The mission of the U.S. Military Academy Library is to empower our cadets, faculty, and staff to be leaders of distinction in scholarship and research by providing teaching and expertise in the discovery and application of scholarly information, access to information supporting the curriculum and independent research, and a place to engage with knowledge, ideas, and one another.
Each summer, the USMA Library publishes our Program Review which provides a complete snapshot of our programs, strategic initiatives, and operations. It also includes the essay below relating to our current work. The complete 2017-2019 Program Review is available online.
By Christopher Barth, Librarian and Associate Dean
Our need for information-literate citizens who can navigate a complex and confusing world only continues to increase. Yet, in some places, support for educating and building these discerning and literate citizens is lessening. To start the 2017-18 school year, 75% of the public schools in the City of Chicago were without a librarian on staff. Where there were 454 librarians across the district in 2013, by 2017, there were only 139. Only 25 of 167 high schools in the Chicago Public Schools had at least one full time librarian on staff. And many of the librarians on staff actually spend time doing other work, including direct classroom teaching.
Nationwide, almost 9,200 FTE-equivalent full-time school librarian positions were eliminated at school districts between 2009 and 2016 (the latest year for which statistics are available). Estimates place that at roughly 15% of the profession. Many reasons are identified as contributing to this strong shift away from providing professional information service in our schools.
These include increased need for other instructional support positions, changing technologies, high leadership turnover, and difficulty attracting the right candidates. Budgetary issues also play a role, but finances are not always the driver. In some cases, school administrators are shifting resources to other areas that seem to offer greater value or impact.
The benefits of information literacy can be immediate in the form of a well-researched paper drawing upon scholarly literature and advancing a worthwhile academic argument. But the real benefits come over a longer time horizon as citizens can become critical information consumers, able to sift through the cacophony of information and make informed choices about their work and their world. The choices we make today in how we train our students to be information-literate will affect our society for decades to come. And it is librarians and other trained information professionals who lead the way. Today, fewer and fewer students learn the value of a librarian and the assistance they can give in research and knowledge development. Many see libraries as important for the collections they keep or the places they provide for community engagement, but it is the service and skills that they provide that truly can make an impact for the future.
At the U.S. Military Academy, we recognize the value that librarians bring to the quality of the education we provide. Over the last several years, we have worked to strengthen the connection of our skilled professionals with our users. For cadets, we now offer personal librarians for each company in the Corps of Cadets and we reach out to each plebe to make sure they are aware of the support and assistance available to them through the program. For faculty, we offer liaison librarians to each of our academic departments. These librarians provide course-integrated instruction, subject-area knowledge and expertise, and research assistance across our curriculum and beyond. Everyone at USMA has a librarian with whom they can collaborate because we see the the critical importance of developing leaders who can lead in complex and information-rich environments. For our future Army leadership, this is a mission-critical skill. We know our resources and our places are important. But we also know it is our people and our ability to help our faculty create strong and resourceful leaders of character that will leave a lasting impact on the world that is coming tomorrow.
References: Kachel, Debra E. and Lance, Keith Curry. “Changing Times: School Librarian Staffing Status.” Teacherlibrarian.com. http:// teacherlibrarian.com/2018/04/11/changing-times-school-librarianstaffing-status/.
Moreno, Nereida. “Information literacy lost: Most CPS schools no longer have librarians.” ChicagoTribune.com [http://www.chicagotribune.com/ news/ct-cps-librarian-cuts-met-20170902-story.html] (Accessed July 23, 2018).