School librarians have always done more than read to students and track down overdue-book violators.
Even before the age of computers, librarians were often the folks charged with teaching us how to learn, how to find -- amid tens of thousands of books, periodicals and filmstrips -- what we needed for an assignment or research paper.
Now, with so much information available via computer, tablet, Chromebook or even smartphone, school librarians can help students navigate the internet, weigh credibility and think critically about sources.
That's why a proposed rule change to the state Department of Education's accreditation rules is so concerning. Currently, part of accreditation process sets a per-school standard for library staffing based on the number of students in the school.
The more students in a school, the more librarians. Makes sense.
Under the proposed rule change, all districts, regardless of size, would be required to have one half-time, certified school librarian with an adult or paraprofessional in charge of each school's library. That's one part-time librarian for a district of 50,000 or 50.
The idea behind the change is to give local districts and schools more flexibility. But flexibility can easily become inability -- inability to help students, inability to maintain collections and technology, inability to provide individual help to students who may not have access to materials and the internet at home.
Districts might be tempted, in time of trimming budgets, to skimp on library staffing, but every student in a school can benefit from a well maintained and knowledgeably staffed library.
The presence of a rich library, curated and led by a qualified librarian, can provide a learning environment that serves everyone, particularly at-risk students, who may have limited access to public libraries and instruction on finding, evaluating and using information, skills that cross every academic discipline and every profession. A great library led by a great librarian can help close the achievement gap and change the trajectory for vulnerable learners.
The public is invited to offer feedback through an online survey open until June 30 on the Nebraska Department of Education website. The state board will consider feedback and could vote in December at the earliest on changes.
School libraries continue to evolve, and librarians have evolved with them. A look at guidance for library staffing may be warranted, but a system that doesn't take district size into account serves a budget, not the students.
And a system that so drastically cuts library support from certified school librarians will create a ripple effect that will disrupt learning in the classroom and far beyond.