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Originally published June 24, 2009 at 10:56 AM | Page modified June 24, 2009 at 11:43 AM

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Guest columnist

Bellevue School District should reconsider decision eliminating librarians

Bellevue School District's decision to eliminate all of its high-school and middle-school library programs is a scorched-earth policy it will soon regret, writes Michael Eisenberg, dean emeritus of the University of Washington's Information School. Research skills are critical to student success in the 21st century.

Special to The Times

BELLEVUE School District is eliminating 100 percent of each and every library program in its four middle schools, four high schools and one school that spans grades six through 12.

That's a scorched-earth policy the schools are likely to regret.

The district says it will keep the libraries open with clerical staff, but they will be rooms full of stuff, not libraries. The Washington Administrative Code says that media rooms become libraries only if staffed by certified teacher-librarians.

The Bellevue Schools District's mission is a "top-of-the-line college preparatory program" for all students. I've been a university professor 25 years, including seven as dean of the University of Washington Information School. There is no way you will convince me or my peers that a school without a library could provide top-of-the line college preparation.

I also doubt that admissions officers at schools such as the UW, Washington State, Seattle University or Stanford University could be convinced.

In an op-ed printed April 24 in on this page, Professor Alison Head and I said information literacy is necessary for success in the 21st century. We advocated that a fourth R — research — be added to the basic three.

But information literacy and research skills don't teach themselves. Librarians do it. They collaborate with classroom teachers to ensure such skills are woven through the curriculum. They also build rich collections and services in their physical and online libraries. They're also the only educators specifically trained to teach information and technology skills.

So it's incredible that some Washington schools, Bellevue in particular, are eliminating library programs and teacher-librarians.

What happens in Bellevue is important not only for its children but because other districts look to Bellevue for leadership. Snoqualmie Valley and Renton, for example, are considering whether to cut teacher-librarians. If Bellevue restores teacher-librarians, it would answer pleas of many Bellevue parents and send a strong message to other communities.

How about using some professional-development funds to retain those positions, especially since teacher-librarians offer training and services related to information technology? How about reconsidering line-by-line budget allocations, since a cut in teacher-librarians is a direct cut in instruction?

I know times are tough, but we must give students the skills they need to succeed in a highly competitive, technologically demanding world. In that world, school libraries and teacher-librarians are not optional. They're essential.

Michael Eisenberg is dean emeritus and a professor at the University of Washington Information School.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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