President’s Message: March
I have been asked by many, many colleagues to post the text of the speech I delivered on Library Legislative Day. In the hopes it will inspire each and every one of you to action, here it is (and thanks to all who have sent me words of encouragement…) Susan Grigsby, 2009 GLMA President
I’d like to thank the Georgia Library Association for putting together the 2009 Georgia Library Day so that the library community can come to the Capital and speak with our elected representatives. I am proud to look out across the room and see so many librarians and library professionals who have taken time out of their schedules to be here to advocate for Georgia’s libraries. For many of us it is a difficult task to come from behind the counter to speak up for what we do and to call attention to our value and our importance.
As I thought about what I would say today the first thing that came to mind was the supposed Chinese curse that says “may you live in interesting times.” Of course, I am a librarian so I wanted to check and make sure it was indeed a Chinese curse and that I was quoting it properly. I discovered that no one in China has ever heard this saying – that’s information literacy at work!
As soon as I made that discovery I thought of another quote that could be verified. I thought of how Charles Dickens opened his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with these words:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…
With a beginning like that, he could have easily been writing A Tale of Two Georgias. We are watching our neighbors lose their jobs and, in some cases, losing their homes. We are watching our government agencies struggle to fund even the most basic services. We see a budget that wants to increase the salaries of Math and Science Teachers and at the same time cut the salaries of National Board Certified Teachers. We are feeling the pinch in our library budgets yet seeing a dramatic increase in circulation, patronage, demand – and the price of new materials. In many cases, the school or public library is the only place to gain access to the Internet as families cut back on expenses and online access becomes just one more item that has to go.
Public school librarians are facing a deep threat to their ability to keep their collections current, relevant, and active in the form of House Bill 278 which seeks to remove the expenditure controls that are currently placed on media funds. Governor Barnes took us from being some of the best funded school libraries in the country to the absolute lowest when he slashed funding by 50% in 2003. We were told that this budget cut was temporary and yet, 6 years later we are still operating below that funding level and prices have continued to rise. Currently, elementary schools earn $15.31 and middle/high schools earn $13.03 per full time student. According to the March 2008 issue of The School Library Journal, the current average price for a reference book for a middle or high school audience is $27.47. I expect that figure to be higher when SLJ’s annual report is published next month. When the State DOE alters its required Georgia Performance Standards many libraries are left holding irrelevant materials or materials that no longer match the age group for which those standards apply. In effect, when school libraries are underfunded classroom standards are immediately and adversely affected.
We are already operating with inadequate funding and a further tightening of our ability to boost student achievement and, in the midst of this, our legislature wants to remove the restrictions on those meager funds so they are available to any department, any administrator, and any school system to use them in any way they see fit. Even in systems where there is an understanding of how library media programs and highly qualified library media specialists positively affect student achievement, we are beginning to see what will happen if expenditure controls are removed. Some principals have been told they will lose one third to one half of their previous daily operating budgets to cover copiers, paper, toner cartridges, computers, and the standard materials needed to run a school. The immediate result is they begin desperately looking for other sources of funding. It doesn’t take much imagination to connect the dots and see that many libraries will not see a single penny of the media funds they earned if House Bill 278 becomes law. This will be especially true in the smaller, rural systems which are facing dire shortfalls in their education funding due to foreclosures, closed businesses, and reduced tax revenues. Even with expenditure controls, many of these smaller systems routinely dip into media funds leaving their school libraries with little to no funding to stock their libraries with the materials students need to achieve success in the twenty-first century. In short, we will have two Georgias: one in which students have access to current, relevant, and accurate materials and one in which they will not. If we are truly focused on bringing new businesses to our State, surely we can see that we must be pro-active and make sure that our citizens are educated enough to be employed by those very businesses we are trying to attract.
We must advocate for what we know to be true – a fully-funded library media program staffed with a highly qualified Library Media Specialist is the most cost-effective way to improve student achievement and we need the dedicated funding to make it happen. We know it…let’s make sure our principals, our administrators, our superintendents, and our legislators know it, too. Whether it is the best of times or the worst of times depends on your outlook and your available resources, but with the rapidly changing information landscape, I believe it is OUR time. We have the map. Thank you.