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.
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.