Thursday, September 22, 2011

Unbolt the chairs, but build the library

In a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, the superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools was quoted as saying unbolting chairs from the floor is the biggest change he's seen in schools' physical spaces, but "I wouldn't build another library."  Mary Wepking, School Library Media Coordinator at UW-Milwaukee SOIS, responded with this letter:

Dr. Thornton:

This letter is in response to your statement, with respect to MPS facility planning, "I wouldn't build another library." (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/10/11). The purpose of this letter is to inform you that this is an educationally destructive decision. Over 20 state-wide studies have been done that make a strong correlation between the presence of a funded & staffed school library and increased student academic achievement. Here are the findings of the Wisconsin study: . You and your administration need to be aware of this research.

Increasing technology integration may have some educational benefit; school librarians in well-funded and expertly managed schools are the community's technology leaders. Creating more flexible learning environments also seems to be an effective trend  good school libraries have been providing  collaborative spaces for group learning for years.  MPS needs to be reminded that the school library must be the heart of the learning community. School librarians are the technology leaders, instructional partners, and innovators in individualized and group learning that will help to lead the school to success. Further, they are focused on the school's primary role -- teaching students to read and to think, and to enjoy reading for information and enlightenment -- goals that must not be abandoned.

If you went to school in the 60's, 70's, even 80's as I did, you may not be familiar with today's school librarian. I suspect that the majority of the MPS leadership falls into this category, unaware that both the role and the facility have changed. School librarians today are experts in both literacy AND technology, and in the perfect position to guide 21st century learning. MPS's choice to eliminate this valuable educator and important facility from so many schools is both short-sighted and ill-informed.

I urge you to reconsider your position and to provide your schools and school children with the valuable asset of a well-funded and professionally-staffed school library.


Mary Wepking, MLIS
School Library Media Coordinator

The opinions expressed here are my own.

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