Heather Chappell is surrounded by love — literally. On the walls of Creekside Elementary School where she is the librarian, students have decorated red and pink paper hearts by finishing the sentence, "I love my library because …"
"I learn words," wrote one third-grader.
A fifth-grader wrote, "It has awesome books and you can learn from books."
"It's some place I can relax. That's why I love my library," according to a sixth-grader.
Budget cuts have once again cast librarians into the spotlight, asking whether their positions are necessary. Last month, the Lodi Unified School District board approved eliminating more than two dozen library assistants at all grade levels and four high school librarians to save money, although those jobs could ultimately be saved.
"Parents should know that their children will not have access to books if all the cuts go through," Manlio Silva Elementary School librarian Pam Haas said.
She has worked in LUSD libraries since 1990. In addition to her regular duties for current students and their parents, twice a month she hosts a preschool story time for future Silva students.
"We have snacks and do little projects," she said, adding that the program has grown, and last Thursday there were 19 students.
Both Haas and Chappell are among a group of librarians who want to educate the public about what they do for students.
"We take on more than just sit here and scan books. We organize events and get kids to read," Chappell said.
At each campus, that outreach takes different forms. At Creekside, for example, Chappell collected stuffed animals and created a "furry friends" program to encourage students to read aloud to the toys. "This helps with young and low readers, to hear themselves read — and more importantly, they love it and read," she said.
School librarians teach the Dewey Decimal Classification system and have different ways of making the lesson come alive. Chappell plays library BINGO with the students at the end of each quarter to test their knowledge.
"There is so much we bring to the students," Chappell said. "Each librarian has their own projects and unique qualities we bring to our schools."
Among librarians' other regular duties: re-shelving books; making replacement student identification cards; scheduling library visits, accelerated reader testing/quizzing, computer lab usage and IEP meetings; assisting walk-ins; hosting book talks and class book clubs; ordering books; collecting overdue fines; providing an alternative community service in lieu of payment for those students that may not have the means to pay fines; and providing computer use during lunch after school for those who may not have the resources at home.
Campaign to save librariesBear Creek High School students have been writing — on recycled paper shaped like the Bruin mascot — reasons why the library is important to them.
"We've hung these bears all over the library and hundreds are on display," teacher-librarian Carol Grenko said, adding that she can hardly keep up with the demand for cut-outs.
"It has been very insightful to gain the students' perspective. It feels so good to know that the students truly appreciate their library and the opportunities that go with it: great place to research with their classes, work on projects, read, gather and just feel at home, especially before and after school and at lunch."
She plans to present the bears to Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer at a future school board meeting.
"One wouldn't think that a generation hooked to their cell phones and iPods would care so much about the fate of their library," Grenko said. "Because of this campaign, I've discovered hundreds of reasons why they do care, and I couldn't be more proud to be their librarian."
A similar campaign is underway at both the McNair and Tokay high school libraries.
She said the effort was started when she learned that Sacramento City Unified School District, too, is facing a $30 million dollar budget reduction. However, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond has publicly said there will be no reductions in libraries, according to Grenko.
"He urged all to 'Pass the word.' Well, we are certainly passing on his message here at BCHS as are other schools in LUSD," she said.
Many librarians also teach students how to use the Internet and scan bar codes of abandoned books located on and off of their campuses, which indirectly generates revenue for the district. They keep track of technology equipment and supplemental curriculum resources such as videos and DVDs, according to Carmela Luiz, a library media assistant at Christa McAuliffe Middle School.
She believes the district will lose books and teacher resources due to theft if libraries are left unmanned. Additionally, she said even the new collection at McAuliffe requires the minimal repair of three books per day.
When Chappell came to Creekside three years ago, there was no librarian. She said some teachers would staff the library, but no one put books away or taught the students how to use the facility, in general.
She added that teachers said they would rather not visit the library than to go in and see books strewn about. "So this school knows what it is going to be like without a librarian: no library at all," she said.
Districts across California are looking at cutting librarians and shuttering libraries to deal with budget cuts. Faced with a $113 million deficit, a San Francisco district has already cut 10 librarians.
In Galt, the story is the same.
At a meeting last month, the elementary board approved Superintendent Karen Schauer's recommendation to cut three librarian positions at a savings of $62,800 and put the remaining librarians on a rotational schedule to cover the other school libraries.
"Having a librarian at every school is nice, but …" she told community members in outlining plans to close a $3 million-plus budget deficit over the next two years. If other cuts or union concessions are not made, the remaining librarians could lose their jobs in the 2011-12 school year.
Students stepped forward at the meeting, pleading to keep the positions and library doors open. For many, that is the only access they have to books they can read for pleasure.
But Assistant Superintendent Judy Bullard assured the audience that no libraries would close.
"The librarians are very, very valuable to us. Without them, we would not be able to offer the same services," she said. "Would the libraries be open? Yes. Would students check books out and be able to check them back in? Yes."
Bullard added that at this time she's not sure how that would happen. "I'm sad about it, but I'm honest," she said.
A vote to lay off librarians has not yet been taken.
But trustee and River Oaks Elementary School parent John Gordon is concerned how the libraries would work without someone in charge. "It's extremely difficult to imagine schools without librarians," he said.
"As a board member in this district, it is imperative that I make decisions based on how they impact our children. At the core, we must not lose sight of that. My primary concern has to be: What kind of access will children have to our libraries? The superintendent will have to clearly demonstrate this before a final decision is made."
River Oaks library technician Jennifer Collier said the district's six school libraries check in or out 3,000 books per site, per month, in addition to handling all textbooks and teaching students how to use computers. Many students do not have the technology available at home to research papers.
"Students need their librarians, and library techs do this," Collier said, adding that three-quarters of the district's students visit only the school library instead of a public library. She believes librarians' work affects academic achievement just as teachers do.
Collier is personally responsible for coordinating school site reading contests and adding donated books to the collection. It's a process that takes 14 steps, from donation to shelving.
"A library teacher, a library media assistant or a librarian is there not only to check out textbooks to children, nor simply to relinquish the treasures of the library. They are there to inspire, to lead students to wealths of knowledge that they would otherwise be completely ignorant of," Luiz wrote in a letter to the News-Sentinel.
She pointed to a recent report by San Joaquin A+, a nonprofit volunteer organization which focuses, among other things, on the percentage of children who start kindergarten and actually finish high school. This organization estimates that almost 50 percent of the overall group never graduates high school, she said.
Furthermore, it has been estimated that students need to learn approximately 3,000 new words each academic year. If, over a school year, a student reads for one hour a day, five days a week, as required by the Accelerated Reader program at McAullife, even at a slow rate of 150 words per minute, the reader will encounter 2,250,000 new words, 750 times more than recommended, Luiz said, adding that school libraries help make this a reality.
"Students need to read accessible and interesting articles, Web sites, reference materials and books that help them build background knowledge," she wrote. "Without libraries, students cannot build background knowledge. Without that knowledge, they will be less able to understand concepts taught in history, language arts, science and even math, as these concepts will not apply to them."
In the end, Haas estimates she sees more than 700 students weekly and knows every student by name at the Manlio Silva school library in North Stockton.
"The library is the hub of the school. We all love what we do," she said, adding that she "definitely" doesn't do it for $14 she is paid. "It is who we are much as the dedicated teachers and other staff facing cuts.
"I love being here. It is not just a job, it's more of a passion."