Why Nebraska Librarians Are Concerned About The Board of Education's Proposed Changes
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Published for Nebraska Public Media
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A public school needs at least one certified librarian to be accredited by the state. Depending on school size, there could be more or fewer librarians. For example, Lincoln has more than 60 librarians, and a smaller district like Bertrand, in central Nebraska, only has one. The Nebraska Board of Education’s new draft accreditation rules released in April could change that. The rule said public and non public schools would only be required to have one half-time librarian for the whole district. An adult is required to supervise each school library.
Librarians across the state are concerned with the draft rules, including Stephanie Dannehl. She’s a halftime librarian in Bertrand Community Schools.
In her library classes, Dannehl introduces students to 3D printers, 3D design apps, and virtual reality technology. Dannehl said librarians do more than just check out books. They also teach students how to find good resources online, learn about technology, and practice good digital citizenship.
"I can't imagine being a librarian half-time in one large district," she said. "If you're a half-time, you wouldn't be able to do that. You’d just be doing the bare minimum."
Brad Dirksen with the Nebraska Department of Education's Office of Accountability, Accreditation and Program Approval said one half-time librarian for school districts as large as Lincoln’s or Omaha’s wouldn’t be enough. He said the bar was set low for school administrators to decide if they want to exceed the requirement.
"The intent is not to eliminate school librarians," he said. "I think the intent of the proposed draft is to provide that local control, to allow our educational leaders, and our school boards at the local level to determine appropriate staffing levels, based upon their community and their students needs."
Litchfield Public Schools Librarian Jeralynn Moser said she’s worried about losing the mandate.
"It's scary to live in a world where we know that schools and their budgets are under so much scrutiny and pressure, that if it's not mandated that we have a full-time librarian, it's easy to see that as an opportunity to eliminate that position," she said.
In Texas, there’s no district level mandate on librarian staffing, it’s up to principals. The Dallas Morning News reports, in 2017, eleven Dallas schools lost their librarians because of budget cuts. Dirksen said there is a possibility a school system could lower their staffing levels, but that is a local decision.
"So there's a trust factor that those communities have to have with their administrators, with their school boards that are publicly elected, to ensure that those levels don't change, or if they do change, they're appropriate and they're well informed of why they're changing," he said.
Incoming 4th grader at Bertrand Community Schools Ryan Robison said librarians like, Stephanie Dennahl, are important. When asked how he feels about librarians possibly going away he said he wasn’t happy about it.
"I don't like it," he said. "I don't want that to happen. Really."
Robison said he reads hard books, and asks Dennahl to help him pronounce new words.
Christine Haeffner is the director of libraries for Lincoln Public Schools. Speaking as a librarian for 20 years, she finds it contradictory for the state to draft the new rules when lawmakers passed the Nebraska Reading Improvement Act in 2018. The law states students should be able to read at grade level by third grade.
"If we are truly invested in making sure every kid is reading on level by third grade, then we need to be truly invested in our school libraries," Haeffner said. "And a school librarian is an essential piece of that puzzle."
Haeffner said she believes there will be equity issues between districts if students don’t have access to school librarians and their academic success will suffer. Litchfield Public Schools Librarian Jeralynn Moser hopes the draft rules will start a statewide conversation to be more supportive to every school staff member.
"Especially librarians who, as certified teachers, we just have so much to offer and so much that we're willing to give, that I hope this starts a larger conversation about what a vital part of a school district librarians can be," Moser said.
Brad Dirksen said the Nebraska Board of Education values school librarians and isn’t trying to phase them out. As part of the draft process, he encourages the public to take their survey available through June 30. He said the earliest vote for the final draft rules is December.