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What I learned from those phone calls (and where we stand now)

This past week, I attended two of three large capacity conference calls this week hosted by the U.S. Department of Education so that stakeholders might ask clarifying questions regarding the President’s FY2011 Budget for Education.

When Emily Sheketoff, ALA Washington Office Executive Director, asked a question about school libraries during the first call on educational technology on Wednesday, she was told that questions about school libraries would be addressed during the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) call on Friday, not   This seemed a clear message about perception.  We are not associated with the edtech people.

On Friday, during the ESEA call, the moderator noted the large number of email questions (mine among them, I hope) regarding school library funding.  The spokesperson clarified the fact that Improving Literacy for School Libraries will no longer be available.

The FY 2011 budget absorbs this grant program, along with a variety of others, into Effective Teaching and Learning for a Complete Education.

The FY2011 budget describes the competitive distribution process for the newly lumped together monies:

. . . the plan includes a restructuring of ESEA program authorities to fundamentally change how the Department operates by increasing the role of competition in awarding Federal education funds, focusing more on programs achieving specific desired outcomes, allowing for expanded State and local flexibility to achieve those outcomes, and reducing the number of programs administered by the Department of Education. For example, the reauthorization proposal would consolidate 38 existing authorities into 11 new programs that give communities more choices in carrying out activities that focus on local needs and that are achieving results. The new programs would emphasize competition, or an increased performance focus in formula programs, while ensuring that geographic location will not dictate results. These expanded funding streams will eliminate inefficiencies at the Federal, State and local levels, allowing grantees to focus on improving outcomes for students and allowing the Department to focus on providing strong support and directing funding to proven or promising practices.

After that clarification, Emily Sheketoff’s follow-up call again raised concerns about the place of school libraries in future education plans.  The spokesperson told Emily that her concerns had already been addressed.

They were not.

A number of worthy programs are earmarked in the current federal budget.  Libraries are not among them.

School libraries were also excluded from the edtech conversation.

And it is clear to me, despite what I suspect were the many clarifying questions sent to AskArne regarding libraries and information literacy, that no connection is yet made between the President’s very promising Proclamation of National Information Literacy Awareness Month back in October and school library information programs.  (As Buffy noted earlier this month.)

Where before we had a dedicated funding source from the federal government, allottments will now be part of a fund allotted to SEAs in a competitive way yet to be determined, allowing grantees to focus on improving outcomes for students.

The folks in DC do not yet connect libraries with information, communication, and technology literacies.

This is our fault.  We have not yet made the case.

We have to make the case now.  All of our programs need to be essential. All our programs need to walk the walk.

All our programs need to deliver high quality, 21st century, learner-centered service and instruction embracing the clear mission of ensuring that our students and staff are effective users [and producers*] of ideas and information.

Funding decisions will be made at the state and local level.

We have to make sure that our SEAs understand how school library information programs improve outcomes for students.

And we had better get ready because we are now clearly in for a competitive fight for funding.

And very unfortunately, we are pitted against many other worthy educators who also stand for literacy, who also improve outcomes for students.

And so my advice is that we have to get to work right away or we may find ourselves out of a job.

That would NOT improve outcomes for students.

We must make ourselves visible, relevant, integral to the educational missions of our schools.

We had better serve our client base–students, and teachers, and administrators, and parents–so that they understand how critical we are to the educational mission, or we will be out of a job.

We had better start making ourselves known in a positive way to principals, district administrators, superintendents, headmasters, and local legislators, or we will be out of a job.

I know we are working hard.  But right now there can be no excuses for not delivering the mission.

* (Sorry, but in 2010, I cannot live with a mission statement that does not explicitly include the word producer when it comes to ideas and information.)

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Cathy Nelson says:

    Thanks for sharing this. Grrrrrr. I will again begin writing my letters. Arne is not our friend.

  2. I am tired of hearing how we have to SERVE our clients. We have been serving them for years. We have been doing our job – WE JUST HAVEN’T BEEN GIVEN THE RECOGNITION FOR IT. We need to be more proactive is showing others what we do. We need proactive leadership who will be there to let others know how we DO improve outcomes for students and for the community. I think the misconception about libraries is that we have entered into a competitive world where information can be accessed anywhere nowadays, yet librarias are still somewhat seen as “old-school” places where you just go for a book. The FACE of the library has to change. We should focus more on the adveritising of what NEW LIBRARIES provide and then they will take see that we are very much technology oriented and provide MANY services. Maybe libraries need a new name, one that includes the word TECHNOLOGY in it?

  3. Naomi Mellendorf says:

    While I wholeheartedly agree with all of your assertions – “our programs need to be essential..need to deliver high quality, 21st century, learner-centered service and instruction…we must make ourselves visible, relevant, integral to the educational missions of our schools” — I’m convinced that strong or weak library programs are NOT the consideration at hand.

    In Illinois, outstanding library programs that “walk the walk” are being slaughtered. Administrations and boards of education are under tremendous pressure to cut budgets and they look at what’s required of them by LAW. They must staff their legally required obligations, and if they have the money, non-required positions are luxurious benefits that they’ll consider keeping. In Illinois, we have no state code legislation that requires one certified librarian per X (number of students or building or some quantified unit); therefore, it’s simple for the axe to fall on our programs. It is simpler for schools to eliminate programs that won’t upset the public too much. Music or art programs may not be required by law, but when they come under fire for proposed cuts, the parents get very upset and cause public relations nightmares for school districts.

    No one gets upset when libraries are about to be slaughtered. Why? Have we not done a good job telling the whole world what we do and how well we do it? Perhaps. More importantly, however, I think that an outstanding library program is so seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the school that one doesn’t conceive of it as a separate entity, like a music or football program. Like technology, when libraries are good, their services are status quo or an assumed way of life; when they’re bad, we complain loudly (technology) or don’t even know what we’re missing (libraries).

    I work in a school district with an outstanding, celebrated set of school library programs; I work very hard and do my job extremely well. Along with two colleagues, I’m still losing my job at the end of the school year and it has nothing to do with the quality and vitality of our programs.

    Naomi Mellendorf, Librarian
    Maine South High School
    Park Ridge, Illinois

  4. Thanks so much, Joyce, for staying on top of this entire federal funding issue. I am so upset that I am going to email my legislators and the President right now. We do need to make ourselves known in a much better way to those in power!

    Debbie W.

  5. joycevalenza says:

    My heart is breaking for you and your colleagues. How very sad for your learners! Please keep us posted on any changes or about any ways we might support you! I simply don’t know anymore how to respond.

  6. Gwyneth Jones says:

    Oh Naomi!
    Let me echo that shocked disbelief and heartbreak over what’s happening to you and in your district…that’s just right out!

    and as Debbie W said …thank you Joyce for letting us all know what is going on…for if not, we could turn around and find ourselves phased out!

    Agree Joyce!…..Next Steps people?! What should be our next steps?

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