Los Angeles school librarians must prove they are qualified to teach students if they want to save their jobs.

How will students learn key information literacy skills, and how will teachers get help with integrating digital resources into their instruction, without a full-time media specialist in their school?

That’s the question a national school library group has asked the nation’s second largest school system as it prepares to cut dozens of school librarians in a high-profile example of a trend that is occurring nationwide.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has issued an open letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) urging the district to avoid cutting school media specialist positions, which would leave thousands of students and teachers without guidance on digital content, reading lists, and research options, the organization says.

The letter, addressed to LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliott, Board President Monica Garcia, and all LAUSD board members, expresses concern over LAUSD’s current budget crisis and layoff notices that went to more than 80 school librarians.

“If the elimination moves forward, only 32 of approximately 700 schools will have full-time school librarians and only 10 will have part-time school librarians. This means that approximately 600,000 students will be deprived of one of the most valuable educational resources needed for students to compete in today’s 21st-century workforce—a school librarian,” wrote Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association (ALA), and Nancy Everhart, president of AASL.

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In a vetting process that has come to resemble an inquisition, Los Angeles school librarians must prove they are qualified to teach students if they want to save their jobs. (Editor’s note: For a riveting first-hand account of these events, click here.)

School librarians teach students how to use the internet and evaluate content for research purposes. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards “recognizes them as teachers, and their efforts can be measured to meet standards for professional teaching excellence,” Stevens and Everhart wrote.

The letter notes that classroom teachers and librarians work together to incorporate learning and research skills into the curriculum, and school librarians help students learn how to use technology to gather information effectively and make informed decisions—information literacy skills that are vital in today’s digital world.

“School librarians are there to guide students through the Information Age, and these things don’t come naturally,” Everhart said in an interview with eSchool News. “Kids know how to use Google, but do they know how to use the information they get back from Google?”

School librarians collaborate with educators, help to evaluate learning and teaching resources, and “teach 21st-century skills that students need in order to go out into the workplace,” she added.

If the district’s budget cuts are deep, some librarians might be transferred to classroom teaching positions after proving they are qualified to teach in a classroom.  But as the Los Angeles Times reported, LAUSD approves such transfers only if the employee in question has taught students for the past five years. This rule pits the school district’s attorneys against librarians who say they teach many students and many topics every day.

For more school library news, see:

School libraries pummeled as budget crisis worsens

School libraries key in teaching information skills

ALA issues guidance on showing video content in classrooms

Rethinking research in the Google era

The situation in Los Angeles has garnered national attention, but it’s emblematic of what AASL calls a national trend: School media specialist positions are being deemed expendable as districts continue to grapple with budget shortfalls.

On an advocacy page of its website, AASL has created a Google Maps depiction of communities across the U.S. that have eliminated certified school librarian positions or that require one school librarian to serve two or more schools throughout the week.

In Los Angeles, education advocates have protested the threat of severe cuts to the district’s budget.

Education leaders have asked the state’s Republican lawmakers to pass temporary sales tax increases that would help ease the pain of budget cuts. California Gov. Jerry Brown has said the state’s budget situation would force him to make drastic cuts to public schools.

The pink slips are the “ugly reality of the state budget” and a “direct result of the state’s refusal to make education a priority,” said Robert Alaniz, LAUSD’s director of communications.

Alaniz said LAUSD officials hope the governor’s budget proposal will place K-12 education as a priority, and they hope to rescind the termination notices.

Alaniz noted that although much of the media focus has been on librarians, budget woes and layoff notices are affecting teachers, school counselors, and other school employees as well. More than 7,000 pink slips have been issued to district employees in all, he said.

For more school library news, see:

School libraries pummeled as budget crisis worsens

School libraries key in teaching information skills

ALA issues guidance on showing video content in classrooms

Rethinking research in the Google era