Library leadership starts at the top


SELLING AN IDEA starts with talking it up. And salvaging Maryland's public school libraries starts with putting the word out: The state's children deserve better.

The State Board of Education meets today, and public school libraries are on the agenda. This is good news.

We just hope there will be more than agreement to study the problem. We hope someone will be talking up the cause of better libraries. And doing something -- now.

Why are libraries so important? Because no better advertisements exist for lifelong learning than books. And there's no better method of keeping and sharing those books than a strong, central school library.

Yet in 1998-1999, for all reporting public school libraries in Maryland -- elementary through high school -- only 17 percent met the state's minimum collection-size standards.

And only about half of the libraries had a certified librarian.

It's a dismal trend that will take substantial resources and broad commitment to reverse.

So today is the starting point. Here are three things we'd like to see the board do:

Send clear and frequent messages on the vital role of libraries. Don't worry about annoying local systems by telling them how to do things. The truth is, so many systems have been without strong libraries for so long, they aren't sure what to do.

Content standards, for example, need to contain examples of how a certified librarian can help teach units on everything from poetry to the periodic table. Maryland School Performance Assessment Program measures should also determine how effectively libraries are used to teach problem-solving, decision-making and reasoning.

Join forces. Librarians' role in shaping curriculum is often optional or ineffective. They need to be at the table, from the state level to individual schools, reinforcing the library's instructional role.

Give libraries a guaranteed spot in the budget. The board should recommend a line item to fund a certified librarian in each school. As long as principals are choosing between reading teachers and librarians, the librarian is at risk.

An aid formula for public school libraries is also needed to put dedicated funding into each system and reduce dependence on grants, which come and go and take good programs with them.

Today's meeting is open to the public, so state residents can talk up this issue, too. It's at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center, 2301 Argonne Drive in Baltimore. Libraries are on at 4:35 p.m., so get there early.

While it may be the state's role to provide a quality education to its children, it's the role of parents, educators and activists to make sure the message is clear: The state's children deserve better.

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