Credit: Diana Lambert / EdSource
Susan Sloan, a credentialed teacher librarian, shows off the collection of books at Bella Vista High School in Sacramento.

California students who use the school library aren’t likely to find a credentialed teacher librarian behind the desk. Instead, they will probably be helped by someone without a bachelor’s degree, teaching credential or much formal training.

The number of school librarians in the state dropped from the equivalent of 811 full-time positions in 2014-15 to 621 in 2020-21, the latest year data was available, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This means that California schools had one full-time teacher librarian for every 9,667 students last school year, the highest ratio of the 48 states, along with Washington, D.C., that provided numbers to NCES. The state’s Model School Library Standards calls for a ratio of one full-time teacher librarian for every 785 students.

One-third of K-12 students have never had a teacher librarian, said Lesley Farmer, professor of library media at CSU Long Beach and one of the authors of the state’s Model School Library Standards.  

A lack of designated state funding for school libraries may be at the root of the scarcity of teacher librarians. School libraries are mostly funded with district general funds and by fundraising, making them a target for cutbacks whenever school finances need tightening.

“Most schools and or districts don’t want to pay a teacher’s salary for the library,” said Nina Jackson, president of the California School Library Association. “They feel like all they need is someone to run a library and keep the books on track. They don’t see the need for someone who teaches digital literacy, media safety and research. They don’t see a need for it and, in education, it comes down to money.”

A review of job openings on EdJoin — an online education job board — on April 6 showed 13 advertisements for credentialed teacher librarians, with salaries from about $42,000 to $105,000, and 116 openings for classified school library workers with pay ranging from $15 to $30 an hour.

“Ideally, school libraries would have a teacher librarian to work with classroom teachers and students, as well as a library technician to check out and repair books and assist with book fairs,” Jackson said.

The lack of teacher librarians could be hurting California students academically. Research shows that teacher librarians positively impact student achievement at all grade levels, Farmer said.  Research she co-authored shows that the impact of librarians on high school academic achievement follows students into college.

Teacher librarians are required to have a bachelor’s degree, a California teaching credential and a teacher librarian services credential, which authorizes them to operate school and district libraries, instruct students in the handling of library materials and supervise classified staff, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. 

Requirements for classified library workers vary by district, with some requiring a high school diploma and others an associate degree in library science or a specified number of college units.

Bella Vista High librarian Susan Sloan has made the library an inviting place with displays similar to those found in a bookstore.

San Juan Unified librarian holds fundraisers to buy books

Susan Sloan, the teacher librarian at Bella Vista High School in Sacramento County, says an important part of her job is to teach digital literacy to ensure students can differentiate between biased and unbiased information.

The Bella Vista library, which features books displayed on easels and bookmarks for sale at checkout, looks more like a bookstore than a high school library. The library’s collection has been carefully curated by Sloan and updated to include books that appeal to a diverse population of students.

San Juan Unified doesn’t have dedicated funds for library books or materials, so Sloan raises about $10,000 annually to buy most of what is needed. The principal also has provided school funds for some materials. With the help of volunteers, Sloan spends many of her evenings and weekends hosting book fairs and holding fundraisers, like the one last year that sold artwork created with old books. She also applies for grants from corporations and posts wish lists on the Donors Choose website. 

On a recent day last month, Sloan was straightening up the library at the end of the school day. Stacks of books with topics like drug addiction, alcoholism, nicotine and hallucinogens had been placed on tables around the room. Sloan explained the books were part of a health class exercise that had students rotating in groups from stack to stack while filling out a chart with basic information about each topic. The idea was to teach students about these health hazards, as well as how to glean information from written materials.

“Some administrators think all we do is check in and check out books, and the rest of the time we aren’t doing anything,” Sloan said. “I am the first one on campus, other than the registrar. So, I’m here at 6:30 in the morning, and yesterday I didn’t leave until a quarter to 5. And that’s pretty typical.”

San Juan Unified has certificated teacher librarians at all nine of its comprehensive high schools, but not at its 33 elementary schools, eight K-eight schools, nine middle schools or its continuation high schools. The middle schools are staffed by media/library technicians and elementary schools by clerk typists, said Raj Rai, district spokeswoman.

“Certainly there are multiple factors that have contributed to this library staffing structure in the district, including investments based on student needs at the site level and the availability of teacher librarians,” Rai said. “There continues to be a shortage of certificated teacher librarians, and we did have a hard time filling an open position last year at one of our high schools.”

State law dictating who runs school libraries is unclear

San Juan Unified officials said they are not required to have a teacher librarian at every school. The California education code says that school districts “may appoint a librarian or librarians to staff the libraries provided they qualify as librarians.” The word “may” is often interpreted as meaning the hiring of librarians is optional.

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing website tries to clarify the issue, saying that while it would be ideal for each library to have a credentialed teacher librarian, it is not always feasible. Instead, the commission says that small school districts can form a consortium with other districts to employ a single credentialed teacher librarian, and larger school districts can employ the number of teacher librarians necessary to select library materials, coordinate library programs and manage library services, along with other duties outlined in the credential. Districts can also contract with a public library for services.

Even if districts are out of compliance, it’s not clear which agency would sanction them. 

Where the Education Code is not completely clear, districts apply their own interpretation, and the CDE does not act as a compliance agency,” stated an email from the California Department of Education. 

“In my view, the statutes are purposely vague because education management, boards and superintendents, want maximum flexibility in staffing,” said Jeff Frost, a lobbyist for the California School Library Association. “It is why in good economic times more teacher librarians are hired but in bad economic times, those same TLs (teacher librarians) are often eliminated from school libraries and often laid off or bumped back into classrooms based on seniority.”

Small districts are most likely to go without a school librarian

Konocti Unified, a district serving 3,600 students in Lake County, hasn’t had a teacher librarian in its schools for at least 15 years, said Emily Kasmier, the district’s lead librarian. Kasmier, a classified employee, is a library media integration specialist II at Lower Lake Elementary School.

Kasmier has many duties. Along with helping students select and check out books, she manages and trains library staff, reads to the younger students and manages an online program that measures students’ reading and math comprehension. She’s also the afternoon crossing guard and is in charge of checking out the school’s Chromebooks.

“Outside of that time, I’m shelving books like a madwoman,” she said. “About 1,000 to 1,200 a week.”

Konocti Unified requires its library specialists to have an associate degree or 48 college credits, or have a high school diploma and pass a test. The district has struggled to fill teaching and other staff positions because of its remote location and distance from universities.

Palo Alto Unified, on the other hand, has a librarian in each school library. Librarians are essential to the district’s reading initiatives, said Anne Brown, assistant superintendent.

“We have a big focus on the Every Student Reads Initiative, and we want children to love reading, so our libraries are comfortable, safe places for students to hang out, read books and talk to librarians,” Brown said.

Teacher librarians can be hard to find

Palo Alto Unified has had no problem filling teacher librarian positions, which rarely come open, Brown said. But other districts, including San Juan Unified and Tracy Unified, have had difficulty finding them.

Tracy Unified School District had so much trouble finding the six teacher librarians it needed to expand lessons in digital literacy and the use of library resources to middle and elementary schools, that it is offering to pay up to $20,000 of the cost associated with earning librarian certification in exchange for a three-year commitment to the district, said Tammy Jalique, associate superintendent of human resources for the district.

So far three teachers from outside the district have signed on to work as school librarians on provisional permits while they earn their library certification. To earn certification as a teacher librarian, a credentialed teacher must take an additional nine to 10 courses, Farmer said.

The difficulty filling teacher librarian jobs could be because of the low number of teacher librarian credentials issued in California – 94 in 2020. That’s a slight increase over each of the previous four years.

Three California universities offer the coursework required to earn certification as a teacher librarian – California State University Long Beach, San Jose State University and Fresno Pacific University, according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Farmer says there is a perception that no one is hiring librarians, so many potential candidates are earning master’s degrees in library science instead of a teaching credential and taking jobs in public libraries, she said.

“The state needs to turn out 200 teacher librarians a year,” Farmer said.

Between 10 and 15 teacher librarians complete their certification at Long Beach each year, Farmer said. The university has 50 in the pipeline right now. Many of the candidates are full-time teachers who take one or two classes a semester, Farmer said.

“We need more people entering the field,” she said.

 

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  1. Jim 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I’ve had significant schooling and cannot remember a time when it was improved by a librarian. “Some administrators think all we do is check in and check out books”, yes that is my experience. Is there any evidence that having a masters produces better results for kids?

  2. Sue Sheridan 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Just look at what happened after Prop. 13. Retired teacher 28 yrs.

  3. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I have lived in San Diego since 1970 and remember a brief time when there were fully-credentialed librarians at every secondary school in San Diego. Elementary schools seldom had libraries outside individual classrooms, and then they were entirely volunteer-run. Later, when that became a sore point with the teachers union, a lower-paid less-educated library technician category was invented, even for secondary schools A few communities that really wanted a library on campus would hire … Read More

    I have lived in San Diego since 1970 and remember a brief time when there were fully-credentialed librarians at every secondary school in San Diego. Elementary schools seldom had libraries outside individual classrooms, and then they were entirely volunteer-run. Later, when that became a sore point with the teachers union, a lower-paid less-educated library technician category was invented, even for secondary schools A few communities that really wanted a library on campus would hire a library technician to establish and run the library. Most schools did not have the money and did not bother.

    At one point around Y 2000, with passage of a building bond issue, San Diego Unified built library structures across elementary and secondary schools, but fully-credentialed librarians had been eliminated altogether, so buildings stood unused. Library technicians subsequently were hired occasionally with funding from a school’s private foundation, but that was rare outside wealthier neighborhoods.

    Are libraries important? Yes. Are librarians necessary? Not if you have a rare library technician who may be fully credentialed from another place who wants to work, who loves the work, who knows how to deliver what’s needed for students in grades 6-12 and is willing to work for much lower pay than a classroom teacher. There are such wonderful people and students privileged to attend their schools get a much better education.

  4. Richard Moore 1 month ago1 month ago

    Good article with quotes from quality librarians. But. There is in fact a way to enforce standards. Other states are governed by regional accreditation associations the won't allow you to open a school if you don't meet standards. CA and Hawaii and Guam are governed by the Western Association, WASC. They have standards for community colleges, state colleges, and universities. I have been writing about this since 1985. We even passed … Read More

    Good article with quotes from quality librarians. But. There is in fact a way to enforce standards. Other states are governed by regional accreditation associations the won’t allow you to open a school if you don’t meet standards. CA and Hawaii and Guam are governed by the Western Association, WASC. They have standards for community colleges, state colleges, and universities. I have been writing about this since 1985. We even passed state law to fund school libraries, which lasted 4 years before the new governor trashed it. California consistently ranks at the bottom of all states in reading. Lots of stuff out there to read: https://blog.librarylaw.com/librarylaw/2007/02/backstory_on_ca.html

  5. Theresa Fiorella Master of Library Science retired from NY State 1 month ago1 month ago

    In New York State you must have Master’s Degree in Library Science in order to work in public schools. Your education must meet the standards of the American Library Association. Why would anyone who studied for this degree want to work in a district where their education and experience it not valued?

    A School Library Media Specialist must have a Masters in this field and other education requirements. I am surprised the CA does not have the same high standards.

  6. Roberta 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is a sad commentary on our education system. As a retired school librarian I see the need for librarians in the schools. Some districts that are said to be the best have no librarians. Our students need the guidance of those librarians especially in the technological age. And how are we grow readers and lovers of books and libraries?

  7. JudiAU 1 month ago1 month ago

    San Jose State issues almost all library degrees in CA. Their school credential is 3/4 of a master’s degree and most people complete the master’s.

    So really a school librarian needs a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a teaching credential making them more credentialed than most administrators. But they aren’t paid or supported like it and have to beg for the tools of the job.

    A good librarian is *vital* to a school.

  8. Steven Sallberg 1 month ago1 month ago

    One reason that there are few School Librarians might be summed up by the despicable methods employed by LAUSD in 2011 when they did their best to fire all school librarians in the system. See link: https://www.latimes.com/local/la-xpm-2011-may-13-la-me-0513-tobar-20110513-story.html I remember this as I was working on my MLIS at the time and shared classes with a number of Credentialed Librarians fighting for their careers. Needless to say, I decided to run as far as I … Read More

    One reason that there are few School Librarians might be summed up by the despicable methods employed by LAUSD in 2011 when they did their best to fire all school librarians in the system. See link: https://www.latimes.com/local/la-xpm-2011-may-13-la-me-0513-tobar-20110513-story.html

    I remember this as I was working on my MLIS at the time and shared classes with a number of Credentialed Librarians fighting for their careers. Needless to say, I decided to run as far as I could from Academic Librarianship and settled in the relatively peaceful world of Librarian, Correctional Facility.

  9. Michael Alan 1 month ago1 month ago

    “The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between reams of data and the untrained but motivated user.” Seth Godin, from the article, The Future of the Library https://seths.blog/2011/05/the-future-of-the-library/

  10. Jack Owens 1 month ago1 month ago

    School librarian – one of the most undervalued positions across CA school districts. Like most matters left to local discretion, funding for school librarians will continue to be lacking or nonexistent. You want improved literacy in your school? Hire and support a credentialed school librarian! They are a significant resource for staff and for students.