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Libraries are the canaries in the coal mine. This phrase is from our high school librarian, Kenneth Holmes. It refers to the practice of coal miners who used to take live canaries with them into the mine. When the air in the mine got foul, the canary suffered the effects first. When the canary stopped singing, the miners needed to be aware. When the canary died, it was time to leave!
I write with some trepidation, although the superindent has informed me that input is still appropriate regarding proposed cuts to district programs.
I feel Los Alamos taxpayers and parents have the right to know that if our school libraries are the canaries in the coal mines, the singing is growing faint.
The list of proposed school district cuts includes 3.5 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) in downtown administrative positions but two of these positions are being vacated by retiring administrators. Less obviously, the proposal includes 3.7 FTE library personnel. None of these people are retiring. These cuts will be devastating. This is particularly upsetting because librarians were present at all three community “Keep or Cut” meetings, and the words “cut” and “library” were never once used in the same sentence.
The first cut: Eliminate the LTS department. LTS is Library Technical Services, created more than 30 years ago based on a district commitment that librarians should be working with students, not cataloging and processing books. LTS has 2.7 FTEs. One is a “roving clerk” working one day per week at each elementary school. The remaining 1.7 FTE consists of one .5 cataloger/library technical support, one .6 cataloging secretary and one .6 media clerk.
LTS provides three services including cataloging, media collection and systems administration.
Cataloging is a highly specialized library field involving a detailed knowledge of MARC records, with dedicated fields, subfields and delimiters. Most of our site librarians are not trained in MARC cataloging, which is more effectively performed on a centralized basis. It has been my honor to serve as the district’s cataloger for the last 17 years.
Media collection involves selecting and circulating nearly 2,000 items to the district’s seven school sites.
Systems administration involves setting up and maintaining the SirsiDynix library program. This task requires a thorough knowledge of the system, how to modify it, how to troubleshoot errors and when to call for assistance. I am the district’s only fully-trained SirsiDynix system’s administrator.
The second cut: “Eliminate one elementary librarian.” The benchmark for excellence in a school library program is one full-time, licensed librarian per site. Los Alamos Public Schools has had full-time, elementary librarians before we had full-time principals, nurses or counselors.
are full-time because school librarians have dual roles – running a library and teaching. The teaching includes weekly lessons for each elementary classroom, collaborating with teachers, hosting extra research sessions as scheduled, troubleshooting AV equipment and other tasks.
Technical Services removes any clerical assistance elementary librarians receive. It deprives them one day per week of cataloging and administration assistance from LTS, requiring them to perform all clerical, cataloging and administrative tasks on site. The reduction of one elementary librarian requires each librarian to accomplish the normal five-day workload, plus the two added days of work during a four-day work week.
Elementary school library materials budgets are half of what they were 24 years ago. The average age of a book in our school libraries is 33 years. Libraries serve as a convenient target for budget cuts when times are tough, but are often forgotten when times get better.
Reading, and love of reading are still essential skills in modern education, and books remain an essential tool. Elementary school is when libraries and librarians can most affect young learners.
The district is in grave financial straits, but the school board has reserve funds to “rescue” our library programs (as well as restoring other cuts), if they understand that it is important to taxpayers and parents.
The board will vote on proposed budget cuts at 6 p.m. Thursday during a work session at Piñon Elementary School.
Board member e-mail addresses are available on the Los Alamos Public Schools Web site.
I consider this the most important letter I have written in my professional career.
Holly W. Adams is the LTS cateloger and LAPS
library team leader.