A one-person show

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A one-person show

Voice: July 2017


Allison Burrell’s world as a librarian has changed drastically in the past seven years. Unfortunately, not for the better.

In 2009, she was the only high school librarian in the Southern Columbia School District. Today, she is the only librarian for the entire district.

“I had classes in every week,’’ Burrell said of her previous role. “Language arts classes would come in, and we’d talk about individual reading options available to them. Other classes would come in to work on technology skills and research. Kids were in the library constantly.’’

But 2011 brought nearly $1 billion in state funding cuts to public schools, and difficult economic times further strained the tax base of this small, rural district situated amid the rugged mountains of Columbia and Northumberland counties.

Sounding a refrain similar among librarians in many other school districts, Burrell said library positions and resources were among the first cuts.

Her directions are to spend four of her five days in the elementary school, leaving just one in the high school building, which also houses middle school and junior high school students from grades seven to 12. Originally, the plan was to go without a librarian in the high school building, but Burrell came up with a plan to at least give her a day there.

Providing a lot of attention to elementary students makes sense, she said, in that they tend to forget things and need a lot of reinforcement.

But that only speaks to why both elementary and secondary students should have their own librarians.

Burrell said she does what she can with the upper grades, but with one day “all it amounts to is showing them the resources.’’ Without more time and hands-on instruction, the information sources and data- bases “largely go untouched,’’ she said.

Ironically, the upper grades probably need the most hands-on attention and direction given that their assignments are more complicated, and proper research and technological skills are needed for their post-graduation plans.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the upper grades are losing,’’ Burrell said. “They are not getting what they need. I can tell them all the stuff on the internet isn’t true, but with all the information that is out there, they need help figuring out credible sources.’’

Burrell is speaking for more than her own situation. She is president of the Pennsylvania State Librarians Association, which has managed to get bipartisan legislation introduced in the state House of Representatives to require a certified school librarian in every school.

“Resources have expanded so much in recent years that students need someone to help them navigate,’’ Burrell said. “The classroom teachers have so much on their plates already. If there is a librarian in the school to help with those specialized resources, it makes everyone’s lives so much easier and provides so much more for students.’’