Voices

Opinion: Libraries are largest classrooms in a school. Staff them.


Judy Serritella was the Georgia State Library Media Specialist of the Year 2001–2002 and the National Library Media Specialist of the Year for 2002. 

In this guest column, she says Atlanta Public Schools would be making a mistake cutting its school librarians. 

Serritella taught elementary school, was an elementary library media specialist, a high school library media specialist, and for 10 years served as library media coordinator at the Georgia Department of Education. 

By Judy Serritella 

A great school library becomes the heart of the school and the center of the larger community. A great school librarian understands that kids can’t succeed without the support of parents, teachers, business partners and 21st century research and writing skills -- Caroline Kennedy 

Atlanta Public Schools is considering eliminating 15 percent of its library media specialists positions for the upcoming school year. Library media specialists are educators with the largest classroom in the school and if you think that all a school librarian does is shelve books, you are sadly mistaken. 

A 21st century library media specialist teaches students to access, evaluate, and use information not just as a student but as a life-long learner. Learning to determine what information is accurate and what are “alternative facts” is a skill library media specialists can clarify to students. Information literacy skills have never been more important than now. School librarians touch the lives of the students, the staff, and the community. 

The school library media program supports and strengthens the curriculum, bridges the digital divide, and puts state standards into action. The school library media specialist encourages reading for learning, reading for pleasure, and reading for life. 

The school library media specialist is a teacher, an instructional partner, an informational specialist, and a school library media program administrator. School library media specialists directly affect student achievement by collaborating and planning with teachers, teaching information literacy, designing assessment procedures, and providing supplemental curriculum material. 

Studies have been conducted for several decades in many states and those studies show over and over again that schools that gained librarians between 2005 and 2011 are significantly more likely to have higher advanced reading scores and higher increases in advanced reading scores (49 percent) than schools that lost librarians (33 percent). 

Library media specialists build relationships with their students and faculty, set high expectations and encourage students to remain in school and graduate, and create opportunities for at-risk students. Library media specialists create engaging and challenging lessons and promote reading. Important lessons don’t just happen in the classroom…the school library is a vital part of that learning. 

This proposed cut will be a detriment for APS and a major loss for Atlanta’s students. 

Former state Superintendent of Schools John Barge said, “Several national research studies have shown that schools with certified library media specialists experience in increase in student achievement scores. Students know that their school’s media center is an inviting and well-organized place where they can go to obtain assistance from knowledgeable professionals who are always willing to help them find resources they need to be successful in the classroom. Serving as experts in the GALILEO web-based virtual library, as well as experts in countless other areas, Georgia’s library media specialists open the door to thousands of valuable resources for teachers as well as students.” 

Library media specialists are committed educators who provide assistance to the classroom teacher by promoting the curriculum and creating special programs that increase the student’s academic success. To eliminate such a resource, would be a major step back for Atlanta Public  Schools. 

And as Albert Einstein said, “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Don’t eliminate this important resource for our students.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.