Senate Bill 3 provides more than $3.5 billion in state funding to support giving Texas teachers about a $5,000 raise. This may be great news for teachers, but not for everyone in the teaching profession in Texas.
Left out of the bill: librarians.
The omission of librarians from this bill shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the role that school librarians play in the teaching and learning experience of K-12 students. It also ignores the contributions of school librarians to the overall education system. To disregard librarians as a component of the larger whole in the public education environment undermines the efficacy of teacher retention efforts by depreciating the stated value of our educators’ greatest allies and demoralizing the profession.
The majority of children’s first experience of libraries and librarians is through school. They develop a trust relationship with librarians. They develop curiosity and learn to explore new things. The library serves as a window to the world.
Collaboration between librarians and teachers is essential to enable a holistic educational experience that offers life-long skills beyond the classroom. The lack of recognition of the professional expertise of librarians and the critical relationship with teachers is akin to reducing the learning experience to “one classroom, one teacher.”
It simply puts it in silos. Librarians build bridges to broader horizons. Teachers impart knowledge to students; librarians teach them how to learn. Information literacy skills, evaluation of information and digital literacy are among the life-long skills that complement what teachers do in the classroom.
Both teacher and librarian have an important role in shaping a learner’s future. High school graduates with these skills are better prepared to be productive members of society, where communication skills and critical thinking are highly valued in the marketplace.
If lawmakers really want to make an impact on the quality of public education and the benefit it provides to the people of Texas, instead of qualifying an appropriation to one class of educational professionals, they should take an integrative approach and raise salaries for librarians, nurses and counselors as a collective. This approach makes perfect sense, as all of these professions are presented as equal to teachers on the Texas Education Agency’s Minimum Salary Schedule.
The current national average salary for a school librarian is $63,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 data. The average for K-12 librarians in our state already falls below that at $59,877 per year, according to the Texas Education Agency.
At the very least, our school librarians — most of whom have earned advanced degrees in the information sciences — should be compensated at a rate commensurate with national averages. Texas takes too much pride in how bold we are to accept small solutions to a quandary we face in compensating public education professionals.
Libraries and librarians are the bedrock of a civil society. A democracy needs critical thinkers. The fourth industrial revolution requires a digital savvy workforce, and the library is the place where these skills are acquired. Librarians are critical in bridging the barriers to achieve these outcomes. You can count on them for their commitment, their passion and their contributions toward developing the next generation of informed thinkers and leaders.
When we overlook the value of librarians to the quality of our collective educational endeavors, we do so at a cost to the children we seek to educate.
Lorraine Haricombe is vice provost and director of libraries at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Corpus Christi Caller Times.