GSE professor meets with Arne Duncan to promote school libraries

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

School libraries are sometimes easy targets for schools slashing budgets in a down economy, so when this year’s conference of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) was scheduled in Washington, DC, GSE Library Advisor Ruth Murray seized the opportunity to voice her support for strong libraries in schools.

Professor Murray is the president of the Oregon chapter of the AASL and a member of the national executive board. While in Washington, Ms. Murray and her colleagues had the opportunity to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Their goal was to stress the importance of including school librarians in any discussion of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “We wanted him to understand that school librarians were teachers,” says Ms. Murray, “and a critical part of a successful school’s education team.”

What happens in schools when budgets get tight is not surprising. School specialties such as library, music, and art programs have been on the chopping block. Portland Public Schools are making headlines by making cuts to all of these programs, including libraries. Recently in Oregon a bill passed which required schools to add plans for school libraries into their District and School Improvement Plans. Because of cuts to funds for education, though, this dictate from the state is going largely ignored.

In the past Secretary Duncan has been a solid supporter of school libraries. In the journal, American Libraries, he states, “We don’t want people to take a step backwards, and there are all kinds of documented studies that show where you have healthy and strong and vibrant libraries with librarians staffing them, students do better, they read better, their test scores go up.”

AASL librarians felt the meeting with Secretary Duncan during the convention was productive. His response to them was, “Without the passage of the jobs bill, education would see a level of destruction as never seen before. Schools would find themselves doing a lot more with a lot less.” He told them to use, “loud librarian voices for lobbying,” which they did by marching with 4,000 other school and state librarians at the Capitol to call attention to the growing crisis.

Professor Murray, along with fellow instructor Deanna Draper and other colleagues, visited Oregon legislators including Representatives Greg Walden, Kurt Schrader, Peter DeFazio, and Earl Blumenhauer, and Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, to lobby for all libraries in Oregon. By delivering a clear message to Secretary Duncan and state legislators, librarians at the GSE are hopeful that there will be strong support at the state and national levels for school libraries and the people who make them work.

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