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PLAN TO CUT LIBRARY STAFFS UNWISE

On June 5, the Granite School District Board of Education received a proposal to restructure the staff of elementary-school libraries with one specialist for every five schools.

In 1987, elementary-school library staffs were cut from full staffing with a library media professional at each school to reduced staffs of one professional at every two schools. Paraprofessionals (media aides) were hired half time to give the appearance of a full-staffed library.The current proposal would be a further reduction of professional staff, with one professional for every five schools. Full-time media aides would, in effect, be the only librarians at 63 elementary schools. Proponents of the plan claim that such a measure would save the state's largest district $400,000 a year.

More than 27 displaced library teachers would return to the classroom. The remaining 13 would provide library services for 63 schools. On paper, the proposal looks viable, but consider this: At the same meeting, the board adopted a proposal to purchase computers with $1.85 million in technology funds.

They allowed for only five district personnel to plan for the most appropriate expenditure of funds, actually purchase the equipment and software, set up and troubleshoot computer labs in 63 elementary schools.

Many of our media professionals are also trained computer specialists. They will be needed in the elementary schools to facilitate appropriate use of the technology purchased by this $1.85 million. Therefore, the proposal to take media professionals out the schools took many by surprise.

With computer labs sitting idle in some schools and more computer specialists needed on the elementary level, some principals are asking if there isn't a better option.

Currently, one-half of Granite's elementary library teachers are running computer labs in addition to teaching library skills and other media duties. Three-fourths provide necessary support services including in-servicing teachers, programming hard disks, ordering software, directing volunteers and troubleshooting when problems occur.

In some schools, computer labs are not utilized because volunteer help is not available, classroom teachers are untrained, or the library teacher is currently overextended with assignments at two different schools.

Another concern is that the proposal to cut these library media specialists comes at a time when Granite District is in the process of automating library circulation.

Last year, over $400,000 worth of computer hardware and software was purchased for library automation. Computer checkout systems are being installed throughout Granite District. Many libraries are in the middle of or just beginning the automation process. This changeover requires the supervision of professional librarians if serious and costly mistakes are to be avoided.

The present situation in Granite District is reminiscent of the 1987 library program cut. At that time, the board adopted what was billed as a money-saving proposal to restructure the elementary library program.

In May of 1987, the number of elementary library teachers was cut from 60 to 40 with each professional reassigned to cover two schools in all but year-round schools or schools with large numbers of students. Many media aides were hired to do clerical tasks and supervise circulation while the professional taught library skills.

The net result was not the anticipated $100,000 savings per year but an annual increase of $25,000 in program costs. The interest of students would be better served and money saved if aides were cut and professionals returned to every elementary school.

The library media professional could teach skills classes, serve as a technology specialist and provide the services necessary to allow our children to succeed in a world of endlessly increasing information.

Money would be saved as many clerical tasks performed by media aides were taken over by volunteers using automated checkout systems that have already been purchased for all 90 schools.

Adoption of the proposal will mean that next fall thousands of dollars worth of computer hardware will be arriving at district elementary schools while the professionals most qualified to teach computer literacy and supervise computer labs will be settling into positions elsewhere in Utah's school district.