Considering current conversations about budget cuts in education nationwide, budget committees, school board members and administrators are beginning to take a closer look at the effectiveness of school media programs. Are they worth it? Are they making a difference in the education of today's students? Can school media centers operate without a certified media specialist? Do students really need all those books with the increase in digital books and resources that are available?
These are questions that bring great concern not only to current media specialists but to recent graduates in school library media (like myself) and those seeking employment in the field (like myself). Many media specialist are also concerned about how the drastic budget cuts will affect their media budgets. The questions aren't going away and they must be answered. Some feel threatened by these questions. I believe now more than ever that media specialists have the opportunity to prove our worth and the value of school library programs.
Consider for a moment the technology, books and other media resources that are currently in place in most schools today. I believe that the true value in these resources is in how we use them. Without a trained staff in place to teach students and teachers how to use these resources, the resources are no longer valuable to the school. When informational resources are not available, it is our students who will ultimately pay the price. If we want our students to be competitive and successful in today's global culture, we must support them by making available current information resources and teach them how to use them appropriately. We need to be teaching them how to go about inquiry, how to evaluate informational sources, how to filter the information that they need, how to synthesize that information and how to share what they find in a responsible and ethical way. We need to be teaching students how to be safe and responsible with their digital imprints and online identities. And amidst all this technology, we need to be teaching them how to access and make use of print resources.
In addition to teaching these life skills, school media programs need to encourage students to read for pleasure. It has been said that readers are leaders. Students today have so many choices to fill their free time. Now more than ever, educators need to be intentional in our efforts to encourage students to choose to read. We need to communicate effectively through social media and in person to get them excited about reading. Our media programs should include casual book discussions, book talks and book promotions as well as blog posts and web links about new titles including a variety of genres, interests and reading levels.
Considering the conversations surrounding the recent school budget cuts, we simply can't afford to cut school library media programming or media specialist positions. While our schools continue to have increased class sizes and higher student-teacher ratios, state and national expectations for increases in student test scores and overall quality of education continue to rise. If we expect our students to succeed, we must support them and their classroom teachers through the school library media program.