D.c. Librarians Face An Uncertain Future (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C. School Librarians Face An Uncertain Future

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
Okay, we turn now from politics in Annapolis to politics in the District. Now, that Tuesday's primary election is over, it's back to work for the D.C. Council whose members have some tough choices ahead when it comes to saving and spending in the city, among them whether to fund the salaries of librarians at a number of D.C. public schools. Jessica Gould explains why some librarians are worrying about their next chapter.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

00:00:30
At Hearst Elementary School in Northwest D.C., a group of students gather around librarian, Elizabeth Vandivier, as she points a fan at small homemade houses.

MS. ELIZABETH VANDIVIER

00:00:40
That's pretty sturdy, don't you think? It's kind of like the brick house, isn't it? All right. Okay, you guys, no wolves can eat you tonight.

GOULD

00:00:49
These second graders have been reading "The Three Little Pigs" so Vandivier asked them to build houses of their own out of cardboard clay, toilet paper and tape to see how much wind it takes to huff, puff and blow their structures down.

VANDIVIER

00:01:02
Well, I see some movement in your chimney.

CHILD IN CLASS

00:01:04
No house, don't fall.

VANDIVIER

00:01:06
Oh.

GOULD

00:01:06
After all, she says, "The Three Little Pigs" is all about vulnerability. Something that's been on her mind a lot in recent weeks.

VANDIVIER

00:01:14
When I walked into talk to my principal, and I said, so do I still have a job? And she said, no.

GOULD

00:01:18
Earlier this spring, the school system distributed funding guidelines for the new fiscal year. And DCPS Chief of Staff, Lisa Ruda, says rising costs lead to some tough decisions.

MS. LISA RUDA

00:01:29
At the end of the day, we had to balance our budget. We had to make some tough choices. The library allocation at our smallest schools was one of the hard choices we had to make.

GOULD

00:01:39
Schools like Hearst with projected enrollments of fewer than 300 students no longer received a specific funding allocation for a librarian, a change from previous years.

RUDA

00:01:50
Most of them, in prior years, would've received a part time allocation.

GOULD

00:01:54
Meanwhile, the librarian position at all schools shifted from core funding to flexible funding, making it easier for principals to chose whether to pay for a librarians or not. In the past, most principals had to get permission to forego a librarian.

RUDA

00:02:08
Now, that doesn't mean schools didn't elect to keep Liberians. Let me be very clear about that. Let me also be crystal clear that it doesn't mean that we're closing school libraries. Many schools through partners, through parents, have found ways to staff their libraries.

GOULD

00:02:23
In fact, Capitol Hill Montessori, parent, Satue Hasaweb (sp?) , says school library supporters are used to pitching in.

MS. SATUE HASAWEB

00:02:30
Well, what happened was, on day one when the school opened, you have to imagine walking into this room and there is Mr. Weber, our dear librarian sitting behind his desk and there are no shelves and there are no books.

GOULD

00:02:43
So the parents applied for grants and skewered their shelves.

HASAWEB

00:02:47
We asked all the parents to go through their personal collections and donate books from their houses that they didn't need anymore.

GOULD

00:02:55
Hasaweb also makes regular trips to the Library of Congress which donates its surplus to school libraries.

HASAWEB

00:03:02
And we have a picture book here, it's called "Oliver Finds His Way," and another book called "Music Over Manhattan."

GOULD

00:03:12
Still, she says, parental involvement can't replace the work of a librarian.

HASAWEB

00:03:17
The librarian can turn a hesitant reader into an avid reader.

GOULD

00:03:21
Plus, Carl Harvey, President of the American Association of School Librarians says, running a library is about much more than books these days.

MR. CARL HARVEY

00:03:29
School libraries help teach the process of how you deal with information. And as we all know with the internet, new information is exploding everywhere. Kids today are really going to need skills and processes on how they deal with all of that information that they have.

GOULD

00:03:43
And he says, recent studies have demonstrated a relationship between librarians and literacy.

HARVEY

00:03:48
Schools that have strong school libraries and school librarians, positively impact student test scores.

GOULD

00:03:54
But research also shows the positive impacts of smaller class sizes, arts instruction and physical education. Lisa Ruda, says, DCPS officials worked hard to protect those priorities during the budget process.

RUDA

00:04:07
And in the end, we made the decision to maintain the staffing -- the classroom staffing allocation, to maintain art, to maintain music and to maintain physical education at the elementary school level.

GOULD

00:04:21
The story isn't over yet. The budget still has to be approved by DC Council, then Congress. And while some positions may have been cut, many principals have found ways to fund their librarians. Hearst Elementary's Elizabeth Vandivier is one of them.

VANDIVIER

00:04:35
We've took a look at our waiting list and we're able to show DCPS, really, I think we're going to get 300 students. And once that happened, my position went back into the budget and so I had a job again.

GOULD

00:04:45
For her, for now, it's a happy ending.

VANDIVIER

00:04:48
None of you guys are going to get eaten by the wolf tonight.

GOULD

00:04:54
I'm Jessica Gould.
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