By: Lisa Hoover
Parents in Mahwah, NJ are expressing distress that the school district has, in their view, reduced student access to books in the school libraries. (Duffy, 2018)
The school district is apparently shifting emphasis toward technology in the curriculum, but at least some parents are not happy with the decision, according to local news articles in Pix11, Patch.com and Mahwah Post.
Parents allegedly received a letter about the change at elementary school libraries including George Washington, Lenape Meadows, Joyce Kilmer and Betsy Ross. According to parents, kids can now check out books only every two to three weeks, instead using library time to teach students about technology. (Duffy, 2018) Students used to be able to check out books at each weekly library visit. (Hubbard, 2018)
Pix11 quotes parent Matthew Park, who says “when you restrict the ability of young children to check out books from their school libraries what you do is you discourage them from taking out books, from becoming lifelong learners.” Park said, “you discourage the development of literacy when they are in their formative years and when it is most important that they have access to books.” (Duffy, 2018)
The issue has also come up at recent school board meetings, where board members have stated that conversations are “ongoing.” (Duffy, 2018)
Pix11 also quoted a statement from District Superintendent C. Lauren Schoen, who said that “we reshaped our library media schedule, adjusting the allocation of instructional time devoted to book circulation to include a creative approach to expose our students to a range of information and instructional experiences. Let us emphasize that students still have access to books through alternating library media circulation, as well as through each classroom library’s offerings.” (Duffy, 2018)
The curriculum director also stated that the district must teach technology to meet state standards. (Duffy, 2018) Students now spend more time at the computers in the libraries’ media centers. (Hubbard, 2018)
On the other hand, a NJ Department of Education spokesperson told Pix11 that the number of books a student can borrow from a library is a “local decision” and that how the technology requirements are implemented is up to the district’s board of education. (Duffy, 2018)
The National Coalition Against Censorship released a statement earlier this month in response to the change, stating that the coalition is “deeply concerned” about the policy.
“As forums for learning and the open exchange of information, school libraries should strive to broaden rather than restrict students’ access to literature. The district suggests this policy allows for “a wide variety of literacy and learning experiences”, but it does not explain how restricting circulation enables these new experiences. For many children, the library is the only place to access books and experience the joy of reading outside the classroom. For all children, the library is a place to discover, imagine and grow. NCAC urges the district to reconsider this policy and uphold Mahwah students’ freedom to explore and learn.” (NCAC, 2018)
Similarly, Loida Garcia-Febo, president of the American Library Association said in a letter to Schoen that “libraries serve many constituencies with a vast range of services —but one of the most foundational is nurturing a love of reading that fuels curiosity, compassion, and a disposition toward lifelong learning.” (Hubbard, 2018)
I am assuming (or at least hoping) children may still visit the library outside of scheduled class hours to borrow books, which mitigates the issue somewhat – although only somewhat. As the NCAC statement says, school libraries are an important place for students to exposed to literature and to “nurture a love a reading that fuels curiosity, compassion and…lifelong learning,” to borrow Garcia-Febo’s words. To foster these goals, library borrowing policies should be as generous as possible, rather than being restrictive.
Furthermore, while students might have other options to borrow books outside class time, reluctant readers are probably unlikely to take advantage of it. To reach those reluctant readers, you want the books in front of them and easily accessible. And while Schoen points out that the classrooms have books also, I would assume the collection in any given classroom is much smaller and less broad than that available in the library.
I am also not sure the change in policy accomplishes anything positive to weigh against those negatives. Even if the library class time is going to be used to focus on technology, why not let students check out books at the end of the class as they leave? I assume the concern is “wasted” class time browsing the books, but if a student comes in with a specific book in mind or wants to impulse borrow a book from a display, I really can’t imagine a reason not to allow them to check the book out.
It’s honestly hard for me to fathom asking a librarian to refuse to check out books to students who ask because it is the wrong week. It goes against our fundamental beliefs and goals as a profession. I am completely on board with expanding technological literacy, but not at the expense of other forms of literacy.
A Pew Research study in March indicated that nearly a quarter of American adults indicate they had not read a book in the past year. (Perrin, 2018) This should be a troubling statistic for anyone in education, where a major goal should be creating life long learners. If we chip away at reading incentives while students are young, I can’t imagine it will do much to encourage reading later in life. Therefore, I hope this policy change is reconsidered.
Duffy, C. (2018) New Jersey school district shifts library focus further from books to tech. Pix11. Retrieved from https://pix11.com/2018/11/14/new-jersey-school-district-shifts-library-focus-further-from-books-to-tech/ November 27, 2018
Hubbard, D. (2018) New school book borrowing policy has some Mahwah parents upset. Patch.com. Retrieved from https://patch.com/new-jersey/mahwah/mahwah-parents-upset-new-school-book-borrowing-policy November 27, 2018
Mahwah Post. (2018) New Jersey school district shifts library focus further from books to tech. Mahwah Post. Retrieved from http://mahwahpost.com/new-jersey-school-district-shifts-library-focus-further-from-books-to-tech/ November 27, 2018
National Coalition Against Censorship (2018) NJ school district restricts library circulation. NCAC.org. Retrieved from https://ncac.org/news/nj-school-district-restricts-library-circulation November 27, 2018
Perrin, A. (2018) Who doesn’t read books in America. PewResearch.org. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/23/who-doesnt-read-books-in-america/ on December 4, 2018.
Lisa Hoover is a Public Services Librarian at Clarkson University and an Adjunct Professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about 1st Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules, Pandora and Nyx, and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.