Mifflin County time warp

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Mifflin County time warp

Voice: July 2017 

Arica Monsell is a 21st century librarian trapped in 20th century thinking.

Leadership certainly doesn’t view libraries as the “hub’’ of the Mifflin County School District, which Monsell describes as a “rural poor’’ district of about 5,000 students located in the central mountains about 30 miles from State College.

Monsell is fortunate that she has only one building, the high school, but she has only 96 computers for 1,300 students in grades 10 to 12. Despite a large percentage of students with no technology at home, she has no laptops or iPads to loan.

She has no aide to cover for her so she can’t teach classes in the library – this was the first year in her six years at the high school that she has gotten coverage for lunch. The library has no separate rooms for teachers to bring their classes; so when she goes to a teacher’s class to speak to students about their projects, the teacher must go to the library to cover for her. And unless she obtains grant money, databases in the library have to be free programs.

“(The databases) don’t hit the depth of knowledge that we want our kids to have,” Monsell said. “They don’t hit the higher level of critical thinking because it doesn’t allow students to dive deep into research. With free stuff, you get what you pay for. So, if we are getting nothing, we give nothing back.’’

‘Google is not a database’

Monsell didn’t say it, but it’s clear there is no district commitment to libraries.

When she came to the high school six years ago after 10 years as a middle school librarian, the library had no copy machine, and there were no staplers or staples.

She has made some “baby steps,’’ but said the void with resources is still wide.

“I tell them (administrators) that Google is not a database,’’ she said. “Students need credible research databases. They need more digital resources. I need more time with the kids to teach them research strategies.

“Some teachers get exasperated because students aren’t handing in quality work. Well, no one is teaching them how to do research, and they don’t have the proper databases. What do you expect?’’

Long after-school hours

There is one shining star to Mifflin County High School’s library, and it’s a testament to Monsell’s dedication to students.

She saw the need for after- and pre-school hours soon after she came to the high school.

Even that wasn’t an easy sell. When approval did come, it was made clear there was no money to compensate her.

“I just said, ‘can the kids come to the library after school?’ That’s all I’m asking,’’ Monsell said, noting that she did start receiving reimbursement last year.

The after-school program was a huge success, and she was able to get permission for pre-school hours, too.

The library opens in the morning 45 minutes before school, and it’s often overflowing. After school the library is “officially’’ supposed to be open an extra hour. In reality, particularly during peak research times, it often runs to 8 p.m., and Monsell has been there at times as late as 11.

Not serving the future

The extra hours are great for students, but they still don’t make up for the library’s lack of resources.

“We should have iPads and laptops. I shouldn’t even have to ask for them,’’ Monsell said. “We should have facilities for kids to practice PowerPoints, for example, because they are going to need that at the next level. In fact, at the next level they are expected to know that and know how to interact with technology.

“Libraries are no longer just about books. There is so much involved with being a librarian in the 21st century.’’