Due to volatile town politics and other agendas, East Greenwich school librarians are getting the short stick. The East Greenwich School Libraries’ budget has been zero dollars for the past three years. No new books or resources have been purchased since 2014. The most current Town Budget level funded the East Greenwich School System and this has led the School Committee to remove the high school library media specialist position. The East Greenwich community has noticed this and is taking action. Will this be enough to gain the attention of town officials?
“The good thing is that (the school librarian issue) is creating a lot of awareness about what librarians do,” says Maura Keating, East Greenwich resident and co-chair of the RILA ILART Roundtable. “Parents did not know about what the librarians do at school and are a now little more concerned.”
“I’m familiar with the situation, but I was surprised how many residents didn’t know what was going on,” said Kimberly Kinzie, resident and member of Engaged East Greenwich, a local Facebook group dedicated to events in town. “I’d be at the bus stop and telling people that we didn’t have a high school librarian. People were just not aware of the situation, they didn’t know what was going on, but they are horrified when they know.”
Once they knew, the community started to speak up. There are now three grassroots groups -- “The EG Library Lions”, “Engaged East Greenwich” and “Creating Good EGGs” -- comprised of concerned citizens that have hosted numerous events; from poetry slams, creating “Little Free Libraries” around the town that collect books specifically from the high school reading list to creating a petition website.
“East Greenwich prides itself on the quality of its public schools,” said Kate Goldman, a parent and member of Creating Good EGGs (East Greenwich + Global). “The fact that we are not meeting our students' needs or even complying with basic standards is an outrage and stands in direct opposition to what we believe our community to be.”
This community effort has captured the attention of local school and town officials.
"In a very short period of time we had to make some significant decisions,” said Carolyn Mark, Chair of the East Greenwich School Committee. “We were hoping that this was a temporary situation. It was a reasonable decision in an awful situation.”
Before they made the cut, the East Greenwich School Committee didn’t know that they couldn’t share school librarians between schools. The previous middle school library media specialist retired and the Committee decided to fill the position with the current high school library media specialist, leaving the high school position empty. This decision will cost the school district accreditation issues in the future.
“Properly staffing library media resources is considered essential in our accreditation,” said Mark. “It's a concern in the long run - we are responsible and the school board can to respond to and remedy the situation."
Some residents fear that elementary school media specialists in East Greenwich will be transferred to the high school, leaving the lower-level schools with less support. In the last seven years, three of the East Greenwich Teachers of the Year have been Library Media Specialists (Phyllis Humphrey, 2016; Beth Gorter, 2015; and Connie Zack, 2011)
"We can't move them, it's not an option,” said Mark. “We have rock star library media specialists in elementary schools and they are essential media school teachers."
Even with this information, the exact details of what will happen next is still unclear.
“We had to agree to disagree to make this choice,” says Mark. “Things did not work out the way we hoped this year, but I'm hoping that it will be remedied.”
Currently, the School Committee is creating the upcoming school year budget. They do know that they will be receiving $400,000 of Rhode Island State Aid.
That's going to help,” said Mark. “But we have others costs that are increasing within the school too. The hope is that we are able to come in with a more reasonable request to the town. If they do level fund us, then we'll have to make some very hard decisions about eliminating programs for the next school year."
This decision won’t be made until the School Committee submits the budget to the town and then the budget goes up for public hearings. The earliest any decision will be made would be in June 2018.
What can the RILA and Rhode Island library community do to support this situation?
“As an EG resident, I would appreciate any efforts by the RI library community to publicize this issue,” says Goldman. “If anyone in the RI library community is interested, in helping with collecting books for the Little Free Libraries, I can help them get started.”
RILA has also been vocal about the issue. Last fall RILA wrote a letter to the East Greenwich school superintendent and school committee protesting the closure of the high school library and advocating for the hiring of a full time credentialed school library media specialist. In January the president of RILA Kieran Ayton, attended a poetry slam for the East Greenwich High School Library where he was able to share RILA's support with the East Greenwich community.
As members of the RI Library Community, we need to speak up and continue to promote the importance of libraries.
“You should be talking about what the value of libraries do and continue to talk,” says Keating. “If you stay silent and worry then they’ll come for you next. Be positive—talk about the impact that you have to your students and community—it is not just about books. It is the last thing that these librarians do—it is the last part of their jobs. School library media specialists do so much more.”