Librarians are teachers

Photo by Matt Lankes for the Center for Public Integrity

My first reaction on hearing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s plan to give classroom teachers across-the-board $5,000 raises was ecstatic! Finally, the importance of teachers in student achievement was not only verbalized, but also deemed worthy of remuneration by leading Republican Texas lawmakers. However, in perusing Sen. Jane Nelson’s Senate Bill 3, I quickly realized the omissions. The bill specifically defines the raise as intended for “classroom teachers.”

While I am 100 percent in favor of giving classroom teachers a permanent $5,000 raise, I know from my career in education that teachers depend on other school employees to be successful — employees who also deserve a salary boost. For instance, without bus drivers, students would not be present to teach. Without cafeteria workers, our children could not focus on school due to hunger. School nurses, custodians, office employees, teaching assistants, counselors, assistant principals, principals and librarians are all crucial to the success of a well-run school, and their work directly affects student achievement.

Librarians in particular are unfairly excluded from SB 3. First of all, librarians are teachers. In fact, in Texas public schools, librarians cannot be hired unless they have at least two years of teaching experience and Texas teaching certificates. In addition, school librarians must have a Masters degree or be working toward one to be hired. Furthermore, unlike counselors, principals, and assistant principals, librarians are paid on the same salary scale as teachers.

Beyond prerequisites, training, and experience, librarians serve as intellectual leaders on their campuses. They are not just "helpers" to teachers, but teachers themselves, teaching classes regularly, especially in the important areas of literacy, digital literacy, research skills and the use of technology. Keith Curry Lance’s intensive studies of Colorado, South Carolina and Pennsylvania schools prove a direct correlation between student achievement on state tests and the strength of school library programs. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at UCLA, showed in his multivariate studies that the presence of a library emerges as a consistent predictor of reading scores.

In spite of these and other studies, to say nothing of personal testimonies, school librarians have decreased in our nation in recent years by 20 percent. Furthermore, this decrease exacerbates inequity. According to a recent article in Forbes magazine:

“The shortage in public school librarian employment — which saw the most dramatic drop following the Great Recession of 2008 and hasn't recovered since — has hit districts serving minorities the hardest. Among all the districts that have retained all their librarians since 2005, 75 percent are white, Education Week reports. On the other end of the scale, student populations in the 20 districts that lost the most librarians in the same time comprised 78 percent students of color.”

Most importantly, school librarians are the literacy leaders on our campuses. Our vocation promotes reading as the key to educational attainment and lifelong learning. Librarians are masters at creating reading events, programs and incentives, encouraging children to read more. In addition, they demonstrate that reading is its own reward by focusing on choice and access to a variety of books that meet individual student preferences. Studies show that adults who self-identify as readers are more likely to vote, and volunteer at higher rates in their communities. The work of librarians reaches far beyond K-12 schools to building an educated citizenry with long-lasting protections for the health of our democracy.

In Austin ISD, our librarians volunteer on the important district advisory council at a rate much higher than their distribution throughout the district. They are leaders on their campuses as well and often in charge of not just technology instruction but the technology itself. Excluding school librarians from the pay raise bill is extremely unfair and ignores their true role — not just as classroom teachers, but as campus teachers. It will discourage our best educators from entering this crucial field, inhibiting student achievement in the future.

Sara Stevenson

Former public school librarian