NJLA President, Chris Carbone's Statement to Woodbridge School Board

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Good evening.  My name is Chris Carbone, President of the NJ Library Association and Director of the South Brunswick Public Library.

As the leader of a tax funded, local government educational institution, I understand the harsh realities of budgets, tax rates, making hard choices and setting priorities.

As the leader of NJLA, the largest and oldest professional association for ALL types of New Jersey libraries and library staff - our members recognize the value and importance of highly effective school library programs.  We believe that access to a quality school library/media center staffed by a certified school media specialist is a necessary and irreplaceable part of every student’s education.  And we know School Media Specialists are information literacy experts, uniquely trained and skilled to help all students develop reading and research skills.

Research on the value of reading, information literacy, school library programs and certified school library media specialists is extensive and clear.

Students in other Middlesex County towns such as South Brunswick, Sayreville, North Brunswick, and Metuchen enjoy the advantage of access to school librarians at all levels – K - 12.  

With your proposed budget, Woodbridge students will now be asked to keep up in the Information Age, without any access to a school library media specialist to provide information literacy instruction.

Information literacy education (which includes digital, visual, media, textual, and technological literacy) gives all students the inquiry based research skills to access, collect, and evaluate information credibly, accurately, and ethically and are best taught by  certified school library media specialists who have had specialized training to do so.

In a society growing more and more dependent on information literacy we cannot justify failing to educate our children in these critical skills.

And many schools are failing in this regard.

I would like to share that VALE – NEW JERSEY, the Virtual Academic Library Association and the Association of College & Research Libraries – NJ Chapter issued a joint paper last year on The Value and Importance of Highly Effective School Library Programs.   In it they stated “they see many college freshmen that are poorly prepared to conduct college-level research, requiring professors and librarians to spend more time than they should on basic skills”

NJ Colleges & Universities seek accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education which requires that students demonstrate information literacy skills

Nationwide - surveys of college faculty and employers show high levels of dissatisfaction with the academic preparation of students coming out of secondary schools.

A 2015 survey by the nonprofit education reform organization Achieve found that among College Faculty, 82 % were dissatisfied with the Preparation of High School Students in critical thinking skills. 80% were dissatisfied with comprehension of complicated materials.  

Among employers, 62% reported public schools were not adequately preparing students to meet the expectations of the workplace.

Achieve. (2015). Rising to the Challenges: Views on High School Graduates’ Preparedness for College and Careers.

In terms of 21st century skills and information literacy we need to be doing much better, not eliminating programs.

Research also clearly shows that schools with high test scores also have highly effective school library programs which ensure their students will have the best chance to succeed in the 21st century.

Woodbridge test scores are generally at or below average for the state.

I invite you to visit the school libraries in my town of South Brunswick, a high achieving district with high test scores.  The school library program is flourishing and the district enjoys a celebrated and award winning partnership with the public library.  In October the district’s media centers were the focus of a bus tour by Rutgers University to showcase high functioning school libraries.  School libraries that are supported are thriving areas of student learning, professional collaboration and development and community partnership.

The NJ Dept. of Education has been working for many months developing the state’s plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA Federal legislation that replaces No Student Left Behind.  Working with stakeholders from agencies and organizations throughout the state, themes from stakeholder input have just been released on new measures for NJ School Report cards.

The stakeholders found that a critical and interdependent requisite for student learning and success is ACCESS to resources – such as access to highly Effective Staff including librarians – and ACCESS to facilities including libraries and media centers.

Lastly - In a response to a community member’s questions on this issue this week, Superintendent Zega stated that  

The books in the media centers are rarely if ever checked out.  Many of the resources are obsolete.   He also stated that the district has not had media specialists in our elementary schools for almost 10 years.   I think the correlation to these two statements is obvious.  It is a cause and effect.

He added that Students can access web-based information on their personal devices.   But what of those students that don’t have personal devices or generous data plans?  Who is teaching them how to safely find and evaluate quality information using such devices?

The Superintendent also stated “By repurposing our media centers into common learning areas, we wish to create spaces that students can use to collaborate and learn together in a less structured environment.  We hope that they will use our media centers more if they become more useful, attractive places.”  I can assure you, the students would use the media centers more if they had grown up with a background and exposure to certified school library media specials – if they’d had friendly experts who could encourage reluctant readers with books matched to their interests and reading levels.  If they were taught how to properly seek information, and experience the school library as a place to explore and discover knowledge.   

And finally it was stated that the district will “still be promoting language arts and information literacy with our classroom teachers” and you use “classroom libraries” - while the district teachers are professional – they are not trained in information literacy as a school library media specialist is  -  they are not experts in children’s literature, and it is unlikely the collections are current, balanced and offer various points of view.

The Woodbridge Township School District’s latest strategic plan states the district needs to provide 1) great teachers and 2) continuous, effective, engaging instruction.  General classroom teachers are not prepared to be great substitutes for certified media specialists – and its clear Woodbridge Township is not providing continuous, effective or engaging school library programs or instruction in information literacy.

Your core beliefs from your website include that:

Every child deserves our best every day,
We are here to help children,
We need to give our children what they need.

I hope you will give the students of Woodbridge Township the library services and information literacy curriculum that they need to be competitive and successful in 21st century America.

The savings in your proposed salary budget for these positions is $275,000.  In your total operating budget of $214M, that is approximately 0.14% savings.

It seems this is not about the savings, but the repurposing of these spaces.  And for that I applaud you.  I hope you will work with your school librarians to turn them into the thriving media centers that they should be.  Please look at other school districts and see what is possible.

We strongly urge you to restore these school library media positions. We believe you will never regret this decision. With your support, the results could be Woodbridge students who are skilled in using information to meet the challenging demands of the future for college and career, who are on a more level playing field with other students from around the county, state and country, and better prepared to thrive in the 21st century.

Thank you.

Chris Carbone, President, New Jersey Library Association

Presented to Woodbridge School Board on May 2, 2017