So What’s the Answer?

I recently posted a link to an editorial is the Parkersburg, WV News and Sentinel that criticized the West Virginia League of Women Voters’ attempt to secure stable funding for our state’s public libraries.  The writer maintained that public libraries are vital to our communities but the method proposed by the League – mandatory funding from the county school aid formula and by the county commissions – is wrong-minded. The editorial stopped short of offering any alternatives.

As a school library media specialist and a lifelong user and former employee of public libraries, I find myself in a philosophical conundrum regarding this issue.  I want to see public libraries thrive. I want the employees to receive higher wages than the meager pay pervasive in these libraries.  I want the materials budget to expand to offer current, useful collections to the community.  Finally I want expanded services to children, teens and adults.

But I do not want to see school libraries suffer.  As it is, five counties in West Virginia have no school library services.  I know of no county in our state – including Monongalia and Kanawha, two of our most affluent counties – that have full-time library media services in every school. At this time Wood County is threatening to eliminate the jobs of  two library media specialists.  School libraries, which are mandated but not funded by our state code, are a target every time cuts to funding occur.  The policy of the League of Women Voters would certainly impact the provision of school library media services in some counties.

Many see library services as irrelevant in our current information society when tough decisions have to be made.  I maintain that with the overload of information and myth-information, students and the public need library media services more than ever. Students need help sorting through the excess and locating accurate information.  They need help drawing conclusions when confronted with conflicting information.  They need help navigating complex copyright laws in order to be ethical, contributing users of information.  They need help developing these skills so that they are the information literate citizens our employers and future employers desire.  Classroom teachers, with all the ever-changing mandates pushed down on them, are not equipped with the knowledge or the time to help students develop these skills.  School library media specialists have both the knowledge, and ideally, the time to help students make sense of the information puzzle.

School libraries and public libraries must be fully funded, developed and maintained.

I mentioned the editorial in the News and Sentinel stopped short of providing a solution to this conundrum.  So what’s the answer?

I am sure many will disagree with my point of view, but I have two ideas that I feel could provide a solution to our problem:

First, let’s capitalize on the oil and gas boom in our state to more fully fund our public services.  We need improvements to our roads, our technology infrastructure, our physical infrastructure, our schools, and yes, our libraries.  West Virginia has given away its coal resources.  Let’s find a way to make the Marcellus and Utica expansion in our state benefit it’s people by increasing the severance fee on these resources.

Second, let’s demand that the federal tax dollars spent on education in West Virginia actually go to supporting our local school needs instead of focusing on “research-based” programs and initiatives that have done nothing but lower our students’ achievement.  Let’s distribute these monies to the counties without the strings attached by the U.S. Department of Education and  allocate money to things that work: reduced class size and school libraries.

With these fixes, the League of Women Voters’ plan to fund public libraries is feasible.