I’m writing this post at 10:45pm, a day late (and a dollar short), after returning from my 3rd late-night Board of Education meeting in a month, fighting for the future of school libraries in Oakland Unified School District, and really, for the future, period. While Oakland teachers are on the verge of a strike, the school board is meanwhile contemplating more than $21 million in cuts, to areas where it will hurt students the most – cuts to restorative justice, foster youth support services, and to the Office of Diversity. Our already underfunded school libraries do not fall under that particular budget cut; instead, the district has decided to reallocate the meager library funds thinly across all sites, regardless of need or context. Schools with affluent populations, which already self-fund fully functioning libraries with professional staff (and raise as much as $460m each year), will receive the same $20,000 as the schools in the flatlands with no PTA and no library. In the past 3 years, the library funding has been centralized, and invested deeply in opening up and growing a small number of quality school libraries in OUSD – a seed nurtured to establish roots and spread, with the goal of building to libraries for every school. These gains may be all for naught, as that $20,000 will not be sufficient to cover even a half-time clerk salary, much less a teacher librarian’s position, like mine. All this to say that it has been a trip to engage in these foundational readings with all this swirling about.
A few thoughts stuck out as I read the Mathews articles and the Casey and Savastinuk text. Change is inevitable, and how we (or whether we) respond and adapt our planning, our expectations, our vision will determine our course. I feel like perhaps, what my district and school libraries are experiencing now is a result of an inability to adapt to change somewhere in the past. At some point, I wonder if school libraries failed to move beyond the traditional “brand book,” or at least did not transform the perception of libraries as such, and therefore no longer prove as valuable in a struggling district forced to make decisions based on limited priorities. So then, my questions are about how to stay future focused and think in unconventional ways, when mired in chaos (high scores in volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity!)? As school libraries are often quite isolated places, this big picture transformation feels overwhelming. So I appreciated Mathews’ later stance on engaging communities and staff in organic, yet intentional solutions – and wonder if there are ways to forge connections across library sites, within school communities and district-side with various stakeholders, like the board members, the principals, the families, the teachers and school staff. And yet, it feels crazy to write the previous sentence, when we are scrambling to send a petition, and get student speakers, and show up at more meetings, when it all is going to be overshadowed by a strike in 7 days. So perhaps, this change has created an opportunity – for school library staff to really take a pause and imagine what school libraries could become, and what might happen to enable that vision, whether we, ourselves, are part of that future or not…
Here is a link to a news article for more info: http://www.ktvu.com/news/new-funding-model-could-mean-mass-exodus-of-oakland-school-librarians-closure-of-more-libraries
And here is a petition you can sign and share: https://www.saveschoollibrarians.org/ousd2019