By Dorcas Hand
This may be an off-year for school board elections, but political rhetoric for all other races is heating to a fever pitch. Education issues have become pawns as some try to say schools are not doing their job properly. We are all watching as K-12 curriculum and libraries have both taken heat.
We want to thank the HISD School Board and administration for standing by the solid policies and procedures already in place to manage requests for reconsideration of materials, rather than acting on demands from the loud and passionate speakers who attend SB meetings to request that books be banned. The restoration of library services to all campuses this year is further support of this effort to offer our students a wide range of reading materials to accommodate their ages, abilities, interests and academic needs. HISD demonstrated in its budget decisions that we value our teachers, and are working hard to pay them what they are worth. Thank you for also respecting them as the professionals they are and for the expertises they hold.
We are here today to remind you that a majority of voters prefer that libraries and classrooms continue to offer readers of all ages access to information that will help them explore their world, and fiction that will excite their imaginations and strengthen their literacy.* These mainstream voters want to make sure that children in families struggling to make ends meet can get the same good education as children in wealthy families, and that quality public education grounded in respect for each person is available to every student.
Many voters are confident that the democracy defined by our Constitution will keep us steadily moving into the future. But it is the voices in the minority, loud and demanding, who want to control not only what their own children read and learn, but what all children read and learn - and they do it for political clout, rather than for the children. They have generally not completely read the books in question, but focused on words and phrases taken out of context. The so-called Parental Rights they fight for already exist, and schools listen to them. Every parent has the right and responsibility to play the lead role in the education of their own children, but they do not have any right to deny other families the same right to offer their children more open access to information.
How can our students learn to lead this democracy as adults if they cannot read about our history - even unpleasant, messy, unfortunate historical events - to see attitudes and actions they want to prevent from happening again? How can they appreciate the lives, cultures and experiences of our diverse city and world without exposure to all of that? How can our students learn to manage their own human development and understand people around them if those topics are not available? All kids deserve to feel safe to learn and thrive at school. Removing resources that make a few uncomfortable leaves many more students with limited academic resources that would honor their cultural awareness. In America, we celebrate free speech and independent thinking. Trying to limit or remove those freedoms is censorship.
Thank you for continuing to support Superintendent House and the amazing well-educated, hard-working teachers and administrators HISD has hired as they work with our awesome and diverse students. We are relying on these students to understand their changing world as they become Houston voters and leaders. They will need broad knowledge, confidence in their abilities to collaborate with many, and insightful creativity to solve the problems we already see and the new ones we don’t yet imagine. And you are the current School Board we rely on to continue your support of a great HISD education. Thank you for your service. Students Need Libraries in HISD stands by you to defend our students’ right to read.
*“New ALA Poll Shows Voters Oppose Book Bans.” American Libraries, 24 Mar 2022. “The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates and North Star Opinion Research on behalf of ALA. It included 1,000 voters and 472 parents of children in public schools. The sample is demographically and geographically representative of voters and parents in the US. Additional survey findings and methodology can be found on the ALA website.”
HISD espouses this obvious and admirable goal: all HISD graduates will be ready for the world they are entering as adults. Sadly, the last time any data was updated on this program is 2014:
And in those 7 years, HISD has struggled on many fronts. I will focus on libraries. There are 280 schools in the district but only 57 certified librarians in 2021-22; this year, there are 93 schools with no library, whether it is defined as vacant or closed. How can students progress to college without awareness of library skills and resources throughout their K-12 career? At the high school level, out of 40 high schools, only 15 have functioning libraries and of those only 7 have certified librarians. How can HISD expect to send college-ready graduates out the door when they have no clue how to take advantage of the services of their college library?
And now the good news: Superintendent House has just announced in his Strategic Plan an intention to restore library services to all HISD campuses. This will support HISD Global Graduates in their quest for strong life and academic schools based on clear awareness of the services and tools libraries provide.
College level Literacy in 2022 includes critical thinking, understanding of how to vet sources for validity, skills to decode images and infographics as well as text, and much more that is not necessarily covered in classroom curricula. School librarians are teachers with additional training to support students in learning to be skilled users of information. In order to use information to build new ideas, students must first identify the information they need; locate that information; read, analyze and understand it; and finally build new ideas of their own based on what they have learned. College and university students who have no previous experience with libraries or research methods struggle very much, and sometimes drop out of higher education as a result. Houston Community College librarians can also speak to this. The Assn for College and Research Libraries commissioned Rhonda Huisman to do research into this topic in 2015 (see link below). “If we continue to allow these roles [librarians] to disappear from the K–12 landscape, what academic librarians and faculty will be compensating for or remediating will impede the engagement, retention, and success of those college ready, college bound students.”
HISD has been failing its graduates when its schools do not provide strong library services throughout the K-12 years. Knowing there is now a plan to restore library services across the district is very important. That said, starting with high school libraries makes sense as they will be the first out the door. Even students who will not attend college need information skills to find jobs, to use complex catalogs included in those jobs (think looking up auto parts to match year, make, model), to continue to learn for better jobs, and to participate in their communities as adult leaders. Building new library programs in the 25 high schools that currently have none will take time and attention, not to mention a culture shift. Calling a campus College Guidance area the library is not the same as working with all students to be sure they do graduate with the life skill of information usage in all its aspects. Parents who expect their students to be successful after graduation expect that HISD will step up to offer them the right tools to accomplish that, which includes strong library services geared to preparing students for academic work at the college level.
Huisman, R. (2015). Library As Place in Urban High Schools: Connecting College Readiness to Librarian Intervention and Community Partnerships.
by Debbie Hall
Library Services are administered at the district level under the auspices of various larger departments. In some districts, the library manager reports to the director of technology, school support services, or curriculum for example. It is sometimes difficult for the managing department to be responsive to the needs of libraries because they are not well-versed in the unique needs and functionality of school libraries. Here is what I recently shared with members of the HISD leadership team about problems I have observed with how Library Services is being managed. This is especially critical due to the recent resignation of the HISD Library Services Manager.
As a retired HISD library administrator, I watch with interest and concern for events that potentially impact library services to students. Recently, the manager of HISD Library Services resigned. The job was posted on January 20th. When I saw the job application online, which gave almost no mention of school library administration, I became concerned. The present job description for the Library Manager is entirely about the duties of a curriculum manager and barely mentioned libraries.
It is my observation that the decline of library services to students in HISD has escalated under the supervision of the Department of Curriculum. Under the Curriculum Department's control, the manager of Library Services has changed four times in ten years. All the clerical and secretarial personnel have been eliminated and the remaining professional staff has been called upon to perform copyright checks for curriculum projects in addition to their library services duties. Library Services has been used to the advantage of the mission of the curriculum department with little or no support of their own departmental mission. Prior to 2011, HISD had placed Library Services under School Support Services which allowed the department to work collaboratively with many other HISD departments. Library Services personnel routinely provided services to school libraries like cataloging, processing donated materials, inventory, and other help as needed. I urge you to reconsider where Library Services belongs on the organizational chart. It needs to report to a department that believes libraries are essential to public education.
The manager of Library Services is an important school leader who can make a significant difference in the ability of libraries to provide for the needs of all students. The person holding this position needs to have experience in managing libraries and a thorough understanding of the mission of the district’s library program. It is for this reason that the selection committee should include people who are familiar with the skills and experience needed to run a department in a large school district. Considering the current state of HISD’s libraries (so many vacancies and closed libraries), the next library leader should be one who has the vision to restore libraries across the district by implementing a boldly designed plan over time with the support of HISD’s leadership. For this reason, the selection process should include (as it has in the past) library leaders from outside the district as well as HISD librarians. HISD leaders should also take part in the selection process, but a committee without library expertise will not be likely to ask the questions needed to determine a candidate’s suitability. I am concerned that the district will move too quickly on the selection of the next library administrator. Applications are collected until a specified date and then the interviews begin. The current ending date for applying is March 28th. It would be standard procedure to make an announcement that would go out to the Texas Library Association and the American Library Association to attract the best candidates. This has not been done. I just saw the announcement online and posted it on the Texas Library Association Jobline a few days ago.
If the HISD wants to see students served by libraries, it starts here with this job. Get the best candidate and don’t rush the process.
By Dorcas Hand
On its face, Site Based Management seems like a good thing. It puts the decisions about how a campus budget is spent entirely in the principal’s hands: who to hire, what positions to fill, what extras to offer, etc. HISD is the only district in Texas to still use this method; it was a trend for a while, but other districts realized they needed to exercise some central control while still giving schools some local control over decisions and budgeting. They, for example, require a nurse, counselor and/or librarian on each campus – and they adjust campus funding so that these roles are centrally funded leaving the campus to decide the rest.
Several things have affected the HISD culture around libraries, but I want to focus on two.
The decision lies with HISD administration and will require careful thought and a slow timeline that includes educating all HISD principals to the benefits of having a school librarian and a fully funded library on every campus as well as an in-house Alternative Certification Program to train librarians for the positions that job insecurity over the last 15+ years has vacated.
The ESSER money being spent this year and next to update the book collections of all campuses not meeting the state definition of “Proficient.” [Wait, you say? There are Texas Standards and Guidelines for School Libraries? Why yes, there are. These include recommended quantities of books per student among other definitions - see p.43.] Having books on the campuses that are current, include popular titles, and are ready to inspire even reluctant readers at all grade levels to read for pleasure as well as for information. And that is only one aspect of the impact school libraries can and do have on the students who use them. Students who graduate from schools served by school libraries with certified staff are more successful in college. [Farmer, Lesley J. and Skyler Phamle, “Transitioning to college: Impact of high school librarians”]
Our job as advocates of school libraries is to speak up often to campus administrators and district staff, including our Superintendent, and to our SB members, asking why students in the most challenged areas of the district have the least access to library resources and staff to help them grow as learners. While SNL does this often, we need parents and community members to speak up, too. It is your children that are in school now and will soon be heading to jobs, trades, the military or college. Every one of those students deserves a fully stocked and fully funded school library staffed by a certified librarian.
Takeaways from this post:
by Dorcas Hand
The Committee on Library Advocacy of the American Library Association published this infographic recently to illustrate the benefits to every K-12 student of open access to a fully funded and fully staffed school library. Students Need Libraries in HISD offers the image to support all the advocates across HISD who are speaking up for equity of access to school libraries for all HISD students. Sadly, it is those neighborhoods with the most challenges that are least likely to have a fully funded school library staffed by a certified school librarian. We are working together to convince Superintendent House, his staff and all the campus administrators across the district to step up for school libraries on behalf of our students and in support of stronger literacy achievement.
The image above is the front page. The back page includes supporting documentation for each point, as illustrated by these examples.
Parents, parent organizations, teachers, and community advocates need to speak out often about the fact that HISD has only about 55 certified librarians for 280 schools. Another 75 or so have certified teachers staffing the library. That leaves approximately 140 schools with either non-certified staff (50) or a closed library. We can do better.
Please share this information with your campus community to be sure they speak up frequently. Start with the campus principal who currently makes that decision - but don’t forget the district, because both the Superintendent’s office and the School Board need to know what benefits students miss out on when not served by a library adequately staffed and stocked with up-to-date, compelling materials.
ARTICLES about School Libraries with Certified School Librarians
by Dorcas Hand
Certified School Librarians in Texas are certified teachers with at least two years full-time classroom teaching experience PLUS coursework in library science PLUS a Masters Degree.
In Houston ISD, personnel with all this additional training are paid the same as any classroom teacher making the expertise held by the campus librarian a bargain!
HISD has just hired a new Superintendent. We at Students Need Libraries in HISD welcome Millard House. He comes from Clarksville-Montgomery County School Systems in Tennessee, where every school has a certified librarian. Consequently, we have high expectations that he will work to offer students across HISD the EQUITY of a school library that is fully funded, holds a diverse collection of materials appropriate to the student population, and is staffed full-time by a certified librarian. HISD Library Services stands at the ready to support him in making this change.
YOU who read this blog post hold the responsibility as members of the Houston ISD community to speak out for equity for all our students. HISD Literacy rates are much lower than they should be, and inconsistent across the district in part because students have not had reliable access to school libraries that support the students’ own reading interests with awareness of their skill levels and abilities. Together, we can change what has been into what can be.
Welcome to HISD. We represent a grassroots group of community members, parents, and other advocates who want to see a dynamic library in every school. We have a website (Students Need Libraries in HISD) that provides information about HISD libraries in particular and school libraries in general. As a new Superintendent, here’s what you need to about HISD libraries:
(1) Numbers: As of mid-July, there are only 55 certified librarians in a school district of over 280 schools. Too many schools have no library at all, but most schools have clerks or teachers assigned to manage the library. Although these individuals have been trained to circulate books, most of those assigned to the library cannot provide the instructional services (book selection, teaching research skills, etc.) required. The perception among those who might apply is that a library position in HISD is insecure. We have lost many good librarians to other school districts as a result. Five out of the ten librarians who were selected as Librarian of the Year in the past decade have left the district to work as a librarian in outlying districts. Here is the link to library staffing data in recent years: http://www.studentsneedlibrariesinhisd.org/library-staffing-overview.html
(2) Site-based Management: Principals have the final determination as to whether the library is open or closed and whether to hire a librarian, a teacher or a clerk to staff the library. In general, many principals are not aware of the benefits of a strong library program and do not realize the librarian’s impact on student achievement for all students. When principals attend the district’s budgeting sessions, they are likely to be told they cannot afford a librarian.
(3) Board Policy: Reading the board policies, the district clearly has a commitment to providing library services to all students. The problem is that these policies are not being enforced or considered when staffing libraries or making decisions that affect students’ access to libraries.
(4) Department of Library Services: This department is the district’s expert on staff in the management of existing libraries and the design of new libraries. For many years, HISD Library Services was part of the School Support team which was a good fit for this department as libraries provide ongoing academic support to both students and teachers. For the past ten years, Library Services has been under the Curriculum department which has not been a good fit. Currently, the department is under the purview of Elementary Curriculum, ignoring the fact that libraries serve schools PreK-12. Under Curriculum department management, there have been numerous cutbacks in staffing and budget.
(5) Equity: Ultimately, the strongest argument for the restoration of the library program in HISD is equity. There are some communities in HISD which have never failed to staff their libraries. There are too many communities - whole feeder patterns - where the books on the library shelves have disappeared or the collections have been allowed to stagnate locked in time. A return to centralized budgeting for all libraries would benefit student success.
Conclusion: School libraries and certified librarians offer a strong toolkit to support improved literacy scores across the district. Investment in libraries is a long-term effort with benefits for all HISD students in test scores and graduation rates. The ESSER funds already requested by Library Services offer a huge opportunity to rebuild the campus library collections and develop plans to support increased staffing over a few years.
We look forward to seeing what your new leadership will bring to HISD. We know that your libraries in Clarksville-Montgomery were all fully staffed with certified librarians. We urge you to take this opportunity to recommit to the idea that all HISD schools have access to library programs as well. You have our support in this effort.
Library Advocate/ volunteer
Eliminating school libraries and librarians deprive students of diverse and equitable opportunities to learn the essential college and career skills necessary to be successful.
ARTICLES about School Libraries with Certified School Librarians
By Debbie Hall
We sent the letter below to the HISD Building Dept. today in response to our increasing awareness of problematic library designs in new and renovated HISD campuses. Everyone should speak up when they see these issues, to campus admin, parents and school board representatives.
I am a former HISD librarian and a current advocate for HISD and particularly the district’s library program. I have seen the impact that libraries can have on the lives of our students and presently I am very concerned with the direction HISD is going in regards to designing new library spaces for students.
At a time when we know that literacy rates are declining, HISD should be following best practices in school library design and being more strategic when planning library spaces for its students. From the results, I am seeing in new buildings and even in renovations, I cannot understand what the current HISD library design guidelines are or if there are any guidelines. I see spaces that restrict the types of interactions available between the student, the teacher, and the librarian. I see libraries without walls, libraries in hallways, and libraries with no identifiable space at all. I see some new schools being built without a library. The current designs may look good on paper but I seriously question how these spaces will function serving the needs of students and teachers both now and in the future.
Libraries are for learning and instruction. The most obvious flaw with HISD's current school library design is that large group teaching space has been eliminated in some cases. The effect of this lack of instructional space is that the library becomes a space for only small group or one-on-one interactions. Schools with this type of floor plan cannot support the instructional mission of the library. Too many of the new HISD "libraries" are merely shelves with books in an open unsecured area, often a hallway.
Guidelines for library design address multiple activities. In a school library, there should be a space for large group instruction, comfortable reading areas, viewing areas, study carrels, shelves, computers, tables to write or design, maker spaces, and areas for quiet reflection/thinking. Where would a librarian introduce research skills to a large class or small group in a library without an area dedicated to instruction? If the elementary library is in a hallway, how can a story be read aloud to engage readers? What about security? The library collection is typically one of a school's most valuable assets. If there are no walls and no way to restrict access, how is the inventory of its contents kept safe for all to use? Does the fact that Lamar High School has placed library books and shelves in a hallway - without a librarian even - make that space a library?
The following schools were recently built with two-story open-concept library designs: Condit, Braeburn, Kolter and Scarborough. The open-concept plan was very popular in 1965 and it was largely a failure. The idea is being resurrected. While you can find positive and negative reviews of this model, I think most librarians would find it very challenging to manage students where they can be spread over two floors. The acoustic issues, including student distraction and strain on teacher voices not to mention discipline issues when students are out of sight on a different floor, have been common complaints in many such designs.
I have talked to several librarians who shared their experiences serving on their building committee to plan new HISD schools. All of them expressed frustration about getting their concerns answered. Most recently I have spoken to the former librarians at HSPVA, Bellaire, and HSHP who expressed their dissatisfaction with the process. They were able to get some but not all of the changes that they felt were needed to make the spaces work for their students and staff.
The schools that do not have a librarian on staff have no one speaking up for a functional library design in a new facility. This is especially problematic if the principal has no idea what a good 21st-century library should look like. The district’s office of Library Services should take part in all meetings where important decisions about the library design are made. In any large school district, the Department of Library Services is tasked with providing expertise on what school library programs should offer and how library spaces should look and function. Until recently, all HISD school library designs were a result of a collaboration between the Library Services Department, the school librarian, and the school building committee.
I hope that HISD will reconsider this aspect of the building program and once again return to the idea that the library is an instructional hub for the campus. Having bookshelves in the hallway is not the same as providing a library; books in the hallway without a trained librarian is a waste of money. Don’t waste taxpayer’s money, build libraries that are based on design guidelines that take into account the library's mission of connecting readers to books and information. Use the experts on your staff (certified school librarians and the Department of Library Services) to create world-class library spaces.
Library Advocate/ volunteer
This blog is primarily authored by Debbie Hall and Dorcas Hand, but guest authors are welcome. If you have an idea to share, please contact our email below. Debbie is a retired HISD librarian and Library Services Specialist. Dorcas is a retired school librarian who remains active in AASL/ALA. Both support increased equity in school library access and support for all HISD students and campuses.