skills act, library media specialist

Understanding the SKILLs Act and the Argument for Library Media Specialists

November 06, 2009 03:30 PM
by Haley A. Lovett
Recently re-introduced to Congress, the SKILLs Act aims to help students navigate digital information, and could alter perceptions of the book-bound librarian.

What Is the SKILLs Act?

The SKILLs (Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) Act was initially introduced to Congress in 2007 as part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), but never made it out of committee. Recently, the SKILLs Act was re-introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill by Representatives Raul Grijalva and Vernon Ehlers.

The bill looks to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 as it pertains to school library media specialists and information literacy for students. One provision of the bill would try and get at least one “state-certified school library media specialist in each public school” by the 2010-2011 school year.

Obstacles Facing the SKILLs Act

The fate of the SKILLs Act in 2007 was not unlike most bills; it had some support in both the House and Senate, but failed to get out of committee. The new introduction of the SKILLs Act in the House has no counterpart in the Senate.

This year, Congress will be looking at reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to replace the No Child Left Behind Act. But with the SKILLs Act separate from the ESEA, representatives of the American Library Association worry that Congress will not have time to look at both acts, according to Debra Lau Whelan of the School Library Journal. If Congress runs out of time, the thought is that the SKILLs Act will fall by the wayside as it did once before.

The Changing Role of the School Librarian

With more student access to the Internet today than ever before, some have begun to question the role of the school library in education. In an effort to save money, some districts, according to California School Library Association president Connie Williams, are taking teacher librarians out of the library, leaving an unstaffed room full of books and media.

The American Library Association says that many districts and schools are cutting library staff and materials budgets with the thought that Internet access can serve as a replacement, as nearly all schools have access to the Web. But with nearly half of public schools lacking a library media specialist, and with some schools sharing that faculty, are students getting enough guidance in their Internet use?

Supporters of the SKILLs Act say no, arguing that students need a library media specialist to help them learn to sort through the countless sites on the Web. Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson of the School Library Journal point out that many librarians worry about the future of their profession and their libraries in the face of an increasingly digital world. But Valenza and Johnson also point out that librarians as we know them have changed, and that top librarians and media specialists will continue to stay ahead of the curve of information literacy, and pass those media skills on to their teachers and students.

And while school librarians are being cut, it seems that the demand for librarians as a whole is increasing. U.S.News and World Report named librarian as one of the best careers in 2009, pointing to the growth of specialty libraries such as those for hospitals and government organizations. The story noted that the job outlook for school librarians was not as promising, but if the SKILLs Act makes it through Congress, library media specialists may have more work and a new tech-savvy image.

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