Montanans Care About School Libraries
The Board of Public Education must know that the ARM 55 Recommendations are not right for Montana schools.
“If it is right that schools should be maintained by the whole community for the well-being of the whole, it is also right that libraries should be maintained.” - Andrew Carnegie
Andrew Carnegie was a wealthy man who made his money in steel manufacturing in the United States. He amassed a fortune. Carnegie then turned around and worked hard at giving his money away. In Montana, his fortune funded our Carnegie Libraries. He thought schools and libraries should exist to support the well-being of the community. Why is it today that we have politicians who seem to be working against both libraries and schools?
Recently, Ms. Artzen, our Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction, has recommended watering down one of the few minimum standards still exist: the ratio of school librarians and counselors to students. This ratio means that schools in every part of Montana have a professional staff dedicated to student success and well-being. The rules about the ratios are being discussed now. We should not lower the ratios and let library programs slip away from our schools.
School librarians are one staff position that serves the whole school. Montana students deserve to have access to a wide range of books and resources. They deserve to have a librarian to assist them in learning how to read laterally and how to conduct quality research. They deserve to have access to all types of books and all types of genres. Low illiteracy rates are estimated to cost US taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars each year and illiteracy in adults can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the country.
The school library is the one place where students can explore their interests. School libraries are the biggest classroom in the school where children are free to learn and engage with the fields of study that interest them. In addition, I'm concerned that “without a strong foundation of literacy and access to books as children, these students will grow up contributing to higher rates of illiteracy among adults in our country" (EveryLibary Institute, Crime and Libraries Report, 2018).
Superintendent Artzen supports local control and tries hard to cut her budget. However, her proposals if they go through will not only cost Montana money, it will rob Montana students of an excellent education, rob them of excellent librarians and rob them potentially of their mental health if we eliminate librarian and counselor ratios. In order to deliver the program standards that the Negotiated Rulemaking team has recommended – without ratios, one librarian could be left trying to serve 800-1500 students. If a librarian taught lessons for 800 students, they would have to plan 32 lessons per week with a class size average of 25- differentiating between grade and ability of their students. Those lessons are in addition to collection development, processing books, inventory, the planning of school-wide programs like I Love to Read Month, managing reading programs like Accelerated Reader and all the other items that Danielson Teacher-Librarian rubric measures. We would never ask a classroom teacher to cover every student in the school, especially in a school with 800 students- so why would we expect it from a school librarian?
Read the Montana Library Association's ARM 55 petition to the Negotiated Rules Making Committee
I meticulously went through all of the 1,189 public comments that the Office of Public Instruction provided me. I am convinced that I did not receive all of the comments. However, in the comments I did review, overwhelming supported maintaining school librarian and counselor ratios. These comments were provided by everyone from parents to business leaders, teachers, administrators, and librarians to simply concerned citizens. I have collected all the comments for your review. I must note I found one comment that asked what small schools were supposed to do if they could not fill their librarian position; the commentator was a member of the variance committee. Overall, every person who commented was against removing ratios. I also found a comment from I think a Superintendent who could not fill their position – who asked the question what they could do. I also noted one person wrote a short thank you. I did find a letter from several Montana State Senators questioning Ms. Artzen’s recommendations to change the ratios. It does not include letters to the Board of Public Education. If anyone wants to see those letters, I can send them to you.
Recently, thirteen members of the Negotiated Rulemaking Committee and the ARM 55 Task Force wrote a letter to the Board of Public Education expressing their frustration and disappointment in the process of revising ARM 55. Soon, we will be calling for you, yet again, to express your concerns to the Montana Office of Public Instruction. I have said this before, and I will repeat it – the Office of Public Instruction makes the final decision concerning ARM 55 revision including school librarian and counselor ratios. They do not have to accept Ms. Artzen’s recommendations.
I look forward to hearing from you all when our coalition campaign launches.
Montana Library Association 2022 President
Zip File of all 1,186 Public Comments (several PDFs)
Zip File of Letters to the BPE (several PDFs)
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