Local districts cut librarians to help save costs

Effect on students' skills questioned

Cindy Bramson, librarian at Maumee High School, is losing her job after 33 years because of budget-balancing moves.
Cindy Bramson, librarian at Maumee High School, is losing her job after 33 years because of budget-balancing moves.

When school ends in a few weeks, Maumee High School media specialist Cindy Bramson will retire and, like so many school librarians, will not be replaced.

As public school districts across the country struggle to keep their budgets balanced, librarians are winding up on the chopping block -- a trend that some believe will hurt students and their ability to do the kind of research and writing expected in college.

"The bottom line is I consider school media specialists part of the curriculum. We are academic," Mrs. Bramson said. "It has long changed about it being just books."

School administrators don't disagree that certified librarians are beneficial. They simply can't afford the luxury.

As Perrysburg Superintendent Tom Hosler put it, "We can't cut third grade."

The Perrysburg school system went to two certified librarians in the district from four as part of $3.1 million in cuts it made in 2009. It has a librarian at the junior high and another who covers the four elementary schools with help from library aides.

At Pike-Delta-York Local Schools, the district's sole librarian is one of eight positions being eliminated next school year to make up about $600,000 of an upcoming $800,000 shortfall. The district, however, will maintain its school libraries so students can check out books and do research and other tasks, said Ken Jones, interim superintendent.

He said personnel is the only category in which schools can make budget cutbacks because other costs are fixed, and the hope is to affect students as little as possible.

"Nothing's easy about this," Mr. Jones said. "It's just tough."

In the last 10 years, many local school districts went from having a certified librarian in every building to maybe one for the entire district, said Debbie Reynolds, northwest Ohio co-director for the Ohio Educational Library Media Association.

Mrs. Reynolds is the lone librarian for the Findlay City School District, which had five librarians a dozen or so years ago before trims were made, she said.

Now the district has library aides at each school, and they are doing a good job, Mrs. Reynolds said. Still, aides are required to have only a high school diploma, and most lack the training to assist students and teachers the way certified librarians -- who are both teachers and librarians -- can.

"The problem is it's turning into a paradox because with our new common core standards, the expectations are on information technology and information retrieval," Mrs. Reynolds said. "Teachers aren't trained in that. We train the teachers in how to train students."

Deb Logan, the sole librarian for the Mount Gilead Exempted Village Schools in central Ohio, is a member of a national task force appointed by the American Library Association last September to address the crisis facing school librarians. She said that with the Internet, students are swimming in a sea of information and need to know how to navigate the waters.

"It's so easy to copy, cut, and paste, and so often the quality of that information is questionable," Mrs. Logan said. "A school librarian can work with students to build skills where they are evaluating that information, selecting the best of the best, looking at who's behind it, what is their bias. Librarians help them with how to take notes so you don't have to worry about plagiarism."

Librarians, she said, frequently are the most technology-savvy staff in a school and are in a position to help students become "master users and creators of information."

At Maumee High School, Mrs. Bramson said that among the classes she assisted on a typical school day was a biology class studying bacteria and viruses. She helped students conduct research and then showed them how to use online tools such as Museum Box and Glogster to create their projects. She hopes she's preparing them for college.

"The academic librarians are finding that students are not prepared to do the level of research required by their professors. They want to Google something," she said. "This wasn't necessarily so much of a problem when there were stronger library programs and more librarians."

Not every district has eliminated librarians.

The Sylvania system has kept a certified librarian in each high school and has two who cover the three junior high schools, said district spokesman Nancy Crandall. Elementary libraries are staffed with aides they call "resource consultants."

Toledo Public Schools bucked the trend when it was making budget cuts in 2010. Jim Gault, chief academic officer, said the district chose to eliminate its library aides and keep 15 certified librarians on staff -- nine who circulate among the 41 elementary schools and one at each of its six traditional high schools. The district also began relying on parent volunteers to help in the libraries.

"We had to make a choice, and our thought was our librarians are highly trained, they could help to train parents who would assist in terms of helping students pick our materials and learning their way around the library," he said.

Tim Staal, executive director of the Michigan Association for Media in Education, said there have been cuts the last several years in the number of school librarians in Michigan. The tough economy, the lack of a state mandate for school librarians, and a lack of understanding of their impact are among reasons behind the trend, he said.

The Bedford school system, which not so long ago had one librarian in each of its buildings, now has one for the entire district, said Superintendent Ted Magrum.

"You cut. You cut. You cut," he said. "It's to the point now that there really aren't other places to cut without having larger class sizes or closing a building."

The Springfield Local School District, in an effort to save money, has trimmed not only staff but also the time elementary students have to check out books. Libraries in high and middle schools are staffed full time, but those in the elementary schools are staffed 2 1/2 days a week, said Kathryn Hott, Springfield superintendent.

Elementary classrooms, however, have their own books to lend, Mrs. Hott said. The elementary school libraries are available all week for classes to use, although students can check out books only when a clerk there, she said.

"They're open and available, but we don't have a library clerk in there every day," Mrs. Hott said. "It's not ideal, but it's working for us."

In Maumee City Schools, Nancy Sayre, district spokesman, said that next year the sole remaining librarian will rotate among the schools, which will continue to have full-time libraries staffed with clerks.

For Mrs. Bramson, who's been a librarian in the district for 33 years, it's the end of an era, both for her and for Maumee High School.

"It hurts," she said. "It kind of hurts because you feel like you build a good viable library program and you think it makes a difference."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.