention to any LAUSD news or change, as it will no doubt affect us.

When LAUSD voted last December to begin the 2012 school year on August 15 rather than the traditional "Tuesday after Labor Day," it threw us into turmoil.  Would we have to change our Summer Reading Club dates this year??  A month later, the school board voted to put that off a year, and we changed our dates back.

A few weeks ago, LAUSD announced that it was finally abandoning the Open Court reading program in favor of a program called California Treasures.  We've been living with Open Court for years, and regardless of how we felt about the heavily scripted program, it has shaped our collections (city wildlife books for third graders!  the history of medicine for fourth graders!); now we'll be working with a whole new set of assignments and themes.

And horribly, LAUSD continues to face huge budget shortfalls, which has led to hundreds of teachers being laid off.  This year, school librarians are being particularly hard-hit; next September, many schools will find themselves with no librarian at all on their campus.  This is devastating for teachers and students, and of course it will impact public libraries as well.  We've always heavily supplemented the school curriculum, but now we will be the only source of books for homework, beyond the textbooks that are supplied in classrooms.

Giving students and teachers the resources they need - books, periodicals, databases, computer use, homework centers, information literacy instruction - is one of our main missions at the public library.  It's a large part of what we do every day.  We take our symbiotic relationship with schools as a given.

And yet - schools often don't seem to know or care about our services, seeming to operate in a separate, complicated universe.  It seems obvious that teachers would want to know about and promote all the services we provide them and their students, and often they are our biggest fans.  But not always.  Why is it sometimes so hard to get schools - and the school district - to work with us?

I'll ponder this in an upcoming post - but feel free to comment now!

1 comment:

  1. It's heartbreaking to see the way that teachers have been shuffled around... or laid off entirely.

    Much to the delight of teachers, I used to do whole displays around Open Court themes... I remember the medicine for fourth graders unit well!

    Why is it hard to work with schools? I'm not sure either, except I know they have a byzantine level of bureaucracy to work with, and I think they just forget.