+ Librarians Do More Than Shelve Books

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Motoko Rich has written a NY Times article on 21st-century librarian skill-sets, featuring a New York public school librarian.

Ms. Rosalia, school librarian at PS 225 in New York City, recently urged her students to use caution when doing online research.  Students were investigating  allaboutexplorers.com, which (unbeknownst to the children) had been intentionally salted with false facts.

Exclaimed Nozimakon Omonullaeva, 11, “It says the Indians enjoyed the cellphones and computers brought by Columbus!  That’s wrong!”

This was an essential lesson about the reliability of information — or lack thereof — found on the Internet.  And this is one of the many essential lessons Ms. Rosalia was teaching.   

“The days of just reshelving a book are over, ” says Rosalia.  “Now it is the information age, and that technology has brought out a whole new generation of practices.”

Some librarians teach children how to develop PowerPoint presentations, or how to create online videos.  Others get students to use social networking sites to debate topics from history or comment on classmates’ creative writing.

These librarians increasingly teach students the crucial skills they need  not only in school but also on the job and in daily living.  And yet they are often the first casualties of school budget crunches.

The largest school district in Arizona began phasing out certified librarians from most of its schools last year.  The Spokane, Washington school district cut back the hours of its librarians in 2007, prompting a parental outcry.

More than 90 percent of American public schools have libraries, but less than two-thirds employ full-time certified librarians.

School librarians still fight the impression that they play a tangential role.  Ms. Rosalia frequently has lessons canceled at the last minute when classroom teachers schedule sudden prep sessions for standardized tests.

A recent class on Web site evaluation was abandoned mid-session when the fifth-graders had to practice for a talent show.

“You prepare things to proceed in a logical sequence and then here comes a monkey wrench,” says Rosalia.  “We are teaching them how to think.  But sometimes the Board of Ed seems to want them to learn how to fill in little bubbles.”

Before Ms. Rosalia arrived at PS 225, the library was staffed by a teacher with no training in library science.  Some books in the collection still described Germany as two nations.  Others referred to the Soviet Union as if it still existed.

Rosalia weeded out hundreds of titles.  Working with just $6.25 per student per year — compared with a national median figure of $12.06 — she acquired volumes about hip-hop and magic and popular titles like “Oh Yuck!  The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty.”  And with grants from the City Council and corporations, she bought an interactive white board and 29 laptops.

She introduced herself to her new colleagues as the “information literacy teacher.”  She invited teachers to collaborate on lessons.  In her early sessions, she focused on finding books and databases, as well as on fundamental research skills.

Later, she progressed to teaching students how to ask more sophisticated questions during research projects, and how to decode Internet addresses.  Then students learned how to assess the authors and biases of a Web site’s content.

Ms. Rosalia combines new literacy with old: she invites students to write book reviews that she posts in the library’s online catalog.  She helped a math teacher design a class blog.  She urges students to use electronic databases linked from the library’s home page.

But technology is not her only focus.  Her license plate says “READ.”  She retains a traditional librarian’s passion for books.  She helped one  student discover a book on the Empire State building;  he began warming to it, remembering how that was where he spent his 13th birthday.

At the end of every week, Rosalia opens the library for classes to come in solely to check out books.  She whirls from child to child, swiftly pulling volumes off the shelves as they request books on sharks and scary topics.  At the end of one period, more than 30 students stood in line at the circulation desk.

Ms. Rosalia understands the allure of the Internet.  A dozen seventh graders, recently immigrated from Russia, Georgia, China and Yemen, were struggling to communicate.  She showed them newspapers in all their languages.  She clicked on the home page of the Moscow-based newspaper Izvestia, and the Russians cheered.

And she tells students that books are not the only thing to read.  “You can read magazines, newspapers, pictures, computer programs, Web sites.  You can read anything you like, but you have to read.  Is that a deal?”

sole source: Motoko Rich’s article in the NY Times on 2/16/09.   www.nytimes.com

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email   aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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