Voices from the Library

Educator and Student Stories: The Benefits of having Libraries Staffed with Licensed Librarians

Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression can affect a student’s ability to concentrate in class and form relationships with peers. The group uses literature to learn self-care tips and see characters who help students "grapple with whether or not one’s family history determines one’s destiny.” – Anita Cellucci, licensed librarian at Westborough High School, who with counselor Ceil Parteleno collaborated on a bibliotherapy program to help students learn coping skills.

“At the beginning of ‘book talks’ I always ask students if they currently think of themselves as readers. In some classes, no hands go up, so I explain that there is a book out there for everyone. They just haven’t found it yet. Or, if you don’t love reading for pleasure today, you may find that you love reading when you are 20, 40, or 60.” – Erin Dalbec, licensed librarian at Newton North High school, who conducts ‘book talks’ with English classes at all levels.

“The library is a place to learn about new things. You can be doing your homework or read books about topics you’re interested in, and maybe get a better handle on the topic. Maybe you find a new genre to read or maybe you find out you love Renaissance art. I want to intern as a librarian because of the difference I can make in students’ lives, especially at various grade levels. I love that I am able to help them find a book that engages them and encourages them to read more in the future.” – Marisa Proia, a student at Newton North High School who is president of the Student Library Assistant Club (SLACers) and decided to intern as a school librarian.

“Many of the buzzwords in education today encourage ‘student-centered,’ ‘self-directed,’ and ‘personalized’ learning. School librarians have been doing that type of work forever! We meet students where they are and assist them at the point of need, encourage their independent interests and provide them with guidance to help them grow beyond where they can go in a class that’s tied to a particular curriculum.

“For advanced students, students who are self-motivated in their learning and students who are looking for extra support outside the classroom, we are always there to help. For example, a Haitian student at my last school, who was also a member of the book club and who read avidly to improve his English, used to come in all the time to check out books on grammar, vocabulary and writing. He once told me he thought he’d died and gone to heaven when he arrived at our school from Haiti and found so many books and resources in the libraries! In Haiti, they had to pay to use the internet in cafés and did not really have access to books unless they paid for those, too.

“Another student at that school became interested in the Beat poets, a topic that is not usually taught in a high school curriculum. With my guidance, he did a self-study of major authors and works on that topic. Another student expressed an interest in being a screenplay author, so I purchased a book for teens about writing screenplays. He borrowed it for a long time and actually produced a screenplay later that year.

“At my current school, a seventh-grader returning a book on how to draw comics recently told me he used it for a class assignment to create a comic retelling an event. He told me he knew that book would help him and that his final comic was much more detailed than any of his classmates were, thanks to following the guidelines in the book. That book was on the shelf because a librarian took care to provide the resources to help students in all areas of the curriculum and knew how to select materials to best help students at that age.” – Sue Doherty, licensed librarian, Needham Public Schools

“At the preK-to-eight level, having a well-funded library program has a huge impact on my students and colleagues. I have a generous school budget that is supplemented by funds from my annual PTO-organized book fair — an event that is profitable enough to represent a full 25 percent of my total budget. With these funds, I’m able to provide my school community with a wide variety of resources to meet different needs. Elementary school databases such as PebbleGo and PebbleGo Next supplement the access we have to Encyclopedia Britannica through the Massachusetts Library System, allowing us to begin teaching students how to access safe, credible information to support research skills and information literacy from kindergarten onward.

“At the middle-school level, the ABC-Clio databases support our social studies curricula in grades five to eight. We also participate in the Commonwealth e-Book program through MLS, which expands my print collection of approximately 17,000 volumes to thousands more eBooks and audiobooks, providing more access to books in formats that best meet the needs of my students. My students also have access to a thoughtfully curated and diverse current print collection that supports their development as independent readers and helps them identify their interests, whether that be the latest Dog Man graphic novel or a book about raising pet snakes.

“The other critical component of my program is my assistant, who works with me 19 hours per week. She is responsible for handling tasks such as preparing new books for circulation, repairing damaged books, notifying families of overdue materials and processing payments, as well as for interfacing with our circulation system vendor to troubleshoot issues. She also oversees my volunteer program (both student and parent) by training volunteers and providing them with tasks to do after we coordinate with each other, and she assists them with shelving as needed. The fact that she is present to take care of these vital and time-consuming tasks means I am able to spend my time creating innovative lessons and collaborating with my colleagues.

“The final component in providing my students with a high-quality library program is having access to professional development. Our contract allows for five professional days during the school year and three paid days to do work individually or over the summer with colleagues. We also have a set amount of contractual professional development funding to defray registration and attendance costs, and a parent education foundation that supports attendance at national conferences through a competitive grant process.

“All of these pieces come together to create a strong, vibrant school library program that meets the needs of students as they grow and develop from kindergartners learning their ABCs to eighth-grade preparing for the rigors of high school. My students receive innumerable benefits by having regular access to a certified school librarian and a well-resourced program, but this should not just be dictated by ZIP code. All students in Massachusetts deserve the same.” – Maya Bery, licensed librarian, Carlisle Public Schools

“Two of the biggest advantages that I see in running a well-funded high school library are access and flexibility, and the key to achieving both in our high school is having two incredible full-time library assistants. Without the support of these paraeducators, who handle everything from basic circulation to in-depth original cataloging and supervision of student workers, I would not be able to collaborate with teachers to prepare materials for upcoming research projects, create LibGuides for our digital resources, work with students one on one on a research question, spend time researching new potential resources for teachers, or plan and hold after-school workshops.

“Having library assistants gives me flexibility in how I spend my time and allows me to focus on how the library can best serve student learning, support the curriculum and develop new resources, because I know the day-to-day activity of the library is well taken care of. Perhaps most critically, students' own access to the space and library services would be significantly reduced without their presence. With paraeducator support, we're able to be open to students before and after school for close to 10 additional hours per week, as well as being open to students throughout the academic day even when I am teaching or doing a classroom visit.

“The impact of funding on access and flexibility goes well beyond the services we're able to offer with adequate staff or access to the physical space itself. It also means that students can access information through a variety of different mediums and at a variety of different academic levels. We serve a student body that ranges from students taking college courses to new ELL students still learning basic English literacy. With funding for databases, we’re able to supplement what the state provides with additional academic databases and electronic book collections that enable more in-depth research of the kind they'll be asked to do in college, as well as access to databases designed for newer readers.

“Students can find the right resource for them on our LibGuides platform, which not only gives students access to all our digital resources in one organized and easily accessible space, but also prepares students to use the same platform they'll use if they choose to go on to college. In addition to digital tools, it's important to me that we are able to purchase print resources that support that curriculum without sacrificing high-interest fiction or high-demand periodicals. Again, this comes down to funding. I don't have to choose between recent award-winning fiction and something fun that students are asking for. I can get both! Funding for audiobooks has also allowed us to subscribe to services such as the Commonwealth eBookCollection and provide Kindles for students to check out, ensuring that every student is able to access reading in a way that works for him or her. It also means that I am better able to support our English and social studies departments.

"In short, access and flexibility are everything! Every librarian should be able to have the funding necessary to provide their students with the resources they need to succeed not only in high school but in preparing to be informationally literate and intellectually independent by the time they graduate. Every school should have the ability to provide its students with a rich informational toolbox to support their learning!" – Ella Stocker, licensed librarian, Amherst-Pelham Regional High School

“I am the librarian at Dupont Middle School in Chicopee, one of three librarians in the district, and for most of my students, the first professional school librarian they have met. Chicopee is an urban, Title 1, Gateway district, with several schools (including mine) in turnaround status. The school’s library is vibrant and busy. In addition to my teaching schedule, classes coming in on the flex days and a high circulation rate, the library is also used after school for a homework makeup and peer tutoring program and an after-school club. I often hear comments from the students such as, “It smells nice in here” and — with a sigh of relief — “It’s peaceful!

“This year my assistant’s position was cut to part-time. It has become harder to meet the needs of students and teachers. We have increased the amount of technology in the school but decreased the amount of personnel needed to support the use of the technology. Currently a vice principal is wiring Chromebook trays, and I am making student IDs. These are jobs the library assistant would normally do. The lack of a full-time assistant in this school of 760 students has meant that students and teachers are getting less of my attention and expertise. I have to turn away students at recess. When I need to attend meetings, the phone goes unanswered, collaboration time with teachers has decreased, and displays get stale or are undone. I go to the classrooms less often, meaning less support for students. I cannot do readers’ advisory or help the ELL students select books when I also check out books and technology. Students and teachers are getting less than they deserve and need. Many studies have proven that a professionally staffed, well-budgeted and supported school library raises test scores, helps ELL students learn English and supports lower-income districts. It is shameful that my students do not have those advantages. It is an issue of equity." – Claudia Palframan, licensed librarian, Chicopee