What’s your number?

I’m # 6,502 to sign the petition asking the Obama administration to ensure that every child in America has access to an effective school library program.

An effective program should include highly qualified staff, and equitable access to resources that support and further develop learning in and outside of the classroom. This should result in a variety of resources: databases, internet access, tech tools to support projects as basic as word processing or more complex like editing a film or creating a robot. Magazines and periodicals that support classroom learning and student interests, and books in a variety of formats: fiction and non-fiction, hardcover and paperback, paper and electronic, words and graphic novels, dystopian and fantasy romance. People develop so much in the years 4 – 21 and having the ability to explore the world through books and other library information sources broadens their experience. I haven’t even touched on the social/creative outlets a lot of my students find in our library by playing chess, Apples to Apples, puzzles, and other games, or participating in book clubs or an open mic coffee-house.

My student library aides must take a mid-term, and one question I ask is what they have learned so far this year as an aide. The responses I get are sometimes what you would expect, “I’m learning how to be better organized,” or “I’m learning where to find books in the library.” But I also get answers that let me know the student really is growing while being a library aide. This week, one student wrote in their response that they are learning forgiveness this year as a library aide.  This person started out in a rough spot, and we have all moved past that spot and get along very well. It warms my heart to know that this student sees this. Another student wrote that they have a huge lack in social skills. Working in the library has helped this person develop social skills in dealing with fellow aides and library patrons. It has given them confidence in their senior year and it will be something they take with them after graduation.

My library aides are just a small part of my job as a school librarian. Education has a big focus on data right now, and I think there is a need for careful data collection and analysis to see what “Education” is doing right. After a while, though, data can become just a number, and some higher-ups lose sight of the individual attached to each piece of data. If something you do is hard to put into the terms of data, such as a library aide learning about forgiveness or social skills, that piece gets lost when looking at the firm data that makes up the big picture. It is impossible to connect these two student experiences to whether they pass their SOL tests or graduate on time because so many other measurable variables can be connected: teachers in the classroom, the curriculum, grades, test scores. I may know, without a doubt, that a student is graduating as a more developed person from our school because of the library, but no measurable/standardized test exists to prove it.

This is why when librarians ask for help in supporting our cause, it is a grass-roots movement. Signatures on a petition are our data that can be taken to President Obama. Each signature might represent a person who loves books and wants all children to have access to them whether rich or poor. Another signature is a person who remembers a librarian that changed their life for the better as a child, a teen, a college student, or even as an adult. One person might think of the stereotypical cranky librarian they have personally experienced, want better for children, and see the push for “effective school libraries” as a way to retire the cranky old and make sure they are replaced by the excited positive new (instead of not being replaced at all!).

So think about your opinion of school libraries: the positives and the negatives, the information they contain that reveals the past and opens the future, the hope that every student can become a reader if they just get introduced to the right book by someone who knows the book AND the student, the world of opportunities every student can access if the library has open doors and a knowledgable key master. I know it is annoying to create a username and password for the White House website, but if you agree with even a fraction of what I am saying, get over there and add your name to the petition.

Who knows, you might learn about other petitions you believe in and that account will continue to come in handy.

If you do add your name, come back and comment on this post to let me know what number you are.

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