By Rep. Thomas Murt
In the 21st century, the need for successful research and accurate information is more profound than ever. With misinformation so prevalent in today’s media and society, the skill of recognizing precise and competent sources of information is critical and should be developed early in a child’s academic career.
Certified school librarians possess a vital role in guiding students and assisting them in developing these skills. Despite librarians’ critical importance, some school districts do not provide certified librarians in every school. Over the last six years, the number of certified school librarians in Pennsylvania has decreased 9%, and in the Philadelphia, only seven of 214 Philadelphia public schools have certified school librarians.
The lack of librarians within Philadelphia’s schools can be attributed primarily to inadequate school budgets and insufficient funding for public education. In the eyes of some misguided budget-cutting officials, the increased access to the internet diminishes the necessity for libraries. I have been discreetly advised that some principals in Philadelphia must choose between a certified school librarian or a certified nurse for their buildings.
All academic disciplines are crucial in our schools, but the decline in the number of certified school librarians has manifested exceptionally serious consequences. The benefits of a qualified and certified school librarian can positively impact a student’s trajectory and allow students to achieve their fullest potentials. As the decline in certified school librarians continues, districts might expect to see lower reading test scores compared to states that are equipped with more library assets and certified librarians.
A certified school librarian can contribute to improved standardized test scores. With Philadelphia ranking 16th out of the country’s largest 18 cities in terms of standardized reading scores, this improvement would be beneficial. Not only do librarians significantly and positively impact traditional academic achievement, they provide today’s students with a skill set that is especially valuable in higher education and the workplace.
The expansion of the internet offers many advantages to student life, but also introduces certain dangers. In order to take advantage of this resource, students must learn how to efficiently and safely obtain, study and utilize information. In addition to developing vital information and literacy skills, students depend on certified school librarians for advancing life skills such as critical thinking, communication, research and project execution.
Finally, students also frequently go to their certified school librarian for assistance with classroom assignments, group work, studying techniques and even for advice from a trusted adult. Librarians ensure the school library can always be a safe outlet for students and a quiet, open space for them to work, learn and grow.
The presence of certified school librarians benefits everyone. Unfortunately, school law in Pennsylvania allows the de-prioritization of school libraries despite their value in student development and scholarship.
To resolve this, my colleague, Rep. Mark Logietti, and I have authored a bill that would require all public schools in the commonwealth to employ at least one certified librarian. House Bill 1355 was referred to the Committee on Education on May 1 but has not yet moved to the whole House for consideration.
The main concern with the bill is the lack of funding for this initiative. My colleague and I believe that all school children should receive the best, most well-rounded public education possible. Certified school librarians are an invaluable asset in achieving this. So, let’s find the funding.
House Bill 1355 could ensure that all Pennsylvania public schools have access to a certified librarian, which would be instrumental in aiding student development and improving Pennsylvania’s standing in national education rankings. Ensuring that certified school librarians are involved in our children’s education is an investment, not an expense. ••
Rep. Thomas Murt represents the 152nd Legislative District, which includes parts of Bustleton and eastern Montgomery County. Grace Devlin and Emilie Vayner, of Lower Moreland High School, contributed to this article.