The state Board of Education on Wednesday adopted a simple resolution recognizing April as “School Library Month.” Then, New Jersey‘s top school librarian weighed in.
“I need to state for the record that many districts in New Jersey are eliminating this vital position,” Beth Thomas, president of the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, told board members after the vote.
Thomas said Jill Mills, the association’s previous president who received the same resolution last year on behalf of the group, got a layoff notice last week after 10 years in her Morris County district.
State Board President Kathy Goldenberg said she recognizes the important role school librarians play in the state and thanked Thomas for her testimony but did not offer any immediate promises or proposals during Wednesday‘s virtual meeting.
Disappearing jobs: School library advocates say districts facing budget cuts, increasing security costs and pressure to keep class sizes small often look to librarian positions as the first place for viable savings.
In Cedar Grove, the school board in March voted to eliminate the position of school library media specialist for all schools in the Essex County district in an attempt to cut costs.
“Although we have been made aware of cuts, this is the first time seen we have seen the position officially abolished per district policy,” Thomas said.
Thomas cited preliminary data from a national study that shows as many as one fifth of New Jersey school districts do not have a certified school media specialist despite the state administrative code mandating such a position.
Some districts have been able to bend into compliance by employing one certified school media specialist they designate as a district librarian, Thomas said. But in practice, she said, she’s seen one individual tasked with overseeing resources for 10,000 students in six different schools.
“It is difficult enough for one person to serve a building of over 1,000 students adequately and I’m not sure what they are able to accomplish being responsible for the facilities, collections and curricula of six buildings,” she said.
Library crisis: Tricina Strong-Beebe, advocacy chair at the NJASL told POLITICO in an interview in February the cuts to school librarian jobs amount to a “crisis” facing the state.
“I’m a school librarian, I’m doing my best but I teach nine grade levels, I’m exhausted,” Strong-Beebe said at the time.
She also noted the disparity in which students get access to librarians.
“Camden City has zero librarians whereas Cherry Hill has a thriving, awesome library standard” with one librarian in every building,” she said.
Thomas on Wednesday urged the state board and the state Department of Education to take action to protect school librarian jobs.
“I know that passing a resolution in support of something is typically cause for celebration, but I felt I would be remiss if I did not share the concerns of NJASL’s membership,” Thomas said.