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Essential, not expendable: School libraries look to change perception

(Erik Anderson – For the Daily Chronicle)
Librarian Deb Kreutziger checks out a book for juniors, Matt Baker (right) and Ryan Lindsey (left) Wednesday in the library at Sycamore High School in Sycamore. After Deb checks out the book she will begin the physical processing of three new books to put on the library shelves.

DeKALB – There are hundreds of teachers to serve the thousands of students in DeKalb and Sycamore school districts.

There are two certified, trained librarians.

As school districts across the state look for cuts anywhere they can be found, school libraries have been a common target as state law requires districts to employ only one trained librarian. State law requires that librarians be a certified teacher who holds a master’s degree in library sciences.

Districts can then choose to staff each building’s library with a full-time employee, paraprofessionals or no one at all, which Leslie Berg experienced firsthand.

Berg, certified librarian for DeKalb School District 428, said before she came to DeKalb in 2012 she served at Rockford School District 205, where there was a mass layoff of library employees, leaving some buildings with libraries in operation only a few days a week.

And even as the only certified librarian in DeKalb schools, Berg said it was refreshing to see a desire from district leadership to support its libraries even though financial circumstances make it difficult.

“DeKalb has a great focus on the future,” Berg said. “As a district, that vision is there, but it’s going to take time.”

Aside from Berg’s role at DeKalb High School, all other district libraries are staffed by paraprofessionals who Berg called well-qualified to operate a library. But budget cuts have made it difficult for many of those buildings to keep up with technology and basic resources.

Lynette French, who heads the library at Clinton Rosette Middle School, said most computers still have run programming from the 1990s and the budget continues to take major hits. When she started 15 years ago, she said the annual budget was anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000. Now, it is several hundred dollars.

But French said she still does the best she can to introduce students to proper research – the primary goal at her library.

“Kids at this age don’t even know where to begin,” French said. “I think it’s always going to be a very important thing for students.”

Libraries also play an integral role at the elementary school level.

Jan Bolander, who started with Sycamore School District 427 as a parent volunteer, was brought on five years ago to run the West Elementary School learning center. She said the learning center is vital to elementary students as it boosts their literacy skills and opens their eyes to new subjects and interests.

But like most librarians, she said it is hard to tell what role the center will play in the future.

“This is where the kids come to learn and explore, so I feel like it is the hub of our school,” Bolander said. “But our district is facing some budget challenges, so I just don’t know how I’ll be affected in the future.”

Berg said there are statewide efforts to promote school libraries and show they are an integral part of the student experience and not an academic supplement. She said a small group of state school librarians are promoting how libraries are making the transition to Common Core standards easier.

At DeKalb schools, Berg said she is in constant contact with teachers about curriculum so that she is able to offer resources to bolster classroom offerings.

“I think we’re still trying to change the idea that we’re just housing books,” Berg said. “We’re not seen at the same level of teachers. We’re viewed as more expendable, and we have to work to change that.”

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