Why I Became a Teacher-Librarian #whylib

To celebrate School Library Month, teacher-librarians have been sharing their stories of why they went into the profession. These stories have resonated with me, so as April draws to a close, I’m taking advantage of a window of rare quiet time at home to share my story. To read other #whylib stories, check out this Why We Became Librarians Padlet.

I’ve always loved children’s books. After graduating from Willamette University, I moved up to the Portland area and worked for several years at a local independent bookstore. I soon began working in the children’s area of the store. My work ranged from ordering books, supervising other children’s area staff, helping coordinate children’s author visits and even dressing up as Sister Bear from the Berenstain Bears. After three years, supervisory positions were downsized and I chose to leave my position and work as a library assistant in a local elementary school.

While working as a library assistant, I was able to take evening courses at Portland State University in their library media program. The next year, I entered their Graduate Teacher Education Program full-time. This involved student teaching in the classroom and library and resulted in a teaching license and library media endorsement. That spring I landed my first job as an elementary teacher-librarian. I worked with K-5 students for 5 years before moving to a district librarian position. I’ve continued to work at the district level since 2003, except for my leave of absence last year during which I substituted K-12 in 32 out of 50 schools in my school district.

So, what compelled me to become a teacher-librarian beyond my love of children’s books? I strongly believe that libraries are wonderful equalizers. School libraries provide students from all backgrounds with access to books, technology and other resources. In addition, teacher-librarians develop an environment in which students explore their interests and curiosities, developing success as readers and learners. Teacher-librarians have an opportunity to impact every student in the school and see them grow as they transition from grade to grade.

I smiled when I read on NPR’s breaking news blog, the two-way, recently about a study from the UK showing that going to the library made people feel as good as receiving a small pay raise. I know this is true in my family, not only for myself, but for my two sons who often ask if we can go to the library and then check out a large bag full of books each time. Their development as readers is largely supported by having access to lots of books and being read aloud to daily.

Sharing my story has triggered more thoughts about the value of staffing schools with teacher-librarians. Stay tuned for a follow-up post with more ideas and information to consider.

OEIB Community Forum

The Oregon Education Investment Board is holding community forums throughout Oregon to gather feedback about the Education Funding Team’s “Summary Recommendations to the Governor” and to hear from community members about their priorities for public education. Meetings continue through October, with the last meeting scheduled for November 5th. For a schedule of meetings, go to the OEIB website’s “Public Outreach Meetings.” Input may also be emailed to <education.investment@state.or.us>. Follow the OEIB on Twitter: @orlearns.

I attended and spoke at the October 18th community forum held at the former Marshall High School campus. A short video from Dr. Rudy Crew, Oregon’s Chief Education Officer was shared. Several of his points tie in perfectly with quality school libraries: preparing students for the 21st century and a global world and being literate by grade five. The Education Funding Team’s Powerpoint from the 10/9/12 OEIB meeting was also shared, with “Strategic Investments” in the following areas:

  • Regional “Student Achievement Centers” to develop a representative corps of professional educators
  • “OregonReads”, a statewide campaign focused on early grade reading [see pp. 4-6 of the Summary Recommendations to the Governor for more information]
  • Supports for evidence-based programs that engage and empower parents and students
  • Innovative models for grades 9-14 to ensure essential skills for global success

Speaker after speaker shared concerns about overly large class sizes and cuts that have been made to important programs, urging the OEIB to help fix the funding issues for public education in Oregon. Oregon Save Our Schools distributed a document comparing “How OEIB wants to spend OUR money vs. How WE want to spend OUR money.” Oregon S.O.S. proposes adding back teachers, counselors and librarians in place of a statewide longitudinal data system and the money required to implement the “strings” of the NCLB waiver.

Each speaker was given two minutes, so I shortened what I shared at the OASL conference.

Good evening. My name is Jenny Takeda. As Oregon’s District Librarian of the Year, I decided my message about school libraries needed to extend beyond the library community.October is Information Literacy Month in Oregon.  With the ever-increasing tsunami of available information online, students now more than ever need to learn how to identify the best information resources, sort through that information, evaluate it for bias and reliability and synthesize it into their own work.Licensed school librarians are trained to equip students with information literacy skills so they can be independent researchers, critical thinkers and effective communicators using a full range of media and technology tools.  Unfortunately, due to ongoing school funding constraints, many Oregon schools have lost their school librarian positions over time.  According to the 2011 “QEM and Libraries” report published by the State Library, the number of licensed school librarians in Oregon had fallen in 2009 by 61% since 1980 .  That percentage is even higher today with cuts to school librarian positions in Salem-Keizer and Beaverton.The “QEM and Libraries” report also outlines the minimum criteria for quality school libraries.  These include licensed librarian staffing, library support staff and materials expenditures.  Only five of the 1,303 Oregon school libraries in 2009-2010 met these guidelines.  When school librarian positions are cut, the teaching of these critical information literacy skills often falls by the wayside because classroom teachers have so many other demands on their instructional time.Our students deserve high-quality school libraries as a piece of the complete educational environment preparing them to become our future doctors, scientists, teachers and community leaders.  For more information about how quality school libraries contribute to student achievement, please visit <http://learnforlife.info>. As the OEIB considers Oregon’s vision for public education, please include school libraries in those discussions and call upon experts from the school library field to be part of that visioning process. Thank you.

Reflecting Upon School Libraries

I was honored in August to learn I’d been selected to receive the District Librarian of the Year award from the Oregon Association of School Libraries (OASL) . As I reflected upon this award and the opportunity to share my thoughts with others, I realized I wanted to convey a message about the importance of school libraries and encourage community members to advocate for stable and sufficient funding for public education in Oregon. The following is an excerpt from a speech I presented at the OASL Fall 2012 Conference. I will send this to local newspapers, perhaps in a more brief form as a letter to the editor or guest editorial piece.

Oregon’s School Libraries
October is Information Literacy Month in Oregon.  What is information literacy?  It is the ability to find, evaluate, use and produce information effectively and ethically.  Why is it important for students to learn these skills?  As of June 6th 2012, CNN Money reported that: “The Internet now has 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses.”  How many zeroes does that represent? (37 according to a Wolfram Alpha search).  With the ever-increasing tsunami of available information, students now more than ever need to learn how to identify the best information resources, sort through that information, evaluate it for bias and reliability and synthesize it into their own work.
The following excerpts from the Information Literacy Month proclamation signed by Governor Kitzhaber explain the importance of these skills in education and in the workforce:

“Individuals who are comfortable working with the information resources available in the digital world are able to seek highly skilled jobs and compete at high levels in the global economy; and

“Information literacy is a crucial part of education, and if taught as early as kindergarten, will expose students to analytic and research practices that will better prepare them for changing technologies;”

Licensed school librarians are trained to equip students with information literacy skills so they can be independent researchers, critical thinkers and effective communicators using a full range of media and technology tools.  Unfortunately, due to ongoing school funding constraints, many Oregon schools have lost their licensed school librarian positions over time.  According to the 2011 “QEM and Libraries” report published by the State Library, the number of licensed school librarians in Oregon had fallen in 2009 by 61% since 1980 (from 818 to 319 librarians).  That percentage is even higher today with cuts to licensed school librarian positions in Salem-Keizer and Beaverton since that time.  This report also outlines the minimum criteria for quality school libraries as defined by the 2008 Quality Education Commission.  These criteria include licensed school librarian staffing, school library support staff and school library materials expenditures.  Only five of the 1,303 Oregon school libraries in the 2009-2010 school year met these guidelines.  When school librarian positions are cut, the teaching of these critical information literacy skills often falls by the wayside because classroom teachers have so many other demands on their instructional time.

Last spring a fifth-grade student in Portland spoke during a school board meeting regarding proposed budget cuts and asked “What did we do wrong to deserve this?” Susan Nielsen, Editorial Writer for The Oregonian, followed with a column in which she stated:

“My kids don’t deserve this. They deserve a full school year, a full week of Outdoor School and a full platoon of librarians, music teachers and counselors. They deserve the sun and moon and stars, or at least a school with a working drinking fountain.”…

“So this week, I’m searching for a more hopeful question for the grown-ups to ask. Instead of, “What did we do wrong to deserve this?” How about, “What can we do differently, today, to improve this?”

Educators working in Oregon schools have experienced budget cuts year after year.  It’s not about tightening our belts anymore because any “extras” have long since disappeared and there aren’t any notches remaining to tighten.  Rather than fall into easy rhetoric about schools not spending money wisely, please commit to spending some time volunteering in schools to experience first-hand how hard teachers and other educators are working to do the very best for students despite making do with less each year.

Our students deserve a quality public education.  They deserve sufficient and stable funding for public education.  They deserve moderate class sizes.  They deserve high-quality school libraries as a piece of the complete educational environment preparing them to become our future doctors, scientists, teachers, engineers, and community leaders.  I urge parents, grandparents, and community members throughout Oregon to advocate on behalf of students for the full educational experience they all deserve.  For more information about how well-funded and staffed school library programs contribute to student achievement and specific examples of high-quality school library programs, please visit <http://learnforlife.info>. This website also includes links to Oregon school library standards for students and citations for sources appearing in this letter.

Jenny Takeda
OASL District Librarian of the Year