Schools should not dispense with qualified library teachers any more than they would eliminate math or science teachers in tough economic times, State School Board members said Friday.
Although they sympathized deeply with schools that have sharply curtailed or eliminated library services because of budget constraints, the board accepted eight recommendations that would require schools to meet accreditation standards for media centers.Schools that don't meet the required standard for accreditation by having a certificated or board-approved library media specialist will be put on a warning status. Personnel in libraries without certification will be expected to undergo training and meet standards, under the board's recommendations. Many school libraries now are run by untrained aides.
The board also suggested asking the state to authorize a study similar to that being conducted for higher education libraries to determine the depth of the problem in the public schools.
The matter of where to get money to finance the needed improvements - estimated at up to $33 million - was put on hold until next month when the State Office of Education begins budget considerations.
"This is not a question of money but a question of meeting standards," said board member M. Richard Maxfield. Only a small percentage of the state's elementary schools meet accreditation standards, and 30 of the state's high school's fall short of the requirements of the North Western Schools Association, which accredits Utah's high schools. The state sets its own accreditation standards for elementary and junior high schools.
The board's Curriculum and Supportive Education Committee made the recommendations after hearing a second gloomy report on school media services. In its September meeting, a serious gap was shown in school library services, and Friday's report expanded on the nature of the shortage.
Schools have tended to target library services for cuts when budgets don't cover all their needs, said Bonnie Morgan, state curriculum specialist who has directed the review of school media services. (The lack of a library specialist at the state level was one of the problems the committee identified.)
Visits to schools indicated that "kids are not learning library skills where certified personnel are not available," Morgan said. Many teachers with special training in media services have returned to the classroom because they fear their library jobs might disappear as cuts continue.
School library collections are in sad shape, said Mary Beth Clark, also of the state office. She displayed several tattered specimens that have been long outdated for their content.
In today's information age, the ability to access information is critical to children, said Dr. Adrian Von Mondfrans, Brigham Young University education researcher.
He described a research project in the Provo area that has linked school and community library services to expand the resources available to children.
Cache County also has created a comprehensive system among public schools, community libraries and Utah State University, said Steve Zsiray. The board approved the concept of such cooperation for all the state's schools.